PM launches last-ditch bid to win vote

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 30-Apr-04 | Author: Mazal Mualem| Source: Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his closest aides have launched a high pressure offensive to shore up collapsing support in the Likud just two days before the party votes on the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

At a meeting with his associates, Sharon yesterday said he did not intend to worry about "the day after" and would concentrate on winning the referendum. He said he is intent on winning support despite the apparently grave situation.

In television interviews to be broadcast tonight Sharon will say he would find it difficult to contemplate how he could continue to lead the government and run the country if he lost the referendum.

While this does not amount to a declared intention to resign, it is meant as a warning, if not an outright threat, to Likud members that his defeat would endanger the party's hold on government.

What is still under consideration is a nationwide referendum if he loses the party one, but analysts see this as unlikely and possibly another political maneuver to sway his opponents inside the party.

Yet another option is bringing the matter to a cabinet vote, possibly leading to a break in the Likud. In coming days Sharon's supporters, led by his son Omri Sharon MK, will seek to prepare an emergency plan for referendum day.

The prime minister is continuing his own telephone campaign with key figures among the party faithful, using lists prepared by his advisers, and activists operating in Likud strongholds nationwide. In a personal plea, Sharon is explaining that his own political future and that of the Likud in power depend directly on the result of the referendum.

In an emergency session yesterday, Sharon and his advisers met to discuss the latest results of the opinion polls. Sources close to the Prime Minister say that even though there is a great deal of tension, Sharon remains relatively calm and has asked them not to give up but continue fighting to the end. One of Sharon's senior advisers was overheard saying "the deal looks lost."

The overall feeling among his advisers was strained as Sharon himself was unsure of the possibility of bringing the disengagement proposal to a referendum inside the party, but were convinced of its wisdom by Sharon's son Omri and his close confidant, Uri Shani.

The strategic advisers of the prime minister, Eyal Arad and Reuven Adler, adamantly opposed the idea. Over the weekend Sharon is expected to man the telephones and may hold more meetings with his advisers.

On the day of the referendum, Sharon will vote and then chair the weekly cabinet meeting. It is expected to use the media in a final, sharp bid for support close to the start of the voting.

Senior party activists say Sharon might just manage to win the referendum if ministers whose voices have not been heard - like Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom - make a dramatic and public appeal to the Likud voters to support the prime minister.

However, the chances of Netanyahu doing such a thing are slim and he at least is already busy preparing for "the day after."

Opponents to the disengagement plan have also voiced concerns that the Sharon camp could forge votes and are on a high alert to prevent any such tampering.