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Former lawmaker Ilan Gilon jolted Meretz with an upset victory in the party primary late Sunday, spurring new debate within the dovish party over a possible merger with a new leftist faction.

The victory, which placed Gilon second in the party, after Meretz chair Haim Oron, took many Meretz veterans by surprise. Current Meretz Knesset faction chair Zahava Gal-On who had been widely expected to come in second, voiced disappointment over the results but said she would respect them.

Also disappointed was MK Avshalom Vilan, who came in fourth after former MK Mossi Raz. Vilan later told Army Radio that the party should not rush to merge with the New Movement, saying that it not clear that the merger would expand Meretz' voter base.

Buoyed by polls showing Labor voters abandoning Ehud Barak's party in record numbers, Meretz has been undergoing a process of re-organization following the departure from politics of former party chair Yossi Beilin and senior MK Ran Cohen. Cohen had been considered the party's leading advocate for social welfare reform, a position Gilon has since assumed.

The radio noted that the party took some five hours to count less than 900 votes cast, hinting that surprise over the results may have prompted a number of recounts.

The 52-year-old Gilon, who served as a Member of Knesset in 1999-2003, failed to rank high enough on the Meretz ballot in the last elections.

"I have always wanted this but I never seemed to do so well," Gilon said as voter returns began filtering in on Sunday.

MK Tsvia Greenfeld captured the no. 5 slot on the list.