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 Monday, 9 December, 2002, 13:24 GMT
Hardliners gain ground in Likud vote
Israeli Likud Party activists
Over 2,000 Likud members were eligible to vote
Supporters of hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have gained ground in a ballot held to choose the Likud party's parliamentary candidates for January's general election.

Candidates backing Mr Netanyahu - who opposes the idea of Palestinian statehood - made a better-than-expected showing.

Ariel Sharon (left) and Binyamin Netanyahu
Sharon and Netanyahu recently contested a leadership election
Analysts say the result will cause Likud - tipped to become the dominant force in Israeli politics after the general election - to swing further to the right.

The result will also strengthen Mr Netanyahu's position in the party, after he lost his own bid to replace Ariel Sharon as Likud leader in a leadership election last month.

The opposition Labour party began voting for its own election candidates on Monday.

Opinion polls suggest Likud is likely to make significant gains at the expense of Labour in January's general election, making it by far the largest party in the Israeli parliament and moving the government as a whole further to the right.

Ranked in order

The voting by the 2,940-strong Likud party central committee, which ended early on Monday, determined the order of candidates for the election.

This order is also thought to influence the prime minister's choices for ministerial posts.

Amram Mitzna
Amram Mitzna's Labour party has been losing ground
Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu were guaranteed the first two places, but the candidate who achieved the largest number of votes and therefore came in third was Tzachi Hanegbi, a veteran Likud activist and environment minister in the present government.

He was followed by Finance Minister Silvan Shalom, Education Minister Limor Livnat and minister without portfolio Dan Naveh.

Netanyahu supporters won 10 out of the top 31 places.

Under the Israeli system, voters opt for a party rather than a specific candidate.

The 120 seats in the Israeli parliament are divided up according to the number of votes each party receives.

The leader of the majority party becomes prime minister.

Labour candidates

Labour party members are currently voting to select their own candidates.

The polls close at 1900 GMT and more than 100,000 members are eligible to vote.

The top three places are already reserved for the Labour chairman Amram Mitzna, his predecessor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and the former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Support for the Labour party, which backed a decade of failed peace talks with the Palestinians, has dropped in recent years.

Polls indicate that many Israeli voters, frustrated by two years of Palestinian-Israeli violence, have shifted toward more hardline politics.


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