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Shinui's 170-member council did a great kindness yesterday to Yosef Lapid, Avraham Poraz and the rest of Shinui's feeble and failing leadership: By their vote, they shortened the party's death and moved up the final blow the party would have received in any case on election day, March 28.

The question of whether Lapid and his colleagues will completely abandon politics or set up a new party called Shinui A or Shinui B is irrelevant - because the role of Shinui, whatever costume it wears, was over on December 20, the night that Ariel Sharon split the Likud and established Kadima. The four seats that the polls still show it receiving in the upcoming elections will now be divided among Kadima, Meretz and Labor.

The defeat that Lapid and Poraz suffered last night was entirely their own doing: For five years, they did everything possible to close the Shinui Council to new members. So great was their fear of newcomers that they failed to realize that a strong opposition was emerging from within their own house.

Last night, a moment after Poraz was defeated by Ron Levinthal, rumors began flying that Lapid and Poraz were considering splitting Shinui and taking at least eight of its 14 current MKs with them. That would enable them to keep the name Shinui, as well as its party funding, and run as if nothing had happened. As if there had not been a valid democratic vote by Shinui's electoral body. If Lapid, Poraz and the other MKs indeed take this route, they will be giving Israelis a very bad lesson in democracy.

One could say that Lapid has finished his job, so now he can go. But this demands elaboration: What, exactly, did he do? What was Shinui's contribution to Israeli public life over the last three years? It forced the ultra-Orthodox out of the government, and that was all.

The rational voter, examining the recent polls, understands that the next government will be comprised of two parties: Kadima and Labor or Kadima and Likud. The ultra-Orthodox are no longer a threat; therefore, there is no reason to vote Shinui. If Lapid had changed anything about Shinui over the last three years - turned it into a party with a diplomatic, economic and social platform, brought in new faces, introduced party-wide primaries - he would have been spared yesterday's humiliation. But he was too arrogant, too sure of himself and his product - right up until the blow fell.