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OLMERT MAINTAINS LEAD

Latest Opinion Poll: 'Acting Prime Minister Olmert Is Maintaining Kadima's Lead Over Labor & Likud'

Hadassah Medical Team Is Cautiously Optimistic After 'Slight' Positive Reactions By Ariel Sharon

At His Bedside, Sons Omri & Gilad Tell Unconscious Sharon About Grandchildren & Farm and Play His Favorite Mozart Music

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert next to Sharon's Empty Chair

The Hadassah medical team's announcement about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon making 'slight movements' with his right hand and leg, possibly his left side as well, sent a wave of new hope throughout Israel. But the medical team warns although there is room for cautious optimism, the Prime Minister is still in a critical condition. Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll indicates Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is maintaining Kadima's lead in the election campaign.

Israeli voters are sticking with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Kadima party. The latest Channel One public opinion poll reveals that Kadima still has forty or so Knesset seats. This is about the same number that Sharon garnered before falling ill. However, Kadima's high rating could reflect the show of solidarity for Sharon as he fights for his life in Hadassah hospital. If Sharon does not make a full recovery and return to political life, part of Kadima's support could dwindle.

After Sharon quit the Likud and formed Kadima, the polls show that Likud nosedived from 40 to less than 20 seats. This implies that some 20 'seats' followed Sharon. But if Sharon is not leading Kadima, some of those 20 could be expected to 'return home' to the Likud. How many will depend upon Olmert's leadership in the current election campaign. So far, Olmert gets high marks for his smooth transition of power. (After an initial plunge of 4%, the stock market has rebounded.)Shimon Peres has just given a shot in the arm by declaring he will not return to Labor - Peres is sticking with Kadima. Peres said he had a deal with Sharon and he believes Olmert will keep it. The Peres step is a body blow to Labor party leader Amir Peretz who shunned Peres after defeating him in the race for party leader. Ehud Barak, another of Labor's 'big guns' is also about to see Olmert soon. If Peretz also loses Barak, Peretz will find it even tougher to boost his sagging rating in the polls. A behind the scenes effort is underway in Labor, to get Barak to join the Peretz campaign. Peres and Barak were essential for shoring up Peretz where he is most vulnerable - foreign affairs and defense.

But the dust has yet to settle - if Ariel Sharon had been a shoe-in to win the March 28th, no one can say whether Olmert, Peretz or Likud's Netanyahu will prevail. But if Olmert is now in the driver's seat, the election could be his to win or lose. Ariel Sharon kept his cards close to his vest about future policy. His status was such with the Israeli public he could get away with it. But Ehud Olmert cannot - Israeli voters will expect him to present a detailed program on how he will cope with the Palestinian issue. This is a must for all three candidates.

Hadassah Prof. Umansky

Ariel Sharon fights back - 'cautiously optimistic' is the reaction of the Hadassah medical team after the Prime Minister's 'slight movement' with his right hand and leg, possibly his left side as well, to a pain stimulus. This, as the neurologists reduce Sharon's level of sedation. But they also stress the Prime Minister is still in a critical condition. It will take days, maybe weeks, to determine what if any cognitive damage. The great outpouring of solidarity by Israelis of different political persuasions continues without let-up. People gather daily outside the hospital some pray others just stand in the rain to show their solidarity with Sharon's struggle. Their faces are sad and concerned. One man says:' Ariel Sharon spent his entire life defending Israel, the least I can do is stand here with him'. Another, a paratrooper now growing old, served in Sharon's division that crossed the Suez Canal in the Yom-Kippur War. He says: 'When I heard how sick Arik is, I just had to come. It's like my own father is in there being operated on and fighting for his life!' Sharon's two sons Omri and Gilad have remained at his bedside since he suffered his second stroke five days ago. The Maariv newspaper reports they talk to him about his grandchildren and the farm, about how the whole country is pulling for him, and play his favorite Mozart music. One unconfirmed report says that monitors have indicated that the Prime Minister responded when his sons said 'Father, wake-up'.

David Essing

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