Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ Labor alignment appeared Monday to have won an important political victory over the Likud bloc, strengthening its control over the giant Histadrut trade union federation in balloting for the union’s top officers.
By early today, with 85% of the ballots counted, the Labor alignment led with 66.7% of the vote compared to 21.4% for the Likud, Israel radio said. During the last Histadrut elections four years ago, Labor took 63% of the vote, compared to just under 27% for Likud.
Interviewed by Israeli television early this morning, Peres called the results “encouraging” for his party, which shares power with the Likud in a national unity government.
Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, the second-ranking Likud leader, conceded that the voting was a “real defeat” for his party. However, he said the Likud’s showing proved that the party still has considerable strength and predicted that Labor would be “surprised” if it is tempted by its Histadrut success to break the coalition and seek new parliamentary elections.
Histadrut members make up more than 80% of Israel’s labor force and the quadrennial elections to the organization’s leadership bodies are considered second in political importance only to parliamentary elections.
The leftist Labor party and its political allies have controlled Histadrut ever since the labor federation was formed in 1920, long before the creation of the state of Israel, and Labor traditionally shows far greater strength in Histadrut elections than in balloting for Parliament.
In last summer’s parliamentary elections, the Labor alignment got 35% of the vote compared with 32% for the Likud--a virtual deadlock that forced them into the current national unity coalition.
Under a unique rotation agreement, Peres is serving as prime minister for the first half of the coalition term, with Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir due to take over in October, 1986.
However, Peres has been gaining in the public opinion polls since being sworn in as prime minister last September and most political analysts here expect Labor to try to break the coalition before Shamir is due to take over, in hopes of forming a new government without the Likud.