Poll shows Kadima winning 40 mandates under Olmert's leadership.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
In his first day as acting prime minister and Kadima chairman, Ehud Olmert succeeded Thursday in uniting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's party under his leadership.
Olmert spoke to Kadima MKs and received a commitment from them to support him as the party's candidate for prime minister if Sharon does not make a miraculous recovery. Olmert met privately with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and agreed on cooperation. In an effort to keep the party united, he will meet on Friday morning with Shimon Peres, who is wanted back in the Labor Party.
Kadima officials said that Olmert would be the party's candidate for prime minister. The 14 founding Kadima MKs who make up the party's council will be asked to give Olmert the power to decide the order of the candidates on the Kadima list, which Sharon had intended to compile next week.
A Dialogue poll broadcast on Channel 10 on Thursday night revealed that Kadima under Olmert's leadership would win 40 seats - only two mandates less than the 42 Sharon received in a similar poll published on Tuesday.
According to the poll, if the election were held now, Olmert's Kadima with 40 seats would trounce the Likud and Labor with 18 and 13. Under Livni, Kadima would win 38, Labor 18 and the Likud 16. Peres would bring Kadima 42 and leave the Likud and Labor with 15 each.
The polls disproved theories that Kadima would crash immediately after Sharon's departure. Likud and Labor officials said they expected to rise in the polls after the public realizes that there is no chance that Sharon will return to the political scene.
Labor MKs said that their party should try to capitalize on Sharon's departure by drafting former prime ministers Peres and Ehud Barak to the party. But Labor chairman Amir Peretz fiercely denied that he had begun wooing Peres while Sharon was in the hospital.
Both Peretz and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu instructed their party members to suspend all political activity out of respect for the ailing prime minister. Peretz and Netanyahu called Olmert to offer him their assistance.
Netanyahu suspended his plans to have Likud ministers quit the cabinet on Sunday. Olmert currently holds 12 portfolios and Sharon had intended to appoint several new ministers next week.
Likud MK Michael Eitan said he would propose to Olmert that he form a "national emergency government" with Peretz in the cabinet and Netanyahu as finance minister.
"We can offer the public an alternative to Kadima without leaving the government," Eitan said. "The differences between the two parties are clearer than ever now that Kadima is led by Olmert, who is more left-wing than Sharon."
All the parties decided that they want to keep the election on March 28 and not advance it or delay it. The Shinui faction will convene in Tel Aviv on Friday to consider how to take advantage of Sharon's departure to resuscitate the party.
Former Likud MK David Mena officially joined the Knesset on Thursday, replacing Omri Sharon, who resigned on Tuesday. If the prime minister has to leave the Knesset, the next name on the Likud list is Shlomi Durani, who recently left the Likud for Kadima.
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