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Sharon's Party Likely to Gain Seats in Israel's Next Elections

Israel will hold general elections Jan. 28, nine months before the current parliament must be dissolved, a parliamentary committee decided Monday.

According to recent polls, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hawkish Likud party is favored to gain seats and become the largest party in parliament. The dovish Labor Party is likely to lose seats, the polls show.

However, no party has a realistic shot at winning an outright majority in the 120-seat parliament, and the result will almost certainly be another coalition government made up of multiple parties.

Giora Pordes, the parliament spokesman, said the committee responsible for deciding on the date chose Jan. 28, the date originally put forth by Sharon.

Sharon recently dissolved parliament and agreed to early elections after the Labor Party, his largest coalition partner, left the government and he was unable to form a stable government with small, right-wing parties.

Labor will have its leadership vote on Nov. 19, with current party chief Binyamin Ben-Eliezer facing two dovish candidates, Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna and legislator Haim Ramon.

Mitzna, who leads the trio in polls among Labor voters, says that as party chief he would not lead Labor into another coalition with Likud.

Third-place Ramon announced Monday he will stay in the race despite his poor showing in polls. If the vote splits three ways, none of the three would be likely to get the 50 percent needed for outright victory, which would force a runoff.

The Likud party announced Sunday it will hold its leadership election Nov. 28 to decide if Sharon or his top rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, will lead the party in the general elections.

The parliament will begin an election recess at the end of this week that will extend until the election, Pordes said.