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Ariel Sharon is looking at the polls in this weekend's newspapers and asking himself - is this as good as it's going to get? Three weeks after leaving the Likud, his new Kadima Party is still roaring ahead. In some of the polls he has already passed the 40 MK mark and is receiving more votes than he got in the 2002 elections as head of the Likud.
Haaretz's poll shows that almost two-thirds of Likud voters and more than 40 percent of Labor's are planning to vote for him. Tzahi Hanegbi's defection to Sharon doesn't seem to have caused even a hiccup, despite the police recommendation to put him on trial. So what can still go wrong?
Sharon's advisers don't sound the least bit worried by anything the rival parties can throw at them. Corruption? Capitulating to the Palestinians? The poverty gap? It's all been used by Sharon's opponents over the last couple of years and hasn't seemed to dent his popularity in the least.
No, the only things worrying Kadima's strategists right now are the time factor and internal party affairs. The new party has a leader but no tradition or hierarchy that can keep people in place. Right now there are an exuberant bunch of Knesset and cabinet hopefuls, but the moment Sharon publishes the list that he is working on with his inner circle, there will be a group of disappointed loose cannon ready to furnish the press, which has received very little inside information until now about tension in Kadima, with the requisite angry quotes.
To ward off this storm Sharon has taken a number of safeguards. First of all, to minimize disappointment, he has given out very few firm promises of future positions. Second, to relieve crowding, he hasn't accepted into the new party every MK willing to join. His main priority was for members of the two target electorates, Likud and Labor, but members of Shinui making inquiries were not encouraged, since Sharon believes that most of that party's voters need little encouragement to move over to Kadima, besides the defection of Prof. Uriel Reichmann.
In addition, Kadima will probably publish its list in the next couple of weeks, long before the required date. Thus it hopes that any attendant storms will blow over and be forgotten by March 28.
Ironically, when Sharon announced he was breaking away, some Likud leaders did their best to try to advance the election date in the hope that the new party wouldn't be able to organize and get off the ground in time. Elections tomorrow are now the Likud's nightmare. Its only hope is that three-and-a-half months will prove enough time to salvage some of the wreckage left in the wake of Hurricane Arik.
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