First polls show strong support for Sharon's party

It is inevitable that with any earthquake, there are bound to be aftershocks. But it takes time to tell whether an earthquake has caused a significant and permanent change in the structure of the earth. The same holds true for political earthquakes, including the one caused by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to quit the Likud and form his own party. The tremors caused by the decision were immediately evident in polls published Tuesday in the Hebrew press. Sharon expected to see positive numbers. Whenever there is a political convention in the United States, that party's numbers automatically go up. But Sharon's associates were surprised by how big a boost they received in the polls. Surveys in Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv, and Ha'ar etz showed a badly damaged Likud following the departure of Sharon and 13 other Likud MKs from the party and into Sharon's newly formed party. A Dahaf Institute poll in Yediot Aharonot predicted 33 seats for Sharon's party, 26 for Labor and j u st 12 for a Likud led by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. A Teleseker poll in Ma'ariv and a Dialogue poll in Ha'aretz each gave Sharon's party 30 mandates, Labor 26 and Likud 15. The Dahaf poll found that 55 percent of the population th ou ght that Sharon was right to leave the Likud and only 25% said he was wrong. The Teleseker survey predicted that Sharon would have a much easier time forming a coalition than Netanyahu or Labor's Amir Peretz. The poll also found that the public overwhe lmi ngly prefers Sharon to run the country on diplomatic and security issues. In the Dialogue poll, only 40% of Likud voters said they would vote for the party again in 2006. When asked who was most fit to be prime minister, 37% said Sharon, 22% Peretz and 15% an unnamed new Likud leader. Most Labor voters said they saw Peretz as the ideal prime minister but almost as many chose Sharon. With such numbers, the earthquake has so far been a seismic success for Sharon. But the only poll numbers that matter are the results when Israelis go to the polls on March 28.h