Analysis / The Real Power Test

When they finish counting the votes tonight, we will know for the first time how much power Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's camp and the "rebel" camp really command.

The size of Sharon's camp will be reflected by the number of votes supporting Abraham Hirchson, one of the three candidates for the chair of the Likud's secretariat. Hirchson is Sharon and Ehud Olmert's candidate. The prime minister's son, Omri Sharon, is working hard for him.

The rebels' power in the Likud Central Committee, the "Feiglins" and their people, will be reflected in the number of votes cast for the second candidate for secretariat chairman, MK Michael Ratzon. He is the candidate supported by the rebels and Sharon's opponents.

The third candidate, Minister Yisrael Katz, will receive the remaining votes.

If Ratzon wins, Sharon will lose his control over the party, its computers and finances. He will find it difficult to function in the Likud headquarters. If Katz wins, Sharon will not have an easy time, but the blow will not be fatal.

The central committee and executive committee, on the other hand, each have two candidates contending. If Minister Tzachi Hanegbi beats Uzi Landau on the vote for central committee chair, he will not be winning because of Sharon, who supports him, but in spite of Sharon. It is not advisable in the present central committee to be identified with Sharon. A triumph for Landau, the leader of the rebels against Sharon, will turn the committee into ground zero for Sharon - a veritable disaster area.

Luckily for Sharon, he can make use of the Likud's constitution, which was amended in the days of Sharon's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, stipulating that the central committee cannot be convened without the agreement of the Likud's chairman.

Unlike the prevalent assessment in the political system, if Hanegbi is reelected central committee chairman he will not hasten to convene the committee and pass a decision supporting adding Labor to the coalition. He is not that popular. The importance in his election, for Sharon, is mainly symbolic. If Sharon succeeds in getting at least two of his three candidates elected - Hanegbi for central committee head; Minister Dan Naveh, who is contending with MK Gilad Erdan, for executive committee head; or Hirchson for secretariat head - it will be easier for him to gain support for his future moves, for example, an attempt to add Labor to the coalition.

If he manages to get only one candidate elected, Sharon's already shaky position will be struck a further blow. The Likud MKs will be afraid to confront the central committee members on issues like adding Labor to the coalition.

If the three ministers - Hanegbi, Katz and Naveh, who are considered favorite candidates - are elected, it will have a softening effect on the Likud. But if the rebels - or most of them - win, the repercussions will be extreme. The message of such a victory will be that Sharon is finished. His day-to-day functioning as the Likud's senior representative in the Knesset will be weaker and more complicated. In this case, it would be very difficult, almost impossible, for Sharon to lead the Likud again in the next Knesset elections.