BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Persian Pashto Turkish French
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: Middle East  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 12:52 GMT
Analysis: Scandal hits Sharon hard
Ariel Sharon
Sharon has denied the corruption allegations

Approval ratings for Ariel Sharon and his Likud party have dropped dramatically in Israel's polls less than three weeks before a general election.

The fall has happened despite the Israeli prime minister's full-throated denial of corruption allegations levelled against him this week.

There is reportedly a bank account owned by the prime minister's two sons where $1.5m suddenly appeared - and that doesn't happen with the average voter's bank account

Amotz Asa-El,
Jerusalem Post
Mr Sharon called "despicable political libel" the charge that there was anything improper about a $1.5m loan his family received from a South African businessman.

But polls suggest that, since the allegations surfaced, support for his party has plummeted to its lowest level yet.

"It seems pretty clear that the Israeli voter is taking [the scandal] into account," Leslie Susser, diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Report magazine, told BBC News Online.

Thursday saw the publication of the first polls that predicted Likud would win fewer than 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament - only a month after some surveys suggested the centre-right party would take 40 seats.

Complicated charges

The details of the corruption allegation are extremely complicated, involving the 1999 Likud leadership contest that Mr Sharon won, a subsequent investigation by the state comptroller and a $1.5m loan from Cyril Kern, an old friend of Mr Sharon.

Amotz Asa-El, executive editor of the daily Jerusalem Post, said the Israeli public does not necessarily understand all the details, but does care about allegations of corruption.

A woman walks in front of election campaign posters
Police are already investigating vote-buying claims
"What's alleged is that there is reportedly a bank account owned by the prime minister's two sons where $1.5m suddenly appeared - and that doesn't happen with the average voter's bank account," he told BBC News Online.

He said the scandal reminded him of the one that brought down Israel's Labour Government in 1977 - the party's first fall from power since Israel was founded in 1948.

He also cited the example of former President Ezer Weizman, who was forced to resign over reports that he received payments from a foreign businessman.

Second scandal

Worse for Mr Sharon, the allegation that he took an improper loan is the second corruption charge to hit his party in less than month.

Police are investigating allegations of vote-buying in Likud primaries, and Mr Sharon sacked a deputy minister for refusing to answer their questions.

Relatives of Tel Aviv bomb victim
Another bomb attack could boost support for Sharon

The attorney general's office, meanwhile, has confirmed that it is investigating Mr Kern's loan to Mr Sharon, at the same time blasting as politically motivated the leak that made the probe public.

But, while the allegations are clearly weakening Mr Sharon, for the moment it seems likely that he will hang on as prime minister.

All indications are that Likud will still be the largest party in parliament, giving Mr Sharon the chance to form the next government.

Uncertain coalition

But it is not clear what sort of government that will be.

Mr Sharon made clear before the election that he would prefer a broad centrist coalition.

Mr Susser said that, if the allegations against Mr Sharon weaken him within his own party, he could be forced to the right.

The opposition Labour Party does not seem to be gaining ground against Likud.

The centrist party Shinui - a new, aggressively secular party - has been the biggest beneficiary of Likud's fall, thanks to its "squeaky-clean image", Mr Susser said.

Its leader, former journalist Tommy Lapid, could end up as kingmaker, he added.

Security concern

But Mr Asa-El pointed out that a major security incident - such as another suicide bombing - could harden the national mood and push voters back to Mr Sharon.

Labour, he said, is associated with the Oslo accords, which are seen as having failed to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel.

He quoted the American pollster Arthur Finkelstein, who has worked for Likud: "Given a choice between the fools and the crooks, people will choose the crooks."


Key stories

Profiles

FACTFILE

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

08 Jan 03 | Middle East
05 Nov 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 02 | Middle East
21 Nov 02 | profiles
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes