Likud gains weight ahead of Israel election

Israel's right-wing Likud party has strengthened slightly since the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as its new leader to campaign in national polls in March, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.

The poll, conducted for the Haaretz newspaper after Monday's election of Netanyahu as Likud leader, suggested the party was starting to bounce back after being left in tatters by the departure of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The survey predicted Likud would win 14 seats in the 120-member parliament -- a huge drop from its current 40 but a better showing than the 12 seats forecast in a previous poll.

Likud dominated Israeli politics for much of the past three decades, but its standing collapsed after Sharon and several other leading figures bolted to form the centrist Kadima party ahead of the March 28 national elections.

The poll underscored surveys taken following Sharon's hospitalisation for a mild stroke this week that Kadima would win 39 to 40 seats, putting it in place to form the next coalition government.

The centre-left Labour Party dropped slightly from 24 seats to 21, the poll showed.

It found Labour had stagnated despite the new leadership of fiery former trade union leader Amir Peretz, possibly due to the defection of elder statesman Shimon Peres who has announced his support for Kadima, Reuters reports.


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