Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, was discharged from hospital on Tuesday after undergoing medical tests on Monday for a minor stroke, aides involved in his forthcoming election campaign promoted a business-as-usual atmosphere.

While attention was focused on the prime minister’s health, the Likud party he abandoned last month voted for Benjamin Netanyahu, his former finance minister and leadership rival, to contest the premiership in the general election on March 28. Exit polls indicated Mr Netanyahu had won 47 per cent of an internal party vote to defeat his nearest rival for the Likud leadership, Silvan Shalom, foreign minister.

Mr Sharon, 77, was said to be feeling well and joking with his doctors before leaving hospital on Tuesday. He received political updates and a military briefing and asked how the media were treating Sunday night’s emergency, in which he was diverted to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital while en route to his home in southern Israel.

Doctors said on Monday the stroke had not inflicted lasting damage. But the upbeat bulletins did not prevent analysts speculating on the impact Mr Sharon’s health might have on the Israeli political scene and particularly on the fate of his month-old centrist party Kadima. The incident underlined that in a country in which he is by far the most popular and influential politician, he has no clear successor, either as prime minister or ruling party leader.

Mr Netanyahu, a former prime minister, led a rebellion against Mr Sharon’s decision to evacuate Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip this summer.

After many Likud parliamentarians defected to Kadima, Mr Netanyahu was expected to move the remainder of his party further to the right and to oppose any future territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Opinion polls have so far indicated the divided Likud party could expect to win only about a dozen seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The same polls predicted Kadima would win the largest number of parliamentary seats in the election, securing a third term for Mr Sharon, who took office in 2001. But some analysts said doubts about the health of Mr Sharon, who would be 82 if he completed a third term, could affect Kadima’s electoral support.

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