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The latest public opinion polls indicate a drastic drop in public support for Kadima, the party that had received the most votes in the last election and is running the present coalition government. Considering Kadima's miserable record since assuming power, this should come as no surprise.

Actually, the real surprise is that at this point 10 percent of the public would still vote for Kadima if elections were held today. One wonders what kind of fools these are, or do they suffer from the human weakness that afflicts all of us at some time or another of not wanting to admit that we made a mistake. Because those who voted for Kadima in the last elections certainly must feel pretty foolish nowadays.

Israel has had its share of newborn parties at election time. They inevitably appear after a period of government that seems ineffective or incompetent, and they respond to the public's longing for something new and better than the same old political parties they have come to know only too well. They are usually led by brash and self-confident candidates, who promise the voter pie in the sky and who look good at first sight. The initial opinion polls seem to indicate they will be unstoppable. But as the election campaign proceeds and the voter gets a closer look at them, their luster begins to fade, although they generally manage to get enough votes to get some of their candidates into the Knesset and manage to play some kind of a role during the tenure of the Knesset to which they were elected.

Next time around they are gone, or perhaps they appear one more time and then disappear, never to be seen again. That is the story of the Democratic Movement for Change (Dash), led by Yigael Yadin; the Center Party, led by Yitzhak Mordechai, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Dan Meridor, and Ronnie Milo; and Shinui, led by Tommy Lapid. A similar end is, no doubt, in store for the Kadima party, led by Ehud Olmert.

But there is one horrifying difference between Kadima and its predecessors. They may not have contributed much to the country, but they were harmless. The damage that Kadima had inflicted on Israel will take years to clear up, and the scars will take a long time to heal. Never before have we seen such an incompetent and corrupt bunch of people take the reins of power. How did all this get started, and how did they manage to fool so many people for so long?

Painful as it is for me to admit, it started many years ago in the Likud. Until 1977, the Likud had been in perpetual opposition, and it was only to be expected that as the Likud came to power, there would be a rush to place Likud members in civil service jobs. But actually, as long as Begin and Shamir were at the head of the Likud, there was amazingly little of that, both insisting that merit and experience where more important than party loyalty when it came to public service, and that public service must be held to the highest moral standards. Their personal behavior in and out of office served as an example of this standard. They were frequently criticized by the rank and file for maintaining Labor party people in positions of importance in the civil service. It was only after they left the political scene that the thirst for jobs and favors began to overcome all moral rectitude.

The Likud Central Committee became bloated, and many of the newcomers had less interest in the party's platform than in personal gain. The absolute limit in this corrupt game was reached when, during the last few years, the Central Committee was being packed with newcomers who had no interest in Likud ideology but saw in the Likud a vehicle for gain for themselves, their families and interest groups. Was it any wonder that Sharon managed to get many of the Central Committee's members to turn their backs on the traditional positions of the Likud when he began advocating the uprooting of settlements that he had helped found and that had been supported by the Likud over the years? For many members of the Likud Central Committee, there was nothing more important than staying in power and continuing the distribution of jobs and favors.

Fortunately for the Likud, many of the opportunists who had hitched their wagon to Sharon, impressed by the initial prediction of the pollsters of a Kadima landslide in the last elections, left the Likud for Kadima, whose hard core is today made up of these renegades. For the country, the ultimate result was most unfortunate.

Some good people with no previous political background were handpicked by Sharon and Olmert to serve as decorations on the Kadima Knesset list. By now it must be clear to them the they have become embedded in a fine kettle of fish. It is in their power to rid the country of this ill-fated government by bolting this moribund party. This is a test of their moral fiber.