Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party continued to surge in the polls on Thursday, a day after interim Likud chairman Tzahi Hanegbi shifted his allegiance to it.
Sharon's opponents had hoped that the police decision to press charges against Hanegbi would harm Kadima in the polls, but Kadima continued its upward swing. The Likud gained in the polls, while Labor fell significantly.
An Israel Radio poll of 500 people taken on Wednesday predicted that Kadima could win as many as 44 mandates depending on who wins the Likud's December 19 leadership primary. The Likud could win 16 seats if led by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor would receive only 21 or 22.
Kadima gained four mandates since last week in a Dahaf Institute poll set to be published on Friday in Yediot Aharonot. Labor lost four seats in the poll. A poll in the Globes newspaper gave Kadima 37 seats, Labor 21 and the Likud 12.
Labor was harmed in the polls by Monday's terrorist attack in Netanya, which shifted the focus in the election away from party chairman Amir Peretz's strong suit of socioeconomic issues back to security.
Hanegbi formally submitted his resignation letter on Thursday to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Cosmetics queen Pnina Rosenblum will be sworn in on Wednesday to replace him in the Knesset until it disperses itself eight days later.
Sharon asked Hanegbi not to resign from the cabinet, which is split between its six Kadima and six Likud ministers. The government officially became a transition government on Thursday, allowing Sharon to appoint new ministers without receiving Knesset approval.
But Sharon decided to continue holding seven portfolios and wait until after the December 19 Likud primary before appointing ministers. Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that if he is elected Likud leader, he would remove the Likud's ministers from the government, but Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he would keep the ministers in the government.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, who has been promised many times that Sharon would make him a minister, said he had no problem waiting in case the Defense or Education portfolios became available.
The only appointments Sharon made in Thursday's Kadima faction meeting in the Prime Minister's Office in Tel Aviv were to Kadima's campaign leadership team.
Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be the campaign chairman, Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit deputy chairman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni public relations team chair, Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson will handle Kadima's finances and Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra will chair Kadima's regional campaigns.
Sharon decided to personally head Kadima's campaign among minorities, assisted by deputy minister Majallie Whbee.
"I see great importance in the non-Jewish sector, so I decided to take the chairmanship for myself," Sharon said.
Kadima director-general Avigdor Yitzhaki announced that some 15,000 people had joined the party in the first week of its membership drive.
Sharon said volunteers should be sought actively among the members.
"It's very important to reach all the people who want to join," he said. "We shouldn't lose anyone. If people want to come and contribute, it's important that they be given missions no matter how local they are."