JERUSALEM,(Reuters) – Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Israel’s prime minister came to a symbolic end on Tuesday at a cabinet meeting that formally designated Ehud Olmert to replace the comatose stroke victim.
Under Israeli law, Sharon will be categorised as permanently incapacitated and unable to serve as prime minister on Friday, 100 days after suffering his stroke.
Olmert, deputy prime minister when Sharon fell ill, was named interim prime minister at the time.
At a special session, the cabinet designated Olmert acting prime minister, an appointment which Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon said would go into effect on Friday. The title change will have no effect on his powers of office.
As leader of the centrist Kadima party that Sharon founded last November, Olmert is trying to form a coalition government following Israel’s March 28 parliamentary election. Kadima came in first place in the ballot.
Olmert, 60, will become prime minister in his own right once the government he hopes to put together is sworn in. He has pledged to set Israel’s borders with or without Palestinian agreement, through evacuation of isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and the strengthening of major settler blocs in the territory.
Sharon, 78, never regained consciousness after his brain haemorrhage. The former general is expected to be moved soon to a long-term care facility, or back home to his ranch in southern Israel under medical supervision.
For decades, Sharon was a key figure in shaping the Middle East. Long seen as an archetypal hawk, he was first elected prime minister in 2001. In his second term, Sharon made an about-face, pulling Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the occupied Gaza Strip last year.
The dramatic move, marking the first time Israel has dismantled settlements on land Palestinians want for a state, stirred a far-right revolt in his Likud party, leading him to form Kadima.