An Israeli parliamentary committee on Sunday gave its backing to a bill that would change the nation's electoral law to allow right-wing hero Benjamin Netanyahu to run for prime minister.
Netanyahu, who quit politics after he was defeated by Barak landslide victory in May 1999 and resigned his seat in parliament, is currently barred from the leadership race because only sitting MPs are eligible for the post under current law.
A special election for prime minister is expected to be held in February after Ehud Barak, who has been in office for only 17 months, resigned a week ago to seek a new mandate to end the violence and conclude a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The so-called "Bibi bill" after Netanyahu's nickname will go to the full parliament for its first reading on Monday after being approved by nine votes to six in the constitution, law and justice committee.
However, Netanyahu himself is opposed to changing the legislation, and said last week he would only stand for prime minister if the Knesset votes to dissolve itself and hold early elections in tandem with the vote for the nation's leader, when he would be qualified to run anyway.
Parliamentary spokesman Giora Pordes said the 120-member Knesset would try to vote on second and third readings on Monday night both the "Bibi bill" and an opposition bill calling for early elections.
The fate of the early elections bill hinges on the powerful ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which backs Netanyahu but is reluctant to have legislative elections because of fears it will lose some of its 17 seats.
Netanyahu, the former leader of the right-wing Likud party, currently enjoys a 19-point lead over Barak, according to the latest opinion polls published Friday, while the current party chairman Ariel Sharon is ahead by five to seven points.
The Likud party is to hold primaries to choose its leader on Tuesday.
Barak was chosen by the Labor party as its sole candidate only hours after his formal resignation a week ago, but other party members are considering running, including former premier Shimon Peres, press reports say -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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