Late Wednesday night, after being rushed to the hospital for the second time in a month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was still legally the acting prime minister. As long as Sharon is capable of making decisions, he will remain prime minister, confirmed Justice Ministry spokesman Ya'acov Galanti.
If Sharon begins a process of general anesthesia, as he had been scheduled to undergo Thursday morning during a medical procedure, his powers and prerogatives will be transferred to his deputy, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert.
If anything unexpected should happen in the meantime, and Sharon becomes incapable of making decisions for some other reason, his powers and prerogatives will also be transferred to Olmert.
The stroke that Sharon suffered two-and-a-half weeks ago highlighted the fact that there is a lacuna in the Basic Law: Government, where it deals with the question of what happens if the Prime Minister is incapacitated. The current law does not address the question of who is to determine when the Prime Minister is incapable of making decisions, and what procedure should there be for transferring his powers to his deputy.
On the night of Sharon's stroke, Olmert was notified immediately of the situation but did not take over from Sharon. A few days afterwards, the doctors revealed that Sharon still felt the effects of his stroke the following day and that he was temporarily incapable of carrying out his duties.
It is a safe bet that the next Knesset will amend the law to fill in this vacuum. In the meantime, as far as Sharon's operation is concerned, the procedure seems cut and dry. As soon as Sharon begins to lose consciousness, Olmert will assume his powers.
Assuming the operation is a success, Sharon's doctors, and likely Sharon himself, will determine when he is able to reassume his powers.