The pressure on Israeli Labour party leader Amram Mitzna increased on 20 January, as polls suggested that the party would do better in the 28 January general election if he was replaced by former prime pinister Shimon Peres. Under the present leadership, latest forecasts indicate that Labour will win about 19 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, against Likud's 32, with the rest going to a proliferation of smaller parties. This represents a considerable fall in Labour support in recent weeks, from the peak achieved when the corruption scandal surrounding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke. However, a poll in the local Maariv newspaper asked voters for their preferences if Peres was leader, and the result was 29 seats for Labour and 30 for Likud. Mitzna rejected the idea of standing down, telling Israeli army radio that 'under the former leadership the Labour Party would not exist'. He dismissed the polls as an inaccurate reflection of voting intentions. Maariv disagreed: 'Mitzna's election campaign resembles a magnificent funeral with a large congregation all of whom are there to make sure that the deceased did indeed depart this world,' the paper said.
The Ha'aretz reporter who broke the story about investigations into a $1.5 million loan to Sharon has been interrogated by Justice Ministry officials at the orders of Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein. He was asked, but refused, to reveal the source of the information. Ha'aretz condemned the move as an attack on the freedom of the press and on democracy.