Kadima

Founded in November by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, on a centrist platform to pursue his aim of separating from the Palestinians.

It intends to set Israel's final borders after internal debate and consultations with the US, but not necessarily in co-operation with the Palestinians.

Many high-profile politicians have defected to Kadima.

It survived the shock of Sharon's stroke on 4 January, finding support among many Israelis for its stated aim of withdrawing from isolated West Bank settlements.

Led by Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, it is expected to win 35-40 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

Labour

Left-leaning Labour also supports withdrawals from the West Bank and is a likely Kadima coalition partner.

Labour, whose new chief Amir Peretz has sought to focus more on economic issues, has struggled to regain its prominence in Israel politics partly because of disenchantment with its failed policy of pursuing negotiations with the Palestinians.

Expected number of seats: 17-21

Likud

Hebrew for "cohesion", the right-wing Likud lost its footing when Sharon quit the party to form Kadima due to opposition from Likud "rebels" over his Gaza pullout.

Likud is opposed to unilateral withdrawals from occupied land and is unlikely to form any coalition with Kadima. It could try to stymie Olmert's plans by linking up with other rightist parties.

Expected number of seats: 14-15

Yisrael Beitenu

Ultranationalist party formed by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The most controversial platform of "Israel our home" is ceding Israeli-Arab villages located adjacent to the West Bank for Jewish settlement blocs, a policy Israeli-Arabs see as tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

Expected number of seats: 9-10

National Religious Party (NRP)/National Union

A key agenda for the NRP is to promote Jewish education. The National Union opposes any withdrawals from the West Bank.

Both parties are ultranationalist and merged partly to pool resources sapped by a split from Sharon's previous coalition government.

Expected number of seats: 9-10

Shas

The main platform of the ultra-Orthodox Shas is to help the poor and support causes of the Sephardic community, Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

Seeking to reclaim its influence as a political king-maker since being out of a government coalition since 2002.

Expected number of seats: 6

Meretz

The left-wing Meretz is the mainstream party most in favour of negotiations with the Palestinians as well as a slew of liberal causes such as same-sex marriages.

Meretz supports withdrawals from the West Bank and is likely to join a Kadima-led government.

Expected number of seats: 6

Arab parties

Although Arabs make up a fifth of Israel's 6.8 million people, the Israeli-Arab parties are battling apathy and the attraction of mainstream parties.

The main groups are Hadash, Balad and a United Arab List-led bloc.

They could struggle to win enough votes to keep their toehold in parliament. The electoral threshold for any party to get a seat has been raised to 2% of the total vote, from 1.5%.

Others

A group of minnows make up the rest. They include the Green Leaf party, which is trying to legalise marijuana use and a party for Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, drawing attention to the plight of one of Israel's poorest communities.

In addition, Gil, a party for pensioners, might win a place in parliament for the first time.