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Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 13:38 GMT
Israeli press give Sharon victory
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon casts his vote
As Israelis vote to elect a new Knesset and government, the country's major papers remain convinced that Ariel Sharon will continue as leader.

While some analyse the reasons why they believe Mr Sharon is bound to win, others have begun considering what this will mean for Israel's future.

"Foreigners arriving here are bewildered how after two bitter years the people prefer Sharon," a commentary in the centrist and top circulation Yediot Aharonot says.

Sharon was helped by the pale candidate who faced him [Labour's Amran Mitzna]

Ma'ariv commentary

"The answer lies in the wording of the question. When the situation is so difficult, people cling to what there is... Sharon," it believes.

"They will cling to him," it predicts, with a touch of sarcasm, "until a miracle happens and the situation improves, or until it becomes so difficult that Sharon's lack of a solution is no longer tolerated."

According to a Ma'ariv commentary, "Sharon is perceived as the only man who fits the situation."

"Sharon was helped by the pale candidate who faced him," it says, referring to Labour's new leader Amran Mitzna.

'Total wreck'

"Mitzna is a lethal mix of a serious man, but unknown and too leftist," it argues. "Mitzna's ideas - not all of them - the public is ready to adopt. But the implementation they put in the hands of the man they know better," it says, before describing Sharon as "the lesser evil".

Sharon got the country in a bad shape and is handing it back a total wreck

Ha'aretz commentary

A commentary in the leftist daily Ha'aretz attacks Mr Sharon's stewardship of the country, and the electorate for the likely outcome of the election .

"Sharon got the country in a bad shape and is handing it back in a total wreck," it says. "There is no realm of life that has not got worse - much worse - under Sharon's stewardship."

"[He] pretends to be Labour and Likud combined, which is a lot of baloney, of course," the commentary says, before turning its fire on the Israeli electorate: "So instead of choosing between two alternatives, as befitting a democracy, the public will elect Sharon today, as befitting psychopaths."

Religious imprint

The right-wing Hatzofe believes that Mr Sharon is aware it will not be easy to form a stable coalition if Labour refuses to join a unity government, as it vowed during the election campaign.

Israel needs a wise, realistic, government that will give another chance to dialogue with the Palestinians

Ha'aretz

Although "the opinion polls show a victory for the camp of the right", the paper urges against complacency on voting day.

"If the religious are wise enough to rally their ranks and support the religious parties, they will be able to leave their imprint on the political map," it says.

Durable government?

"Israel needs a wise, realistic, government that will give another chance to dialogue with the Palestinians," says Ha'aretz, but "in the absence of such a government, Israel needs an effective, determined and combative opposition".

The paper doubts the new government will last a full term in office.

[The new] government will expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories

Yediot Aharonot

"Political volatility, diplomatic reversals and developments in the investigations of the legal affairs of the Sharon family could dramatically advance the date of the next elections," it says.

Yediot Aharonot is not so sure: "It is also possible the next government, almost certainly right-wing, will endure."

"This government," the paper predicts, "will expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territories."

"Such a development will expropriate the last chance of separating the two peoples," it says, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians.

"It is best for those who support [such a move] to vote for right-wing parties and for those scared of it to vote for left-wing parties," the paper advocates.

The paper urges voters not to be apathetic.

"The important thing is to take a stand so that one can say to himself and his children that he did not avoid taking part in a historic decision."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"They are not looking for a new leader in a crisis"
The BBC's James Rodgers in Gaza
"Most people in Gaza will not see in Sharon a man interested in peace"

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28 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Media reports
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
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