Shinui will fall from Israel's third-largest party to only its seventh in the March 28 election, according to a new Smith Research and Consulting poll conducted for The Jerusalem Post.
The telephone poll, conducted on Wednesday, found that Shinui would drop from the 15 mandates that made it a force to be reckoned with to only five seats in the next Knesset. Polls conducted earlier in the week already showed Shinui on a downward slope and, if the trend continues, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new party Kadima could wipe Shinui off the political map.
Sharon's associates said that negotiations with Shinui MKs about joining Kadima would intensify in upcoming days as it became clearer that Shinui's future was in jeopardy.
According to the poll, Kadima will win 32 seats in the election, followed by Labor with 25 or 26 and a Likud led by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with only 12 or 13. Netanyahu's associates expressed confidence that the Likud would rise dramatically in the polls if he wins the December 19 Likud primary.
The poll found that Shinui has fallen behind Shas with nine mandates, the combined National Union-National Religious Party list with nine and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party with six or seven. Arab parties would win eight or nine mandates and Agudat Yisrael five. Fourteen percent of the public is undecided.
A Gal Hadash poll broadcast on Channel 10 on Thursday night also found that Shinui would win only five seats. The poll predicted 34 mandates for Kadima, 28 for Labor and 15 for Likud.
Shinui chairman Yosef Lapid on Thursday dismissed reports of polls showing his party falling to five seats.
"Unlike what the polls are predicting, Shinui will win the election," said Lapid speaking in Tel Aviv to party members. His spokesman said that Lapid meant that his party would again win 15 or more seats. "One shouldn't trust the polls," he added.
The low numbers were merely a reflection of the surprise victory of MK Amir Peretz as head of the Labor Party and Sharon's decision to leave the Likud, he said.
Once the uproar had died down, the secular middle-class voters would realize that they had no representation in Kadima, Labor and Likud, said Lapid. "Then they will join us," he added.
That point would be emphasized as politicians in other parties vied to show their support for the poor at the expense of the middle class, said Lapid.
Shinui, he said, is the one party that is "defending the working citizen."
Other Shinui MKs also dismissed the polls. In the last election polls also underestimated Shinui, which then surprised everyone by coming in third, behind Likud and Labor, MK Eliezer Sandberg (Shinui) said.
He was among a number of MKs who told the Post that Shinui's goal in the upcoming election was to hold fast to its principles of fighting against government corruption and for a secular government and economic policies that benefit the middle class.
When asked if they would consider joining with Sharon's new secular party, MK Meli Polishook-Bloch's quick response was "absolutely not." Shinui's goal is to win more Knesset seats than Shas and United Torah Judaism, the MKs said, thereby preventing the two religious parties from securing a place in the coalition.
MK Avraham Poraz said that Shinui has in the past played a role as a coalition partner with Sharon and wants to do so again in the next government. But in the election it will stand on its own.
In speaking to party members Thursday night, Lapid thundered against Likud, Labor, Kadima and Shas, claiming that there was "stiff competition amongst them" as "to who is most worthy of wearing the crown of corruption." In contrast, he said, he was proud that "Shinui is a clean party." Lapid also attacked the new name of Sharon's party, which means "forward," explaining that it bore a striking similarity to the name of the official socialist daily newspaper Avanti! (Italian for "forward") of which Benito Mussolini was editor before he became Italian Fascist dictator.
"Either they [Sharon's party] don't know Italian or they don't know history," he said.
Lapid dismissed a few catcalls from the audience wanting to know why Shinui had failed. He said that Shinui had succeeded in keeping Shas out of the last government and planned to do so again.
In the next coalition, "It will be between us and Shas," Lapid said.
To those who have suggested that maybe it is time to lower the flag of secular government, he said, "I reject that suggestion. It remains our flag."