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A recent poll, released Thursday evening on Channel 10 news, claimed that Vice Premier Shimon Peres would be the best choice to lead the Kadima Party if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was unfit to continue in his role.
The survey revealed that Kadima, with Peres at its head, would earn 42 mandates if the elections were held Thursday. In contrast, Kadima front-runners, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Tzippi Livni would earn 40 and 38 mandates respectively.
Army Radio reported that Kadima leaders called upon its members to unite in support of Olmert.
The Kadima list was initially expected to be compiled by the prime minister, however, the party has been thrown into a tumult following its leader's critical health condition and the low probability of his return to political life.
The party was widely seen as one in which Sharon made all the important decisions, and his absence left its future unclear.
On the other hand, Minister without Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi said that the hierarchical structure with one man clearly above the rest could be viewed as an advantage. He said that Kadima was a nascent party and that the mechanism of choosing a leader has net yet been fully established.
He noted that the structure of the party left it free of infighting or dependence on a central committee.
Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit stated unequivocably that, assuming Sharon does not return to politics, Kadima should support the acting prime minister as its candidate for prime ministry in the upcoming elections in March.
In response to a specific question asking whether the acting prime minister should be supported even if he was not expected to gain as many Knesset seats as other candidates, Sheetrit answered that Olmert's initial ranking may not be very high, but he would become more popular with passing time.
"The position forges the man," Sheetrit concluded.
The comments he issued contradicted earlier reports that Sheetrit called on the Kadima Party council to hold a meeting within 48 hours "in order to decide who will lead the party in the upcoming elections."
The long time Sharon loyalist went on to say that a system needed to be implemented to finalize the party's Knesset list. The leading candidates to inherit the leadership of Kadima, according to Sheetrit, were Olmert, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and himself. He speculated that the chances of Shimon Peres leading Kadima were very slim.
Former Labor MK Haim Ramon, now in Kadima, said Thursday evening, "We can prove that even though Sharon won't lead the party in the upcoming elections, we can still win, because we have we have a message that the public is yearning for."
Earlier Thursday, in response to Sheetrit's reported comments, Kadima MK Roni Bar-On said that the party needed to unite behind Olmert's leadership and assist him in running the country.
"Calm and responsibility are what is needed now to run the country. All other things can wait for now," he said.
In a security briefing, Mofaz granted unequivocal support for the acting prime minister. He vowed that he and the security forces subordinated to him, would assist Olmert in any way they could.
Mofaz insisted that the IDF does not need to redeploy in a different manner following the sensitive situation caused by Sharon's probable departure from politics.
The March election could be delayed if 80 of 120 lawmakers support such a move, but a postponement appears unlikely.
Parliament Speaker Reuven Rivlin ruled out any delay. "Arik Sharon ... would have said we have to show leadership stability and of course hold elections on the date selected," Rivlin told Israel's Army Radio.
Upon hearing the news of Sharon's medical situation last night, Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said that he was joining the rest of the country in prayer for the health of Sharon.
"I wish the medical staff success in their mission," he said.
The Labor party issued a statement that read, "The Labor party, together with the people of Israel pray for the recovery of Ariel Sharon."
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said that party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef urged all Jews to pray for the recovery of the prime minister.
"I am not sure I believe in prayers, but I certainly hope Sharon would make it through the operation, recover, return to himself and resume his duties," Meretz-Yahad MK Yossi Sarid said.
According to Sarid, "I don't think that the elections would be delayed, and I don't believe there is legal precedent, for delaying elections if someone - even a central figure - is incapacitated."
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