Israeli Foreign Minister and former Mossad spy Tzipi Livni won Kadima leadership vote on Wednesday, September 16, putting her on track to succeed scandal-plagued Premier Ehud Olmert.
"The good guys won," a victorious Livni told cheerful Kadima activists, reported Israel Army Radio.
Defeated rival Meir Sheetrit congratulates Livni and hoped for stable government.
Exit polls by Israel’s three major TV stations put Livni on 47-49 percent of the vote.
Her main rival Shaul Mofaz, the hardline transportation minister and former army chief, was predicted to have won 37 percent of the vote.
The two other candidates, Sheetrit and Avi Dichter, are expected to get 7 percent each.
About 74,000 party members were eligible to vote, and exit polls estimated around 50 percent participation.
Polling ahead of the election had showed Livni, already regarded as Israel’s most powerful woman, as the front-runner followed by hawkish Mofaz.
Israel’s ruling Kadima Party was expected to officially announce the name of its new leader early on Thursday if the winner garners at least 40 percent. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters will head to a September 24 run-off election.
Olmert, who announced on July 30 that he would step down once his Kadima party has picked a new leader, has faced public uproar over a string of corruption investigations that could lead to criminal charges against him.
But he is likely to wait until after the Jewish New Year celebrations and formally resign early next month, according to Israeli media.
The winner, who gets a minimum of 40 percent in the final results, will succeed scandal-plagued Olmert.
The next Kadima leader will have to assemble a majority in the 120-member parliament.
Livni, if confirmed the winner, would have 42 days to form a government.
If no new government is formed, a general election is held within 90 days, which polls suggest would bring the right-wing Likud party to power.
Olmert remains in office as caretaker prime minister until a new government is approved by the Knesset
The election, though decisive, looks unlikely to end the political turmoil or enhance chances of reaching a Middle East peace deal by the end of the year, a goal Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had set at a US conference that re-launched talks last November.
Palestinians expressed hope Wednesday that the next Israeli prime minister will continue peace talks and take steps to withdraw settlers from the occupied West Bank.
Livni has been leading negotiations with the Palestinians since the peace process was formally relaunched after a seven-year hiatus at a conference in the US in November, but so far the talks have made little progress.
Livni, 50, advocates withdrawing from most of the occupied West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem in order to reach a two-state solution.
Livni, married with two children, was born in Tel Aviv on July 8, 1958.
Her Polish-born father Eitan was director of operations for Irgun, a hardline Jewish gang led by Menachem Begin.
Her mother Sarah was also an Irgun militant, and the couple were the first to be married in Israel after its creation in 1948.
Livni received a law degree from Bar-Ilan University, and specialized in commercial, constitutional, and real estate law in a private firm for 10 years before entering public life.
The 50-year-old lawyer has been a rising star on the political scene for years and is today the most popular minister.
She was among the first ministers to join former premier Ariel Sharon in breaking with Likud in 2005 to found Kadima.
An MP since 1999, Livni was appointed to the cabinet in March 2001, becoming minister of regional cooperation.
She has since also held the agriculture, immigration and justice portfolios.
Earlier this year Livni confirmed press reports saying she had worked for four years in Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence agency as an undercover spy.
The influential Forbes magazine has ranked her 52 on its list of the world’s most powerful women.
Livni is Israel’s most powerful woman since Golda Meir, who was prime minister from 1969 to 1974.
She is only the second woman in Israel after Meir to hold the key foreign ministry portfolio.
A self-confident Livni has brushed off the comparisons.
"I am not Golda Meir the second, but Tzipi Livni the first, and I will lead Israel in the coming period."
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)