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Top Candidates for Israeli Prime Minister

Read brief profiles of three top candidates for prime minister in Israel's March 28 election. Voters do not cast ballots for individual candidates but for party lists. Parties are represented in the Knesset according to the percentage of the vote they win.

Ehud Olmert (Kadima Party)

Ehud Olmert
AFP/Getty Images

Acting prime minister, leader of centrist Kadima Party and front-runner. Olmert, 60, has been filling in for Ariel Sharon since the prime minister suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4. Olmert was Sharon's staunchest ally during Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer and Sharon's subsequent split from the hard-line Likud Party, which opposed the pullout. If he is elected, Olmert is widely expected to try to draw Israel's final borders, with or without a deal with Palestinians. Olmert has said he favors a return to negotiations — though such talks look increasingly unlikely following Hamas militants' victory in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. Olmert was first elected to parliament in 1973 at the age of 28, and held several ministerial posts. From 1993-2003, he was mayor of Jerusalem.

Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Benjamin Netanyahu
AFP/Getty Images

Leader of Likud and a former prime minister. Netanyahu, 56, opposed the Gaza pullout and was elected Likud leader after Sharon quit the party last November to set up Kadima. Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996-99, a period marked by economic slowdown and little progress in peace negotiations. He was finance minister under Sharon, but quit two weeks before the Gaza withdrawal. Netanyahu opposes most territorial concessions and favors a tougher stance against the new Hamas government. Born in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu moved with his family to the United States as a teenager, speaks fluent English and holds a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Amir Peretz (Labor)

Amir Peretz
AFP/Getty Images

Populist ex-union boss and leader of the center-left Labor Party. Peretz, 53, has focused his campaign on social issues, including raising the minimum wage and restoring some welfare payments cut during Netanyahu's term as finance minister. Peretz advocates a quick resumption of peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He immigrated with his family to Israel from Morocco in 1956 and settled in the working class town of Sderot, on the edge of Gaza. He earned his high school diploma, reached the rank of captain in the army and was elected to parliament in 1988. In 1995, he became head of the Histadrut Labor Federation, Israel's main labor union, which he ran for 10 years.


Source: The Associated Press