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Elections in the Air?

By Michael Freund
12/28/2004, 12:00 AM

Fall is upon us, the air outside has turned brisk, and along with the new burst of cold winds come indications that elections may soon be in the offing.

At a meeting today that was described as “difficult”, Justice Minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the Shinui party he heads will not support the government’s proposed budget when and if it comes to a vote in the Knesset, because of funds promised to the religious parties.

Since Sharon’s coalition has shriveled in recent months to just 55 seats out of the 120 in parliament, and Lapid controls 15 of those, the blow to Sharon is both personal and political.

Personal – because Sharon went out of his way to make Shinui a senior partner in the government from the very beginning of his term. He gave them some of the most important ministries (such as Justice and Interior) while at the same time brushing aside the Likud’s traditional parliamentary cooperation with the ultra-Orthodox parties such as Shas and United Torah Judaism in favor of Lapid.

Political – because Sharon can no longer claim to have anything even resembling a coalition. He threw out the National Union/ Yisrael Beitenu faction a few months ago over their opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plan, and then he effectively forced out the National Religious Party over his refusal to conduct a national referendum on the retreat.

Along the way, Sharon has mistreated his opponents, such as Shas and even Labor, to such an extent, that neither even wants to enter into a unity government with him. Even the Likud has begun to split from within, as half the party’s Knesset members now proudly call themselves “the rebels”, vowing to prevent the Gaza withdrawal from occurring.

And so, at the end of the day, all that remains of Sharon’s coalition is little more than political rubble. He ran roughshod over the system, and over those who dared to get in his way, and now at last it seems that his actions have begun to boomerang on him, leaving him with few remaining options other than to head for early balloting.

Bundle_up_1 So while the temperature outside may be starting to drop, prepare yourselves for a great deal of political heat in the days and weeks to come. Elections, it seems, may be just around the corner.