The stunning, lopsided primary victory Tuesday of Shaul Mofaz to oust Tzipi Livni as head of the opposition Kadima Party may have ended Livni’s political career — and possibly the party itself.
That was the assessment of many political pundits after Mofaz received 61.7 percent of the vote to Livni’s 37.2 percent.
As if reading the tealeaves — or perhaps it was wishful thinking — the ruling Likud Party issued a statement claiming Kadima had “reached the end of the road.” It suggested that its leaders are now seen scrambling for what’s left of a party founded in November 2005 by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after he defected from Likud.
Livni’s defeat did not come as a surprise. Merav Michaeli wrote before the primary that she is “paying the price of the very high expectations of her that she did not really have the chance to meet.”
“She is untypical of today’s Israeli politicians: she speaks her mind, is willing to be in the opposition and does not boast about her Mossad past,” she added. But the political establishment finds Livni difficult to deal with also because she is a woman who did not experience the kind of oppression that most women do, and her campaign to be prime minister was the first time she bumped up against the glass ceiling.”
Although taking the reigns of the party in September 2008 after the resignation of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni was unable to form a new government. She similarly failed five months later when Kadima won 28 Knesset seats, just one seat ahead of Likud. That was her time to shine and she blew it. One political commentator suggested that her failure to learn how to play the political game led to her downfall.
Chemi Shalev, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, called her “undoubtedly the most widely admired Israeli figure on the world scene today.” He pointed out that she consistently made “just about everyone’s list of the 50 most powerful and the 100 most courageous and the 150 most influential women in the world.”
She had a “squeaky-clean” image as she continued to press for peace with the Palestinians and repeatedly refused to join the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu for reasons Shalev said “became decreasingly clear.”
After her defeat Tuesday, she thanked supporters and defended what she called her “principled” approach to politics, an apparent reference to her refusal to form a government four years ago with the Shas Party that would have allowed her to become prime minister. (She decried the demands it had made on her in return for its support.)
As Haaretz said in an editorial: “She has not missed a single opportunity to make a mistake: She did not function as an opposition leader, she did not offer an alternative to the government’s policies and she did not lead her party wisely and set clear policy.”
Mofaz, 63, a former army chief of staff and defense minister is seen as a hardliner who may be more willing to form a coalition government with Netanyahu.
A poll taken earlier this month found that Netanyahu’s governing right-wing/religious bloc would be likely to retain its control in the Knesset over the center-left by a 62-58 margin.
The poll, released by the Israeli newspaper Maariv, said that if Mofaz won the Kadima primary his party could expect to win just 14 seats in the next general election. Likud, on the other hand, would retain its 27 seats, and the Labor Party would jump from 13 seats to 17 or 18 seats.
Mofaz assumes the leadership of Kadima when the Knesset reconvenes after the Passover break.