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Israel's Labor Party to choose leader

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Haifa mayor Amran Mitzna is favored to lead the Labor Party into Israel's January parliamentary election, according to a poll released the day before the vote.

Mitzna and Knesset member Haim Ramon are challenging former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

But a poll published Monday in Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, showed 52 percent of Labor Party voters said they planned to vote for Mitzna compared to 29 percent for Ben-Eliezer and 11 percent for Knesset member Haim Ramon. The winner must get 40 percent of the vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will face off with Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this month in Likud party primaries for that party's nomination for prime minister. The latest polls show Sharon continues to lead Netanyahu in that contest.

Ben-Eliezer, 66, has said that his first priority as prime minister would be to negotiate a viable peace proposal with a post-Arafat Palestinian leadership.

Mitzna, a 57-year-old former general, supports the creation of a Palestinian state as soon as possible and believes that if the Palestinians will not negotiate, Israel should unilaterally establish the border between the two states. He has left the door open to negotiating with Arafat

Ramon, 52, said he would not waste time negotiating with the present Palestinian leaders and would press ahead with the construction of a barrier on the border between Israeli and Palestinian areas. Ramon is a former health minister and former interior minister and has been a member of the Knesset since he was 33.

Labor Party officials said polls will open at 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) and will close at 9 p.m. (2 p.m. ET).

More than 100,000 Labor Party members are eligible to vote at 260 polling stations around Israel.

The winner will lead his party when it faces off against the Likud Party in the January 28 parliamentary elections.

Amram Mitzna
Amram Mitzna

The Labor Party was a member of Sharon's national unity government until late October when Labor Party members bolted and voted against Sharon's new budget.

Labor leaders wanted some of the $150 million budgeted for Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be diverted to social programs.

Under the Israeli system, voters choose between parties instead of individual candidates. Parties that get at least 1.5 percent of the vote win a number of seats in the 120-member Knesset equal to their percentage of the vote. In other words, if a party wins 10 percent of the vote it would get 12 seats in the Knesset.

After the election, Israel's president gives one member of the Knesset the responsibility for forming a new government. That member -- the prime minister-designate -- then has 28 days to present a list of government ministers and an outline of proposed government guidelines.

Haim Ramon
Haim Ramon

Since it is unlikely that any one party will win a majority in the Knesset, the prime minister-designate generally has to reach out to other parties to form a coalition government.

Sharon has said that if he returns as prime minister, he would reach out to Labor to form another national unity government.

While Ben-Eliezer had served as Sharon's defense minister, Mitzna has vowed not to join a unity government.

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