(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's family and aides prepare to solemnly mark his 78th birthday at Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem this Sunday, a Jerusalem Post poll has found that none of the prime candidates to succeed him is considered suitable by even half the population.
A Smith Institute poll of 501 people conducted on Thursday found that 49 percent consider Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "not suitable" to be prime minister while 46% believe he is "suitable."
The news for Olmert's competition was even worse. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu was found unsuitable by 61% and deemed suitable by 36%. Only 21% of respondents said they considered Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz suitable to be PM, and 75% said he was unsuitable.
The results came following a week in which State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's investigation into the sale of Olmert's apartment was leaked to the press, a Web site printed allegations about a shady business deal involving Olmert and the Betar Jerusalem soccer team, and the Hebrew press started publishing investigations into Olmert's past.
Kadima officials said they were relieved that the ratings of the acting prime minister's rivals were even worse than Olmert's. They said that had there been a tougher challenger leading Likud or Labor, the election could have been a lot closer.
"No one is in Sharon's league," a Kadima strategist said. "The Likud wanted the election to be about Hamas, and Labor wanted it to be about the economy, but the election has been about who is most fit to be prime minister. Bibi's low approval rating and all the polls saying that people don't find Peretz suitable make our situation less of a problem."
On Thursday, a day after Olmert and Netanyahu squared off in a war of words at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the two men met at the Industry and Trade Ministry for a regular briefing that both sides described as "cordial, serious and uneventful." Olmert advisers Gadi Shamni, Shalom Turjeman and Ilan Cohen updated the opposition leader about the state of the nation on military, diplomatic and economic issues.
Olmert associates slammed Netanyahu for convening the press after the briefing to criticize Olmert for "not seeing Hamas as a strategic threat." They said that Netanyahu's statements to the press had no connection to what he heard in the room.
"It was a stinking maneuver of dirty spin, but we expected it and the public isn't as stupid as Bibi thinks," an Olmert associate said.
Netanyahu's spokesman said in response that he convened reporters because "he was genuinely concerned about Olmert's policies."
The Smith Institute poll found that the number of mandates the parties are expected to receive had barely changed since last week, despite the reports of corruption and Netanyahu's well-publicized attempts to reform the Likud.
Kadima and Labor each fell by a half seat, with Kadima falling to between 38 and 39 and Labor to 17. The Likud held steady with 17 mandates.
The poll, which had a 4.5% margin of error, predicted that Shas and the National Union-National Religious Party would win nine seats and Israel Beiteinu between eight and nine. The poll gave United Torah Judaism between five and six seats, Meretz between four and five, and Arab parties between eight and nine.