Poll: 30 Seats for Sharon's New Party

Were the elections to the 17th Knesset to be held now, Ariel Sharon would win a third term in office as prime minister and could set up a center-left coalition with Labor, Shinui and Meretz-Yahad that would have 66 seats.

These are the findings of the Haaretz-Dialog survey, conducted by Prof. Camil Fuchs last night among a representative sample of 600 Israelis from all sectors of the population.

Sharon would also be able to set up a coalition with Labor and the ultra-Orthodox that would have 71 seats in the Knesset.

The survey showed that Sharon's new party would be the largest in the Knesset, with 30 seats. Labor under Amir Peretz is maintaining a steady 26 seats. The Likud, which does not have a new leader, would crash and remain with only 15 seats.

The survey must be treated with caution as it comes in the wake of the euphoria over Sharon's dramatic quitting of the Likud. Past experience has shown that new parties tend to drop after an initial period of success in the surveys, and that voters tend to return to familiar patterns when it comes to election day.

According to the survey, there is a strong flow of Likud voters from the old party to Sharon's new one. Only some 40 percent said they would vote for the Likud again in 2006. As a result of the upheaval, Shinui is also expected to shrink. Most of its voters will go to Sharon, while a small percentage, mainly immigrants, prefer Yisrael Beitenu under Avigdor Lieberman, which would receive six seats according to the survey.

Meretz-Yahad is expected to lose one-third of its strength as the voters go across to Labor under Peretz, giving him an additional two seats. Yossi Sarid's call for joining forces with a Peretz-led party has had an effect.

When asked who was most suitable to serve as prime minister, as expected, 37 percent said Sharon, 22 percent Peretz and 15 percent said the new Likud leader. One-third of Labor's voters see Sharon as the most suitable prime minister, compared to 47 percent who favor Peretz.

One-fifth of Meretz voters also prefer Sharon as prime minister. On the other hand, 10 percent of the Likud voters say Peretz is most suited for the premiership, 50 percent would choose Sharon and 20 percent said they would like the next Likud leader.

As for the new Likud leader: Registered members of the Likud party prefer Benjamin Netanyahu by a wide margin. However, among Likud voters in general, Netanyahu would get 26 percent, followed closely by Shaul Mofaz with 23 percent, Silvan Shalom with 16 percent and Uzi Landau with 9 percent.

This may explain why Mofaz chose to remain in the Likud, hoping the party members would be influenced by the general Likud voters. That is unlikely, however, since Mofaz does not have an organized infrastructure of support inside the party and he would therefore have a hard time contending with an experienced Shalom over a second round against Netanyahu.