Mofaz Takes Leadership Of Israel's Kadima Party

JERUSALEM -- Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni has lost the chairmanship of the centrist party Kadima to her rival, Shaul Mofaz, according to near-final results in Tuesday primaries.

JERUSALEM -- Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni has lost the chairmanship of the centrist party  Kadima to her rival, Shaul Mofaz, according to near-final results in Tuesday primaries.

The two contenders competed bitterly for the party leadership and its nomination for premiership. Now observers are waiting to see if the pair can — or will — coexist in the same political party despite their differences, and how a change at the top affects Israel’s largest party.

Polling stations closed at 10 p.m. after 12 hours of voting. With 95% of the results in at midnight, it appeared that a landslide 62% of voters selected Mofaz. But unpredictable outcomes in the past delayed any celebration.

A win by Mofaz spells a dramatic shift for the party that holds the highest number of seats in parliament, as well as the nation's overall political agenda.

Officials expected final results by 4 a.m.

It was not the first time Mofaz, former chief of staff and defense minister, challenged Livni for Kadima's leadership. In 2008, he lost by about 400 votes and never really accepted her leadership. The rivalry has dogged the two — and the party — ever since.

Kadima shook up Israel’s political map when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke from Likud in 2005 in a dramatic move dubbed “the big bang” of Israeli politics. Kadima won the most seats in parliament in 2009 elections but its leader, Livni, could not form a governing coalition.

Three years later, Kadima is dogged by infighting and wide political diversity. The conflict between Livni and Mofaz was as much about the party’s future and foothold in Israeli politics as it was personal.

“This isn't about two people, it's about two parties,” Livni had said after casting her own ballot Tuesday. The choice was between a large party that would be an alternative to government or a small one that would serve as a “fig leaf” and opt for “seats at all costs,” she said.

Mofaz declared the elections to be about Israel’s future, character and values. He promised that Kadima would set “an ideological alternative to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's bad government.”

But the actual policy differences between Livni and Mofaz are hard to find “even with a magnifying glass,” wrote columnist Sima Kadmon of Yediot Aharonot.

The left-wing Meretz party said it didn’t matter whether Livni or Mofaz led the party because it was the same Kadima that “hurts democracy, opposes social justice and maintains the occupation and settlements.”

Israel is scheduled to hold general elections in late 2013.