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Israel  
Israeli Voters Hand Prime Minister Sharon Stunning Victory
Posted: January 29, 2003

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon led his Likud Party to a stunning victory in Tuesday's parliamentary elections in Israel, winning 38 seats in the Knesset, while Israeli
Israel Election Results
Party Seats
Likud 38
Labor 19
Shinui 15
Shas 11
National Union 7
Meretz 6
NRP 6
UTJ 5
One Nation 3
Hadash 3
Balad 3
Yisrael B'Aliyah 2
Ra'am 2
voters handed an equally stunning defeat to the Labor Party, traditionally one of the two most dominant parties in Israel. The history-making vote, while assuring Sharon a personal victory as the first Israeli leader to win re-election since the 1980s, marked several distinct shifts on the Israeli political landscape.

One question is the future of the Labor Party, which secured only 19 seats in the Israeli Knesset, a loss of six seats from the 25 it held in the previous parliament, according to the unofficial election tally. During the campaign, Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna made a pledge that his party would not enter into a unity government with Prime Minister Sharon, the reasoning being that Labor needed to reassert its own identity as an opposition party that was not undermined by the dominant Likud. Should Labor follow through on its pledge, the party could be effectively sidelined in any new Israeli government.

Meanwhile, the secular Shinui Party appeared to have achieved a historic level of support among the Israeli electorate, winning 15 seats in the new parliament. The unofficial results indicate that Shinui had gained nine seats in the 120-member parliament, making it the third-largest seat-holder in the Knesset.

While the history-making vote assured Sharon and his Likud Party a mandate to continue to lead the nation after more than two years of sustained Palestinian terrorism and a bleak economy, the vote marks several significant shifts on the Israeli political landscape, with the makeup of the new government still in doubt. Sharon now has 42 days to form a new governing coalition of at least 61 members of the new Knesset.

While Sharon's preference would be to create a new unity government with Likud, Labor and Shinui, Amram Mitzna's pledge to reject any offer to join a Sharon-led government puts that option into question. Sharon, therefore, may be left with several alternatives, including the option of forming a narrow right-wing coalition.

Voter turnout was about 68.5 percent of Israel's 4.7 million eligible voters. The Central Elections Committee hopes to complete the count of all votes by Thursday evening, January 30.

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