Israeli Prime Minister Olmert faces increasingly precarious tenure
Corruption allegations by a US businessman have prompted the defense minister to call for him to step down.
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Talansky said he'd long been a personal admirer of Olmert's, seeing him as a future leader when he was running for mayor of Jerusalem in 1993, and wanted only to help him succeed.Skip to next paragraph
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Fresh political uncertainty
But the route forward, in the wake of Barak's call on Olmert to step down or otherwise remove himself from office, is uncertain. Olmert heads the biggest political party, Kadima, which was founded in 2004 by Ariel Sharon as a supposed middle-of-the-road movement. It drew breakaways from Labor and the right-wing Likud, which Mr. Sharon had been a part of for years. After Sharon was incapacitated by health problems, Olmert took over.
But now, more than one person in Kadima would like a chance at the reins. For this reason, the party is likely to move up its primaries, originally slated for November. One likely successor is Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister. But several other heavyweights may pose a formidable challenge.
To the right, former right prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for early elections, which some believe could return him to power. But other politicians want to avoid a situation that would help catapult Mr. Netanyahu back into office. And, the incumbent shakeup at the ballot box could cause many Knesset members to lose their seats.
"The clock has started ticking and the countdown's on. It doesn't seem possible for Olmert to hang on for an appreciable length of time," says Peter Medding, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"The ball is ... in Kadima's court. They need to be able to decide on someone, and they need to be able to decide on a method for choosing someone," he continues. "It all depends on whether Kadima and senior members of Knesset can be depended on to unify or not."
The left-wing Meretz party, for example, criticized Barak for not putting an ultimatum on Olmert. Others argue that this is implied. If Olmert doesn't step down, the Labor party will bolt and Olmert won't have a governing majority.
Barak, however, is not a member of the Knesset and, therefore, cannot be a candidate for prime minister unless new elections are held.
"Barak's taken a stance," Mr. Medding says. "He's taking the moral high ground for something he can't benefit from today, because as of now, he can't be prime minister."