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Shamir’s Coalition Facing Crisis with Tsomet Gone, Others Wavering

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government is walking a political tightrope, with his Likud-led coalition already fractured and showing signs of crumbling.

The government faces a crucial vote on the state budget Tuesday, which the law says must be in place by Jan. 1, the start of the new fiscal year. If the budget fails to win passage, Shamir will take it as a no-confidence vote and resign, according to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Shamir’s coalition was reduced from 66 to 64 Knesset mandates when Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan, leader of the two-member Tsomet faction, formally presented his resignation Sunday to the Cabinet.

According to law, it does not take effect until 48 hours later, which allows time for reconsideration. But Eitan showed no signs of that.

The former Israel Defense Force chief of staff announced his departure from the government last week after Likud’s 3,400-member Central Committee followed Shamir’s lead by refusing to support an electoral reform bill the Knesset was supposed to vote on this week.

The measure provides for the popular election of the prime minister by separate ballot.

Eitan, who supports the measure, charged that Shamir violated his coalition agreement with Tsomet by explicitly refusing to give Likud Knesset members a free vote on the bill.

RELIGIOUS PARTIES COULD BOLT

Transport Minister Moshe Katsav pointed out, to no avail, that whatever party discipline the Central Committee’s decision might impose on Likud would not apply to Tsomet.

But Tsomet’s defection still leaves Shamir with a comfortable parliamentary majority. However, he could lose the budget vote if cither the National Religious Party or the three haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, parties decide to vote against it.

The NRP, which is Orthodox but Zionist-affiliated, objects to the “special funding” of the haredi parties’ school systems incorporated in the state budget.

The haredi parties hinted that they would vote against the budget if funds allocated to their institutions are channeled through the Education and Religious Affairs ministries, both controlled by the NRP.

The ultra-Orthodox parties insist that the monies be allocated by the Prime Minister’s Office or by the Labor and Welfare Ministry, which is in the hands of the Agudat Yisrael party.

Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i spent Sunday in hectic consultations with the various parties, in an effort to secure their support for the budget.

To make matters worse, a member of Tehiya’s Knesset faction announced his party would vote against the budget in the absence of a commitment from Moda’i.

Tehiya’s threats reflected skepticism over Moda’i’s promise last week to earmark nearly $600 million for settlements in the territories.

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