Labor latecomer, trade union leader Amir Peretz, 53, is new Israeli Labor party leader. His first pledge was to take the party out of the Sharon coalition government.

Peretz vanquished the doyen of Israeli politics, vice premier Shimon Peres, 82, in an upset cliffhanger rank-and-file vote Wednesday, Nov. 9. He was elected Labor chairman and candidate for prime minister by 42.4% to 39.9% for Peres (64% turnout), portending an early national election.
The new leader has no background in national government or experience in foreign affairs.
His first task will be to hold the veteran party together. The third contender, Binyamin Bin Eliezer (13%) congratulated the new leader – but not Peres who demanded a close recheck of votes for fraud.
Peretz, a dove, campaigned for a return to Labor’s socialist values and a challenge to Ariel Sharon’s ruling Likud from the opposition. Peres took Labor into government last year as a junior partner in lieu of Likud rebels to give the Sharon government the backing for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. There is early speculation that Peres will treat his defeat as a Labor revolt and split the party to remain in government. Eight Labor ministers may follow him. Sharon is also on the brink of a decision about his Likud which too is riven by revolt.
The persistent talk of Sharon, 77, and Peres joining forces to establish a new centrist party and calling an early election for next spring is now a realistic option. It depends on Sharon deciding to continue their partnership after Peres lost the Labor leadership. It also depends on whether Labor party institutions and ministers endorse the new leader’s demand to quit the Likud-led government or defy him and follow Peres.

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