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Shinui's Ra'anana branch head Yael Meyer doesn't think of herself as a Pollyannish person, the kind who unrealistically sees everything as positive.
Her firm conviction that the centrist secular party Shinui is not in dire straights, she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, comes from a realistic belief that there are many voters who care about Shinui's three core issues - secular government, corruption and middle-class protection.
Meyer is among a number of branch heads who are not discouraged by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's sudden decision last month to create a new centrist party called Kadima, which is likely to draw from the same pool of voters. Polls show Kadima leading with 37 mandates, while they are predicting that Shinui will receive only five, a significant drop from the 15 it got in the last election.
"There is a long time between now and March. Things will change. Shinui has an important role to play that none of the other parties are playing," said Meyer.
Leah Malul, who heads the Ashkelon branch, said, "The people that are Shinui will never leave Shinui." She dismissed as irrelevant the departure for Kadima of one of the party founders, Uriel Reichman, who heads the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
People will return to Shinui once they understand that election promises to help the poor mean they will have to pay more taxes, Malul said. "Today it's fashionable to run toward the poor people. The point is that the one who is going to pay for it is the middle class."
Gershon Tsour, who heads the Ashdod branch, said he is not among those who change party affiliations like others change their socks. Sharon's new party, he warns, will wane with time. "Let me remind you that Shinui started in 1999 with two mandates," he said.
They believe it's possible to recreate the Shinui miracle from the last election, in which Shinui jumped to the third largest voting bloc in the Knesset despite a small number of party members.
But not everyone is upbeat. Tel Aviv branch head Eeki Elner, a strong Reichman supporter, said he too was thinking of leaving because he sees no future in the party. "Shinui is destroyed," he said.
Last Friday night in Tel Aviv, only some 45 people came to a party meeting that should have drawn hundreds, Elner said. "You have no idea how much time and effort was invested."
Elner blames party leader MK Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and MK Avraham Poraz rather than the creation of Kadima. He accuses Lapid and Poraz of selling out the party's ideals to keep their seats in the coalition and of not doing enough to promote new party membership.
Lapid treats the party like "his own small grocery store," said Elner. More to the point, he said, it failed in its mission to pass civil marriage legislation accusing Lapid and Poraz of not fighting hard enough on that issue in exchange for becoming part of Sharon's coalition following his re-election in 2003.
"Shinui doesn't have to be the only party to issue a civil marriage proposal. Labor and Meretz can also make such a proposal," Elner said. "Shinui has lost public confidence because it betrayed its [voters]. I don't see anything good coming out of it."