Israeli ruling party leader Tzipi Livni said on Sunday she would recommend holding an early parliamentary election following her failure to form a new coalition to replace the outgoing government of Ehud Olmert.
Confirming in person what aides had said a day earlier following the apparent collapse of coalition negotiations, she was quoted by Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as saying: "When I had to decide between continued extortion and bringing forward elections, I preferred elections."
Livni is foreign minister and took the leadership of the ruling Kadima party last month after Olmert said he would resign as prime minister following a corruption inquiry. She still has a further week of a presidential mandate to form a government.
But she told Maariv daily the negotiations were over: "I will not let them extort me. We will go to elections."
The main obstacle to largely renewing the coalition that has supported Olmert was a refusal of the Jewish religious Shas party to follow Livni. It had sought guarantees she would not agree to share control of Jerusalem with the Palestinians and also wanted higher welfare benefits for its poor constituency.
Opinion polls show a big lead for the right-wing opposition Likud of Benjamin Netanyahu, which also opposes much of the peace proposals Livni and Olmert have made to the Palestinians.
A vote would most likely be held in late January or February, commentators say, more than a year ahead of schedule.
Livni's first comments on her failure to form a new government may indicate that she intends to fight an election campaign that portrays her as a woman of principle to an electorate disillusioned with multi-party coalition haggling and with a series of graft and other scandals among the elite.
"I'm not here to survive, I'm here to lead," Livni told Maariv, ruling out her other option of trying to run the country with a government that lacked a strong parliamentary majority.
"You can't extort me," she told Yedioth. "The good of the country is at the top of my agenda."