Kadima slips in opinion polls before Israeli vote
JERUSALEM, Mar 23 (Reuters) Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party lost ground in opinion polls today, but still seemed on course to win March 28 national elections.
The polls in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv newspapers showed victory would be by a smaller margin than previously predicted, hurting Kadima's hopes of forming a stable coalition government with a minimal number of partners.
The surveys found Kadima had slipped by between two to three seats to 36 or 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament.
Kadima has steadily lost support since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke on Jan. 4 that left him in a coma.
Sharon, a former general, was popular for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year after a 38-year occupation.
Earlier this week, Olmert set his hopes on winning more than 40 seats to give him greater leverage to form a government capable of implementing his proposal to set permanent borders for Israel by 2010.
Olmert envisions unilaterally dismantling isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while strengthening bigger enclaves in the absence of peacemaking with the Palestinians under a government led by the militant Hamas movement.
Palestinians say such go-it-alone moves would block the establishment of a viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza.
Today's newspaper polls found the centre-left Labour Party had strengthened to 21 seats after languishing for weeks at around 19 seats. The right-wing Likud party was down slightly with 14 seats, according to the polls.
Two ultranationalist parties, the National Union party and Yisrael Beitenu party, were up slightly in the polls, apparently at the expense of the Likud.
A significant number of votes from the larger parties appeared to be going to small interest parties such as Green Leaf which advocates legalising marijuana as well as a liberal political agenda and a party representing pensioners.
REUTERS SK RK1340