JERUSALEM -- A former prime minister won the Labor party primary over a relative political newcomer, party officials from both camps and Israel Radio said late yesterday, in a race between two former military officers who both called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down.
Although the votes were still being counted, the officials said former prime minister Ehud Barak would have a final margin of victory of 6 to 7 percent over Ami Ayalon, a former navy commander. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the tally was still in progress.
Barak is expected to replace deposed party leader Amir Peretz as defense minister in Olmert's Cabinet. Despite his call for Olmert to resign over last summer's inconclusive war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Barak was not expected to pull his party out of the coalition right away.
Peretz, too, was widely criticized for mishandling last summer's war, and leaves the job highly unpopular among Israeli voters. He was eliminated in a first round of voting two weeks ago.
In the run-up to the vote, Barak said he had the experience to save the flagging fortunes of the dovish Labor, the junior partner in Israel's ruling coalition, while Ayalon countered that the party needed to start over.
Labor has only 19 seats in Israel's 120-seat legislature. The party led Israeli governments for the first three decades of its existence, from 1948-1977.
Barak, 65, a former army chief, served as prime minister from 1999 until he was crushed by hard-liner Ariel Sharon in a 2001 election.
Ayalon, who carved out a niche as a peace activist since retiring as head of the covert Shin Bet security service, had presented himself as a fresh face untainted by mistakes and scandal.