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Israel poll bounce shows Livni leading Netanyahu

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.

Tzipi Livni has seen a sharp turnaround in fortunes for Israel's ruling Kadima party since she became leader last month and could now beat the right-wing opposition in a coming election, polls indicated yesterday.

Two newspaper surveys published a day after Ms Livni abandoned her efforts to forge a new coalition government and recommended to the president that he call a parliamentary election showed Kadima just beating Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud - a reversal of the results forecast in previous polls, published in August.

The centrist Kadima party has been battered by the 2006 Lebanon war and then the corruption scandal that forced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign last month.

But a poll in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper predicted it would take 29 of 120 seats - the same number Kadima has at present - while Likud would take 26, up from 12 seats. The Labour party of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Mr Olmert's main ally in the outgoing government, was seen taking 11 seats, down from 19 at present.

A similar poll, also conducted on Sunday, for Maariv daily gave Kadima 31 seats, Likud 29 and Labour 11.

The results broke with past surveys that saw Mr Netanyahu, his popularity boosted by Israeli jitters over regional security, easily beating Kadima and Labour.

Two polls in August, before Ms Livni replaced Mr Olmert as Kadima leader on September 17, showed Likud winning between 31 and 33 seats against a Kadima-led by Ms Livni that would take only 20 to 23.

Barring 11th-hour dramas, an election is now expected to be held in late January or February. Until then, Mr Olmert remains in charge of the country as caretaker Prime Minister.

Ms Livni said on Sunday that her efforts to form a new coalition government had failed and that she would seek an early ballot.

The Yedioth survey had 500 respondents and a 4.5 per cent margin of error. Maariv, which polled 900 people, gave no margin of error.

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