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Israel's Sharon Remains in Coma as Election Campaign Heats Up


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to fight for his life in a Jerusalem hospital following last week's massive stroke. Mr. Sharon's legacy is playing a big role as the election campaign heats up.

Officials at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital say the latest tests show that there is activity in both of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's brain lobes. But doctors are concerned that Mr. Sharon has failed to wake up from an induced coma, even though they began easing him off anesthetics on Monday. Medical experts say that's a negative sign with regard to his chances for recovery. Mr. Sharon's condition remains critical, but stable.

Now that the nation has absorbed the shock of the prime minister's sudden departure from the political scene, the election campaign is kicking into high gear. And Mr. Sharon's legacy looms large. His centrist Kadima party is continuing to make gains in the polls ahead of the election on March 28. Surveys give Kadima up to 43 seats in the 120 member Knesset, Israel's parliament, far more than any other party.

The man who has emerged as Mr. Sharon's successor and leader of the Kadima party is acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz says he is qualified for the job. "He's been in politics an awfully long time, he's been in the Knesset a long time, he's a lawyer by training, he's very smart and savvy," he said.

Mr. Olmert was a strong supporter of Mr. Sharon's pullout from the Gaza Strip last August, and he has promised to continue with his policies. Horowitz says that means implementing Mr. Sharon's plan for further Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank. "He wanted to define Israel's permanent borders. He's not going be doing that now; history has rolled too slowly if you like," he said.

Mr. Sharon was a tough former general and war hero and it took a strong leader like him to dismantle 21 Gaza settlements in the face of enormous opposition. By contrast, Mr. Olmert is a former mayor of Jerusalem with no military credentials.

Polls show that Mr. Olmert will win the elections by a landslide, but time will tell whether he can fill the shoes of Ariel Sharon.