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      Sharon Will Appoint 1/3 of Knesset, Polls Show

      Though Israel is officially a democracy, Ariel Sharon appears to be in the unique position of being able to determine, all by himself, a full third of the upcoming Knesset.
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 12/25/2005, 8:21 AM / Last Update: 12/23/2005, 11:15 AM

      When he quit the Likud and announced the formation of his new party last month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained that as the party did not yet have institutions, he himself would set the party's list of Knesset candidates. With polls currently giving his party approximately one-third of the 120-member Knesset, it appears that he has the sole power of determining the identities of a significant number of members of Israel's 17th Knesset.

      The issue comes to the fore with the reported tension in the party between Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Justice Minister Tzippy Livny, both of whom wish to be appointed to the #2 slot. The matter has now been complicated by Shimon Peres' announcement that he, too, is leaning towards joining the list after all.

      Peres originally said, when he quit Labor and joined Kadima several weeks ago, that he would not run for a Knesset list - but is now reconsidering. (Peres' flip-flop was reminiscent of his announcement two years ago, upon assuming the position of Temporary Chairman of the Labor Party, that he would not run for the permanent post - which he did, losing two months ago to Amir Peretz.)

      Sharon must name 120 people to his list of Knesset candidates, knowing that the slot he personally chooses for each one will determine whether s/he becomes one of Israel's lawmakers or not. The higher on the list each candidate is, the more chances s/he has of entering the Knesset. If the party receives 30% of the popular vote, for instance, then it will have (roughly) 30% of the Knesset Members.

      Other large parties choose their Knesset Members more democratically. In the Likud, for example, the list is chosen in a vote of the 3,000 members of the party's Central Committee. That vote is currently scheduled for January 9, 2006. In Labor, the entire party membership throughout the country will choose the party's candidates, on Jan. 17.

      Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, asked his opinion on Sharon's power to name MKs, said, "It's very negative. But in truth, I can't blame Sharon - it looks like one-third of the voters in Israel are willing to swallow this and vote for Kadima..."

      Polls show that Sharon's Kadima party continues to hold a landslide lead over the other parties. If elections were held today, Kadima would receive 39-40 seats, while Labor would receive 19-22, and the Likud - 12-15.