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MKs on Monday passed three votes of no-confidence in the government, dealing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with apparently the first such parliamentary defeat suffered since he was elected premier in 2006.

The votes were only, however, of symbolic significance since their initiators did not achieve the majority of 61 lawmakers needed in order to dissolve the Knesset.

An almost complete absence of members of the Shas party, a key coalition member, led to the passage of the votes. This absence appears to have been in protest against the Knesset House Committee's decision to appoint Labor MK Avishay Braverman chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, in opposition to Shas' wishes.

Yisrael Beiteinu passed a no-confidence vote that deals with the crisis in higher education, by a majority of 47 to 42 MKs. Party head Avigdor Lieberman said "the vote proves that the current government does not know how to rule - only how to survive - therefore, we must have elections."

A second no-confidence vote, from the opposite side of the political spectrum, was initiated by Meretz, and deals with the lack of implementation of the Winograd Committee's findings on the Second Lebanon War. Meretz head Zehava Gal-on said in response that the vote marks "the beginning of the end" for the Olmert administration.

The Justice for Pensioners faction, an offshoot of the Pensioners Party, initiated a no-confidence vote dealing with the government's failures with regards to elderly care, which passed by a majority of 50 to 48. Faction head Moshe Sharoni said the result serves to prove that the pensioners' struggle is a just one.

Likud whip Gideon Saar said after the three votes Monday: "Tonight's series of humiliating defeats proves that the faltering government has reached the end of its road." Saar added: "The government that had lost the public's confidence long ago has also lost the confidence of the Knesset."

Monday's defeats were especially hard on MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), who only hours earlier replaced Minister Eli Aflalo in becoming the new coalition chairman. Hasson stated in response that "the results were decided in advance," adding: "the opposition took advantage of an internal conflict between Labor and Shas."

"At no point during the votes was there any threat to the government's stability," Hasson added. He vowed to take action in resolving future internal conflicts within the coalition.