Knesset Speaker Edelstein Mulls Postponing Presidential Vote

After Ben-Eliezer drops candidacy, Kadima MKs push for delaying vote over 'foul'-smelling race, while his supporters look for alternatives.

Illustration by Amos Biderman
Illustration by Amos Biderman.

After Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer dropped out of the Israel's presidential race on Saturday with only days to go before the vote on June 10, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is considering postponing the vote to pick Israel's next president.

Likud officials claimed on Saturday that officials close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are considering the move, following Ben-Eliezer's surprise withdrawal- which was announced after police called in the veteran Labor MK for questioning on suspicions regarding allegations of illicit funding.

Kadima MKs Shaul Mofaz and Israel Hasson approached Edelstein on Saturday with a request to delay the vote by three weeks – the latest possible date according to the law.

Hasson cited “the way in which the elections have been conducted until now,” as his reason for filing the request, lamenting the "foul"-smelling race.

"The public and the Knesset must receive a concise explanation from law enforcement authorities as to why they summoned Ben-Eliezer for questioning four days before the election,” Hasson stated. “An opportunity must be given to all the remaining candidates to re-launch their election campaigns in light of the new circumstances.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein spoke with opposition and Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog about the latest developments in the race on Saturday. Edelstein told Hertzog that Labor’s position on the events will be considered on Sunday, when Edelstein meets with the Knesset's legal advisor Eyal Yanon and others to discuss "the new conditions of the presidential race." Knesset sources said the likelihood of Edelstein delaying the vote for three weeks is low, but that it remains a possibility. 

“We’ve had an eventful day," Hertzog said on Saturday. "I wish for Fuad that he gets out of the trouble he’s currently in. I spoke with him, and I honor his decision to withdraw. We’re working as a group. The Knesset speaker called me, and I will explain his propositions to my party members. I will meet with the leaders of the other opposition factions to try and formulate an agreement.”

A few hours later, Labor party officials said they would oppose the idea of delaying the vote.

Yesh Atid chaiman Yair Lapid said on Saturday he "opposes any move to delay the presidential elections," and Habayit Hayehudi expressed a similar view. The two parties' assistant Knesset speakers expressed their opposition to a delay in a meeting with Edelstein on Saturday.

Race reformulates

Meanwhile, the Labor Party was working to find a new candidate to endorse. The biggest winner from Ben-Eliezer's withdrawal may be Dalia Dorner, the former judge who is also in the race. Zahava Gal-On, who heads the Meretz party, announced her support for Dorner as candidate Saturday, as did all members of her party aside from MK Ilan Gilon.

Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog is expected to meet with Dorner on Sunday. It is estimated that at least five members of Labor will support Dorner, which puts the number of her supporters on Saturday evening at 12 at least.

Gal-On on Friday called on members of Meretz, as well as Herzog, Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, and the heads of the Arab and Ultra-Orthodox parties to join together in support of Dorner after the Ben-Eliezer's alleged corruption probe went public.