|The Iranian born Mofaz lost the 2008 leadership race to Tzipi Livni, pictured, by a slim margin [EPA]|
Israel’s main Kadima opposition party has elected Shaul Mofaz as its new leader, who will replace his rival and current leader Tzipi Livni, preliminary results showed early on Wednesday.
According to an initial sampling of 127 of the 197 ballot boxes, Mofaz had secured about 65 per cent of the vote, compared with Livni’s 35 per cent, Israel’s main television and radio stations reported.
Turnout among the party’s 95,000 voters was 45 per cent.
Pundits had predicted a very tight race between Livni and her deputy, but the preliminary results showed Mofaz taking a decisive lead.
Kadima is currently the largest party in parliament, holding 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, but a series of recent polls suggest the faction is likely to see that number halved in the next elections, scheduled for October 2013.
Speaking to reporters as he cast his vote earlier on Tuesday, Mofaz said he was ready to take on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in the general elections.
“The Kadima primaries are a vote on the future, on the character and the values of the state of Israel,” he said.
“At the end of this day, Kadima will set out on a new path as an alternative to the poor government of Netanyahu. I intend to win at the general elections and to replace Netanyahu.”
Born in in 1948 in Iran, Mofaz had a long military career, including being chief of the Israeli military, but has spent only 10 years in politics.
Mofaz also served as minister of security in 2002, and then as minister of defence between 2004 and 2006.
The 63-year old currently heads the powerful parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence.
Mofaz and Livni have been bitter rivals since they fought a very tight leadership race during the last primaries in September 2008 which saw Livni winning the vote by just 413 votes and replacing scandal-plagued Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as party head.