Olmert clings to power


Summary

The Knesset rejected the three motions by votes of 61, 61 and 62 against, compared with 26, 28 and 28 for — a comfortable margin in the chamber that requires a simple majority of those present to pass or reject a motion.

Abstentions in the three votes were 9, 9 and 6.

The counts revealed fault-lines within Mr Olmert's 78-member coalition in the
120-seat parliament, however, as at least 16 members were either absent, voted against the government or abstained.

Mr Olmert, who was present in the chamber, smiled after the results.

Earlier opposition leaders called on the beleaguered premier to step down over an interim government inquiry that slammed him for serious failures during the 34-day war last summer.

"A storm is brewing in all corners of the country," Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud opposition party that lodged one of the motions, said as he opened the debate.

"The people are telling you a simple thing — you have failed. Accept the responsibility and go home," said the former premier. "But members of the government are trying to hide from the storm. They say 'we have a majority in the chamber' and are mocking the people."

"Your errors can only be repaired by new elections," said Netanyahu, whose Likud party would win early elections according to all recent opinion polls.

Ran Cohen of the left-wing Meretz party, which also sponsored one of the motions, echoed the calls, saying Olmert's government led the country into a "crazy adventure" during last year's war.

"Because of you, the country is doubting its future," he said. "Go home."

The parliament debate follows a mass rally last Thursday at which between
150,000 and 200,000 Israelis, according to police and organiser estimates, called on the Mr Olmert government to step down in the wake of the damning report.

Despite their predicted failure, Monday's votes will add to the mounting pressure on Mr Olmert, already weakened by months of criticism over the war and a string of scandals marring his government that have sunk his ratings to single digits.

So far the master politician has refused to resign over the interim report released a week ago, saying that it would be irresponsible and vowing to correct the mistakes uncovered.

The report blasted Mr Olmert for serious failures in his handling of the conflict, and said that Defence Minister Amir Peretz and ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz failed in their posts, but stopped short of calling for resignations.

Mr Olmert managed to put down a mutiny within his centrist Kadima party over the report last week, despite a call from key ally Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to step down.

Following a closed-door meeting between the two on Sunday, Ms Livni pledged to keep working in an Olmert-led cabinet.

But new trouble could be brewing for the premier within his main coalition partner Labour, observers say.

The party is due to elect a new leader in late May, and so far all the front-runners to take the helm from Mr Peretz have indicated that they favour pulling Labour out of the coalition unless Mr Olmert quits.

Labour currently has 19 seats in parliament and its departure would leave Mr Olmert's coalition with 59 seats — two short of a majority.

Under such a scenario, Mr Olmert would have to cobble together a new coalition, resign or face early elections.


The Knesset rejected the three motions by votes of 61, 61 and 62 against, compared with 26, 28 and 28 for — a comfortable margin in the chamber that requires a simple majority of those present to pass or reject a motion.

Abstentions in the three votes were 9, 9 and 6.

The counts revealed fault-lines within Mr Olmert's 78-member coalition in the
120-seat parliament, however, as at least 16 members were either absent, voted against the government or abstained.

Mr Olmert, who was present in the chamber, smiled after the results.

Earlier opposition leaders called on the beleaguered premier to step down over an interim government inquiry that slammed him for serious failures during the 34-day war last summer.

"A storm is brewing in all corners of the country," Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud opposition party that lodged one of the motions, said as he opened the debate.

"The people are telling you a simple thing — you have failed. Accept the responsibility and go home," said the former premier. "But members of the government are trying to hide from the storm. They say 'we have a majority in the chamber' and are mocking the people."

"Your errors can only be repaired by new elections," said Netanyahu, whose Likud party would win early elections according to all recent opinion polls.

Ran Cohen of the left-wing Meretz party, which also sponsored one of the motions, echoed the calls, saying Olmert's government led the country into a "crazy adventure" during last year's war.

"Because of you, the country is doubting its future," he said. "Go home."

The parliament debate follows a mass rally last Thursday at which between
150,000 and 200,000 Israelis, according to police and organiser estimates, called on the Mr Olmert government to step down in the wake of the damning report.

Despite their predicted failure, Monday's votes will add to the mounting pressure on Mr Olmert, already weakened by months of criticism over the war and a string of scandals marring his government that have sunk his ratings to single digits.

So far the master politician has refused to resign over the interim report released a week ago, saying that it would be irresponsible and vowing to correct the mistakes uncovered.

The report blasted Mr Olmert for serious failures in his handling of the conflict, and said that Defence Minister Amir Peretz and ex-chief of staff Dan Halutz failed in their posts, but stopped short of calling for resignations.

Mr Olmert managed to put down a mutiny within his centrist Kadima party over the report last week, despite a call from key ally Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to step down.

Following a closed-door meeting between the two on Sunday, Ms Livni pledged to keep working in an Olmert-led cabinet.

But new trouble could be brewing for the premier within his main coalition partner Labour, observers say.

The party is due to elect a new leader in late May, and so far all the front-runners to take the helm from Mr Peretz have indicated that they favour pulling Labour out of the coalition unless Mr Olmert quits.

Labour currently has 19 seats in parliament and its departure would leave Mr Olmert's coalition with 59 seats — two short of a majority.

Under such a scenario, Mr Olmert would have to cobble together a new coalition, resign or face early elections.