Labor Party Members Ask to Remain in Olmert's Coalition

In response to survey issued by Ehud Barak's associates, his camp wants to discuss issue only after primaries.

A recent survey performed by Labor party chair contender Ehud Barak's staff within the ranks of the Labor party revealed on Monday that most party members were not opposed to Labor's cohabitation with Olmert's Kadima in the coalition under Olmert's direction.

The survey also revealed that most members would prefer to see the issue resolved only after the primaries, scheduled for the end of the month. In addition, most party members were opposed to early elections.

However, several of Barak's associates, including Labor faction chair Eitan Cabel, have said that he had told them he was averse to joining the government, in light of the severity of the Winograd report on its performance.

The Labor party is expected to convene next week in order to discuss their official stance regarding early elections. Barak's camp, meanwhile, is putting together a compromise, asking that the issue be dealt with only after the party primaries.

For the time being, some of his associates, including Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon, are warning him against committing to not joining the government. They cite what Barak already knows: if he wins the primaries, then a ministerial position would help him in the next general elections against Netanyahu.

Barak has declined to comment on whether he would indeed join Olmert's cabinet.

MK Ami Ayalon, another party chair contender, criticized Barak's silence and said, "every candidate for Labor party chair must express a clear opinion regarding the Winograd Committee's findings about Ehud Olmert in a forthright and open manner, and not through associates."

Ayalon reiterated his call for Olmert's resignation and maintained that Labor would not continue to sit in government should he be chosen party chair, and promised to work to build a national coalition without Olmert.

Meanwhile, the coalition managed to secure a landslide majority in three no-confidence votes on Monday. Labor, however, made a decision to allow its members to abstain and not attend the no-confidence votes.

The decision reflects an internal victory for most of the candidates for the party's chair in the upcoming primaries. MKs Ami Ayalon, Ophir Pines-Paz and Danny Yatom all supported allowing their Labor colleagues full personal discretion on whether to attend the vote and whether to abstain or vote against the no-confidence motions.

Coalition chair MK Tzachi Hanegbi said that their decision to abstain or not attend did not damage the coalition in any case. "It's completely insignificant, bordering on gossip, really," he said.

All in all, only eight Labor MKs made use of their prerogative to abstain or not attend. These were Avishay Braverman, Matan Vilnai, Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel and Michael Melchior, in addition to Ayalon, Pines-Paz and Yatom.