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Sharon Remains in Coma as Election Heats Up

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in critical but stable condition at a Jerusalem hospital. Over a week after Mr. Sharon's massive stroke, the Israeli election campaign is moving into high gear.

According to Israeli media reports, Mr. Sharon's doctors are worried that they have not yet been able to wake him from a drug-induced coma. They began weaning him off sedatives on Monday and hoped that he might revive in a few days. If Mr. Sharon wakes up, doctors can conduct tests to determine the extent of brain damage.

But the prime minister's condition has stabilized, and since his life is in no immediate danger, Israeli politics have kicked back into high gear ahead of national elections on March 28. Israeli political scientist Reuven Hazan told Israel Radio.

"We are about to get into the real politics season, and at some point we have to understand that political decisions have to be made regardless of the situation of the Prime Minister," he said.

The embattled Likud party, which Mr. Sharon abandoned in November, held primaries to choose a list of candidates for the elections. The results show that the Likud, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is moving further to the right. That means the party will oppose Mr. Sharon's plan for future Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank. Only two of the top 15 candidates supported the prime minister's pullout from the Gaza Strip in August.

"Likud has decided to stake a hard claim on the hard right," he said.

But that won't help the Likud in the elections because the Israeli public appears to be moving toward the center. Polls show that Mr. Sharon's centrist Kadima party, which supports territorial concessions to the Palestinians, is growing in popularity despite his departure from the political scene. According to the latest surveys, Kadima, led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, would win up to 43 seats in the 120-member parliament, compared to just 17 seats for the Likud.