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The titanic disarray of a Labor party riven by a contentious primary appears to play directly into the hands of Ariel Sharon, but down the political road, the lack of a coherent political counterweight may well boomerang on the prime minister, forcing him to disclose solutions - that he may not have - to the nation's plight.

With exquisite detachment, as if operating in a parallel universe, Sharon continued Wednesday to court Russia as a prospective soulmate of anti-terrorism, while the Labor party did what it does best, turning an opportunity for a new beginning into a verbal slugfest of historic proportions.

Referring to the election for a new party chairman, which dissolved Wednesday into a post-poll morass of uncertainty, recriminations, and accusations of criminal fraud, Ha'aretz commentator Akiba Eldar remarked:

"Anything that damages the Labor party and creates the impression that this is a confused party lacking a leader, neutralizes any alternative to Sharon and strengthens his position, particularly at a time when the public perceives everything as shaky and craves stability. At a time like this, the public seeks out anything that appears stable and flees from people, parties and phenomena that only increase their already considerable bewilderment."

"Naturally, therefore, I'm certain Sharon is sitting and laughing all the time," Eldar said.

Whoever the winner in the Labor contest - notable for having generated public interest and "heat" only after the votes had been counted - the new chairman will be taking office in one the most difficult periods the party has ever known, according to Ha'aretz political correspondent Yossi Verter.

"After (Barak's February) ringing defeat in the prime ministerial elections, after half a year spent without a leader, and in a partnership with an Ariel Sharon government that only in error is called a unity government, Labor has turned into a party without a path, without an agenda, without a clear party line, a clear statement of purpose, or a single message," Verter writes in Wednesday's Ha'aretz.

Eldar notes, however, that Sharon's lone occupancy of the apex of the political pyramid could become a liability in due course, making it clearer that Sharon's hesitancy to appear in public masks the prime minister's own confusion and lack of answers to critical problems.

"In the longer term, at a deeper level, the Labor plight only deepens the despair and the sense that all is screwed up. The public's hope that Sharon will improve the situation cannot be based entirely, by default, on the circumstance that the other side has no answer and is confused.

"Rather, even more than before, this will require Sharon to give answers - because there is nothing else today. He's the only one."