Ariel Sharon plans to call new elections as early as February, nine months ahead of schedule, according to an interview with the Israeli prime minister published Thursday. Sharon, who formerly opposed early elections, changed his view after newly-elected Labor leader Amir Peretz pledged to pull out of the coalition and bring down the government. Sharon and Peretz met Thursday to discuss moving up the elections, which were scheduled for November 2006.
"The moment it became clear to me that the existing political structure was breaking up I reached the conclusion that the best thing for the country is to have elections as quickly as possible," Sharon told the Yediot Ahronot daily. "If possible, we shall go to the people in February."
Peretz says that if the two fail to agree on an election date he will yank Labor's eight ministers out of the Cabinet immediately and the party will vote to dissolve parliament next week.
"In the complex and complicated reality in which the country finds itself, I have no intention of standing at the head of a minority government for months on end," Sharon told Yediot.
Labor legislator Yuli Tamir, a close confidant of the populist Peretz, said Peretz's election as head of Labor last week transformed the entire Israeli political scene.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who lost to Peretz in the Labor race, wanted to keep the party in the government until the scheduled election date. He led the party into the governing coalition this year to shore up support for Sharon's plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The pullout divided Sharon's Likud Party and without Labor's support, the plan could not have been carried out, reports the AP. I.L.