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Israeli Ruling Party Votes for New Leader


Israel's ruling centrist Kadima party is holding primary elections that will result in the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The likely change of leadership will come as Palestinian peace negotiations falter over the longstanding issues of Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem. VOA Jerusalem correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

About 70,000 members of the centrist Kadima party are eligible to vote in these primary elections Wednesday. Their party has been shaken by a corruption scandal that has forced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to promise he will step down as soon as a new leader is chosen.

The two front-runners are foreign minister Tzipi Livni and transportation minister Shaul Mofaz. Livni's nickname is "Mrs. Clean," a reputation that her supporters hope will win favor among voters tired of corruption in politics. She is also known for her diplomatic skills gained from her experience in negotiating with the Palestinians. She spoke as she cast her ballot in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Livni urged Kadima members to vote, saying party members can decide the direction of the party, and show they are tired of what she said are "old-fashioned politics."

Mofaz is a former army chief of staff and defense minister known for his strong stance on security issues and is expected to draw the votes of party members who favor giving the Palestinians fewer concessions in the negotiations. He also spoke while voting.

Mofaz said he is confident he will win, thanks to support from those who support his tough stand on security.

One of the Kadima candidates must win at least 40 percent of the vote. Otherwise, these primaries will go into a second round.

Analysts say the vote might be an indicator of whether Israelis will swing to the right in general elections. The poll may come in the next few months - up to a year-and-a-half ahead of schedule - if the winner in these primaries is unable to form a coalition government within a month.

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