Meretz-Yahad didn't seem on Monday like a party lagging in the polls. The internal elections in the party's convention took place in a festive atmosphere at the Tel Aviv convention grounds. Contestants volunteering to explain the high spirits were all of the consensus that, after the upcoming general elections, Meretz's six years in the wilderness of opposition will come to an end and the party will become a bona fide member of the coalition. On the whole, there was very little fighting left-wing talk in building 15; the party leaders were much too busy measuring carpets for their future offices. The race for the second spot on the Knesset list after Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin was actually a showdown over one of the two cabinet posts they are banking on receiving in the Olmert administration. Listening to the Meretz MKs, it's already clear two and a half months before the elections, that the next government will have one of the most leftist coalitions in Israeli history: Kadima, Labor, Meretz and perhaps also a haredi party for good measure. For what was traditionally a peaceful party, Meretz has had its share of storms lately - usually under the surface, of course. In the two years since Beilin achieved the chairmanship, a quiet rebellion has been going on in the Knesset faction against him. The ringleader was grouchy former leader Yossi Sarid, who positively reveled in voting against Beilin's orders. He backed the motion in favor of reverting to the party's old name instead of Beilin's brainchild, Yahad. Sarid had nothing to worry about, since it was clear that he was planning to retire at the end of this Knesset term, but the rest of the MKs knew they were in the line of fire. Theirs were the only anxious faces on the convention floor, knowing Beilin was out to get them. Beilin wanted to get rid of at least part of the four remaining MKs, and had a raft of new candidates of his own to do it for him. On the top of the hit list was plain-spoken kibbutznik Avshalom "Abu" Vilan, who even admitted to reporters that he was nervous. Beilin was banking on the two deals representing former members of the two main factions that formed Meretz, CRM and Mapam, each working for two of the current MKs, canceling each other out and leaving the field open for the newcomers. And the results? All the four MKs got in on the top spots, including even Vilan on number 5. The Beilin-backed Orthodox peace activist Tzvia Greenfeld and convention secretary Isaweiya Freij only reached the sixth and seventh, unrealistic places on the list. Another of Beilin's candidates, Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli only came up as No. 12. Going into the elections, Beilin is probably the weakest leader of any of the parties. If he doesn't manage to confound the polls on March 28, the knives in Meretz will be out. A large number of members are already saying that if the party indeed enters the government, the convention should be reconvened to appoint the ministers in separate polls. If Monday's results are anything to go by, Beilin might well find himself on the back benches.

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