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The Knesset House Committee voted Wednesday in favor of ousting the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairman, Pensioners' Party MK Moshe Sharoni, after he facilitated the approval of a bill to increase old age pensions from 16 percent to 20 percent of the average salary, in defiance of the government's position.

The bill, whose estimated cost stands at NIS 4.3 billion, will be forwarded, thanks to Sharoni's efforts, to the Knesset plenum for second and third readings.

Fifteen House Committee members voted in favor of Sharoni's ouster, and eight voted against. The Labor, Welfare and Health Committee will convene on Monday to approve Sharoni's ouster and appoint Pensioners' Party MK Itshac Galantee as the new chairman.

Sharoni said that his ouster was "a parliamentary carnage, a putsch and lynch. The Pensioners' Party manifesto vowed to increase old age pensions to 25 percent of the average salary." Sharoni also begged the forgiveness of the Pensioners' Party constituents.

Some House Committee members, including Nissim Zeev (Shas), Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), Ahmad Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) requested to postpone the vote and negotiate with Sharoni.

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar said that "Sharoni's ouster is all but vengeance. Anyone who has ever supported the increase of old age pensions should oppose Sharoni's removal from the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee."

Sa'ar said that the government would thwart the increase of old age pensions when the bill is voted in the Knesset plenum. He said that Likud offers Sharoni MK Moshe Kahlon's seat at the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich said that "Sharoni's ouster resulted from his conviction, which the Labor party shares, that elderly people should be treated fairly. Sharoni's only crime was that he was more loyal to his voters than the government."

Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan said that "Sharoni's ouster is the first sign of the government's imminent collapse." MK Ahmad Tibi said that it was "vengeful, hypocritical and ideologically-motivated."

Vote before ouster

A few hours before his ouster, Sharoni chaired a Labor, Welfare and Health Committee session in which the pensions hike was approved. Apart from him, other committee members who voted in favor were Labor MKs Ophir Pines-Paz, Orit Noked and Yoram Marciano, Opposition MKs Arieh Eldad (National Union), Moshe Kahlon (Likud) and Ran Cohen (Meretz). One MK, Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), abstained. The representatives of the coalition parties Shas, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu left the room when the vote began.

Sharoni decided to go ahead with the vote on Monday night, before his party could dismiss him from his position as Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairman. He thanked Labor and Opposition MKs for their votes, and expressed his amazement at Shas and Yisrael Beitenu, who vowed to struggle for a pensions hike, but failed to do so.

Last week the Pensioners' Party appointed Itshac Galantee as faction whip instead of Sharoni, following a proposal by the party chairman, Pensioners' Minister Rafi Eitan. Four faction members voted in favor, and three voted against. Sharoni then said that his ouster was "a dirty and disgusting complot."

Since Sharoni's election to the Knesset he was involved in several faux pas: he suggested decimating Arab villages, called his parliamentary assistants "birds" and suggested that sexual harassment victims could file a complaint within 48 hours only. But he was finally ousted because he refused to stop promoting the increase of old age pensions.

Sharoni is unlikely to split from the Pensioners' Party before March 2008, because according to the Knesset Act splinter factions could claim budgets only two years after elections. As MK Sara Marom Shalev, one of Sharoni's prospective political allies, put it: "By March next year, who knows who's going to stay." If Sharoni decides to split, his faction will be entitled to NIS 229,000 per month, at the expense of the Pensioner's Party, who would lose NIS 172,000 per month of state funding.