Middle East

Shaul Mofaz wins leadership of Israel's Kadima party

Shaul Mofaz (27 March 2012)
Image caption Shaul Mofaz promised in his victory speech that Kadima would lead the next Israeli government

Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, has elected former defence minister and army chief Shaul Mofaz as its leader.

He defeated the current party leader, Tzipi Livni, by a wide margin, winning 61.7% of the vote in Tuesday's primary.

Both politicians are former members of the governing Likud party of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kadima is the biggest party in parliament, but recent polls suggest the number of seats it holds could be halved in next year's election.

Despite the polls, Mr Mofaz said in his victory speech that Kadima would lead the next government and appealed to Israelis to have faith.

He also promised to "lead a new social order", seek new peace talks with the Palestinians, and "campaign for Israel's image and its future".

Mr Mofaz was born in Iran and emigrated to Israel with his parents as a child.

He is a former paratrooper who went on to be chief of staff and eventually defence minister under Ariel Sharon.

'Uninspiring contest'

The BBC's Jon Donnison in Jerusalem says while Mr Mofaz beat the incumbent Kadima leader Tzipi Livni comfortably, a poor turn out of just over 40% of party members demonstrated it was an uninspiring contest.

Kadima was only founded in 2005 by Mr Sharon, shortly before he suffered an incapacitating stroke.

Despite being the largest single party in Israel's parliament, it is in opposition.

Few commentators give the party much chance of beating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right wing coalition government in elections scheduled for next year.

After his victory Mr Mofaz appealed for party unity and said he would take the fight to Mr Netanyahu.

"I intend to win the general elections and bring Netanyahu down," he said. "Our country deserves a new social agenda, a different government system, equality of civic duties, and more serious attempts to achieve peace in our region."

Image caption Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, was well beaten in the contest for Kadima leadership

He appealed for party unity, and hinted there would be a place in his government for Ms Livni if he becomes prime minister next year.

In terms of foreign policy Mr Mofaz is generally seen as more moderate than Israel's current leadership.

In 2009 he came up with his own plan for peace with the Palestinians.

On relations on Iran he has not been publicly outspoken but has criticised government officials for speculating too much in the media about a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.