JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has widened his lead ahead of a March 28 general election, aided by defections from his former Likud party to his new centrist Kadima party, a poll found on Monday.
The opinion poll published in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found that Kadima would win 41 seats in the 120-member parliament in the election, setting the stage for Sharon”s re-election.
The survey was conducted following a stream of defections from the right-wing Likud to Kadima, including that of popular Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, who announced on Sunday that he was quitting a Likud leadership race to join forces with Sharon.
A convincing victory would enable Sharon to establish a stable coalition that would not be at the mercy of smaller parties or rightist rebels. That vulnerability has plagued his current government, forcing him to call an early election.
Kadima has widened its lead at the expense of Likud, which Sharon quit over a rebellion by hardline legislators angry at Israel”s withdrawal from Gaza in September.
Likud would win only 11 seats, a steep drop from its current 40, the poll found. The centre-left Labour Party would win 21 seats, maintaining its current parliamentary strength under its new leader, former trade union chief Amir Peretz.
Mofaz”s decision pushed Kadima over the 40-seat threshold. Last week, Tzachi Hanegbi, the Likud chairman and a long-time Likud activist, switched sides to Kadima.
The poll questioned 500 respondents and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent. Fifty percent of respondents said they believed that Likud had become a far-right party following the establishment of Sharon”s Kadima.