Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's election woes mounted on 8 January, as polls showed his support to have plummeted. A survey for the local Ha'aretz newspaper predicts that the Likud party will win 27 parliamentary seats, down from the 40 forecast when the campaign began, compared with 24 for Labour. With its right-wing allies, Likud should still just be able to form a coalition government, with about 61 out of the Knesset's total 120 seats. Polls in the Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth newspapers returned similar results. The drop in support follows a series of corruption scandals surrounding Likud and Sharon personally. Reports in the local press on 7 January revealed that Israeli police were investigating a $1.5 million loan used by Sharon to repay illegal campaign donations in 1999 (MEED 8:1:03
). In December, allegations surfaced of bribery during elections to select Likud candidates for the 28 January general election, forcing Sharon to fire one of his ministers (MEED 3:1:03
In another blow for the right, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that Arab candidates Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi could stand, overturning the decision of the electoral commission announced on 1 January. They had been accused of supporting Palestinian armed resistance. Meanwhile Likud Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was prohibited from standing on the grounds that he had not been out of the army for the requisite six months.