Livni Courts Mofaz, Crowns Him No. 2 Regardless of Poll

General elections will be held on February 10, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik announced yesterday. Most parties backed the decision.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz meanwhile warned Kadima leader Tzipi Livni that the party would enter the elections in disarray if she failed to assure his position as party deputy leader.

The elections, a year and a month ahead of schedule, follow Ehud Olmert's resignation last month as prime minister to fight corruption charges and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's failure to form a new government.

Mofaz's people warned that unless Livni assures Mofaz's position as deputy party leader, Kadima's unity will be impaired in the elections.

Mofaz's aides also demanded that he receive the post of acting prime minister and senior cabinet minister if Kadima wins the elections. They said it was unfair to Mofaz and to half the party members who voted for him in Kadima's primary to make him contend in the party's next primary.

Livni yesterday offered Mofaz to act as the party's campaign director in the upcoming elections.

She told Mofaz that she sees him as the party's deputy leader, regardless of the pending legal issues about his place on the list. The two ministers agreed to work together and to promote party unity.

"One way or another your place on the list means nothing to me as far as your senior position in the party in any future scenario," Livni said.

Mofaz has not replied to Livni's offer yet. His people say he was interested in what the offer entailed.

Mofaz gathered dozens of activists in Tel Aviv yesterday as part of building up a power base for future opposition to Livni and her supporters. He is also priming candidates to run for Kadima's Knesset list.

"If Livni wants a united party in the elections, she must reserve the second slot for Mofaz and promise to give him the job of vice premier and most senior cabinet minister," said Avi Duani, Mofaz' primaries campaign head.

"Mofaz is not a bellicose man but sometimes in politics you have to fight. We can't rely only on her word," he said.

Mofaz himself said he is not demanding any position and if necessary would run in the primary.

One of his activists said that "Livni must understand this is a group with a lot of power, and if anyone thought this camp would disperse they were wrong. We have a feeling that injustice was done," he said.

Senior party members yesterday attempted to find a "creative solution" to reserve a position for Mofaz. One possibility, initiated by Minister Jacob Edery, is that in the primary voters can elect number two on the list separately. He spoke to other Kadima ministers and understood from them that none of them would contend for the second place against Mofaz.

Senior Kadima people close to Livni said "it's a pity that Mofaz is preoccupying himself with trivia. He is No. 2. His activity around it leads to disputes and unnecessary divisiveness.

Also yesterday, Labor chairman Ehud Barak decided the party will hold a comprehensive primary in which the party's 100,000 members will be eligible to vote.

Recent polls suggest Labor will suffer a devastating blow in the upcoming election and drop to merely 10 seats.