Results from the Israeli election show Kadima, the party founded by Ariel Sharon and led by Ehud Olmert, has won enough votes to lead a coalition government for the next four years. In his speech the interim premier first paid tribute to Sharon, who remains in a coma.
He then set out his programme, saying the time had come to “create a new chapter” for the country. He called for peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but made no mention of Hamas, the governing party. He remarked that if the Palestinians were not willing or able to make peace, then Israel would move ahead on its own.
Olmert wants to unilaterally draw Israel’s borders by 2010, dismantling outlying Jewish settlements in the West Bank while consolidating the larger ones inside the so-called security barrier. Turnout for the election was at a record low of just over 63 per cent – the result, some analysts say, of a less-than-inspiring campaign and the fact that Sharon was absent.
Labour has emerged as the second largest party in parliament. Leader Amir Peretz campaigned on social and economic issues. A former trade union leader, he wants the minimum wage to be raised, and better provision for the poor and disadvantaged. Labour said much of its competition came from Gil, the pensioners’ party led by Rafi Eitan. It appears to have made major gains on previous results.