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After many years in which they had no contact, Vice Premier Shimon Peres met with former Shas strongman Aryeh Deri last week. It is widely believed that the meeting was related to efforts by Peres to gauge the degree of support he can expect for his candidacy for the presidency.

Deri, who is no longer active in Shas, is still considered to be well-placed to evaluate the atmosphere in the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party, and it is likely that Peres asked for his opinion regarding his chances of receiving backing from Shas MKs.

Six years ago the party's MKs turned their backs on Peres when he ran against Moshe Katsav for the presidency and consequently lost the election.

Sources in this community say that Peres is spreading a message that supporting his candidacy would be good for the ultra-Orthodox because it would improve their image vis-a-vis the secular community.

A senior political figure told a Shas leader recently that "Shas must make it up to Peres for the blunder that he suffered six years ago." That conversation was allegedly carried out with Peres' full knowledge. There was no comment on this, however, from Peres' office.

Regarding their meeting, Deri said that the conversation with Peres had nothing to do with the presidency.

Also yesterday, sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Peres has still not told him whether he is interested in running for the presidency. The sources noted that if Peres did announce such an intent, Olmert would be compelled to support him.

Meanwhile, Peres is planning to meet with MKs from the Pensioners' Party today, in what has been described as an informational meeting on the vice premier's peace-related projects. However, it is likely that this is also part of the Peres circuit of vote-gathering for a possible bid for the presidency.

Anticipating a possible vote in the Knesset soon for a new president, MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) and MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) are preparing legislation that would change the Basic Law on the President. The bill calls for a open ballot election, as opposed to the current secret ballot vote, which the two MKs say would bring an end to the deal making behind the scenes.

MK Hasson said that an open ballot will force MKs to vote according to the wishes of the public, not because of internal political considerations.

MK Gideon Sa'ar, head of the Likud faction in the Knesset, expressed his opposition to the Marciano-Hasson proposal, saying it would strip legislators of the freedom to make a choice in the voting process.