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Shamir Says He Has Now Assembled Government with 62-vote Majority

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Prime Minister-designate Yitzhak Shamir overcame a series of 11th-hour obstacles and succeeded in forming a narrowly based, Likud-led government shortly before his mandate expired at midnight Thursday.

He planned to inform President Chaim Herzog of his success on Friday and to present his coalition early next week to the Knesset, which must give the government a vote of confidence before it can assume its duties.

The key to Shamir’s last-minute triumph was the sudden decision Thursday by Labor Knesset member Efraim Gur to cross party lines and join the ranks of Likud.

The defection gives Shamir a 62-vote majority, just one vote more than the minimum needed to win a Knesset vote of confidence.

Gur’s move brought an angry denunciation from his former Labor colleagues, who apparently forgot that their party only a short time ago was blatantly wooing Likud renegade Avraham Sharir.

When Labor’s efforts to form a coalition failed, Sharir was welcomed back to the Likud fold. But Laborites swore Thursday that Gur will never again be a member of the Labor Party.

Despite this coup, several obstacles emerged Thursday that threatened to derail the Shamir express, which had been picking up speed all week as the Thursday night deadline approached.

The main obstacle was the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which was furious at Likud’s decision to renege on a promise to give it control over the Israel Land Administration.

At the last minute, Likud decided against transferring the strategic agency from the Agriculture Ministry to the Shas-controlled Interior Ministry. Likud offered Shas the Communications Ministry instead.

LITTLE HOPE OF UNITY REGIME

The Shas Council of Sages said it would evaluate the situation. But Likud Minister Ehud Olmert, one of the key negotiators, expressed confidence that the problems would be resolved by the midnight deadline.

Another last-minute snag arose from the rivalry of two Likud members, Yigael Hurvitz and Zalman Shuval, who both want to be minister of economics and planning. They threatened to withhold their votes for the government if denied.

Likud’s outspoken Ariel Sharon, a powerful proponent of a narrowly based “national government,” expressed confidence Thursday that once the new coalition was announced, it would be joined by the full Agudat Yisrael party.

The ultra-Orthodox party still has a nominal coalition agreement with Labor, though one of its Knesset members, Eliezer Mizrachi, signed a separate deal with Likud.

But by late Thursday, there was little hope left that the coalition efforts, which have been going on since March, would eventually lead to a new Likud-Labor unity government.

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres said Thursday that there have been no contacts with the Likud on forming a government.

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