Parties register for election, Sharon's Kadima leads in polls

At the closing of the list at midnight Thursday, 30 parties registered for Israel's March 28 parliamentary election, an official said, with the Kadima Party founded by ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon far ahead in the polls.

With Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the helm, Kadima is consistently polling about twice as many seats as its nearest competitors, the moderate Labor and Likud, the hard-line faction Sharon abandoned in November because of its opposition to his unilateral pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank last summer.

Sharon, 77, has been in a coma since suffering a massive stroke on Jan. 4. On Thursday, he underwent what his hospital called a "routine" CT scan, which showed no changes.

Olmert, 60, Sharon's closest political ally, has slid seamlessly into his place. Neither Sharon's absence nor the victory by the violent Islamic Hamas in last month's Palestinian parliamentary election has shaken his party's lead.

A poll broadcast on Israel Radio on Thursday showed Kadima winning 38 seats, Labor 17 and Likud 15 in the 120-seat parliament.

Parliament spokesman Giora Pordes said 30 parties signed up for the March contest. In the 2003 election, 28 parties signed up and 13 won seats.

Smaller parties scrambled to reinforce their positions ahead of the March vote. The pro-settlement National Religious Party and the hard-line National Union announced late Wednesday they would run as a combined list. The poll by the Geocartographia survey firm showed the new combination willing nine seats, down from 13 as separate parties in the current parliament, reports AP.

O.Ch.