Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that he supports giving members of his faction the right to vote for whomever they wish for president when the election takes place in the Knesset next week.
- Lieberman slams Netanyahu for reneging on deal not to back Rivlin
- Behind the scenes: Netanyahu's last minute, Wiesel-for-president scramble
- MKs prepare to cross party lines in vote for president
“Tomorrow the MKs of Yisrael Beiteinu will convene to establish our position. My position is that everyone should vote freely. I don’t intend to spend another second on the issue,” Lieberman said, at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
The foreign minister expressed the hope that his party colleagues would agree, and refused to say whom he preferred to see as president. “I know who I don’t support,” he said.
Knesset sources said Lieberman’s declaration will reduce the chances of candidate Dalia Itzik being chosen. Itzik had hoped Yisrael Beiteinu’s support would help her obtain the backing of other factions.
Political sources say Lieberman declared his support for a free vote after he had difficulty imposing his will on his party colleagues, several of whom had already decided for whom they planned to vote. These sources said ministers Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau and Yitzhak Aharonovitch were never keen on supporting Lieberman’s choice, reportedly Itzik, and that Shamir and Landau are likely to vote for MK Reuven Rivlin even though Lieberman strongly opposes him.
Submission of candidacies closed last week, with an unprecedented six people, among them two women, entering the contest that will be decided next Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not succeed in running his own candidate, after it emerged that none of the ones he considered had any chance of winning. In the end, Netanyahu declared his support for Rivlin.
The day after Netanyahu announced he was backing Rivlin, Lieberman said he would not support him for president, “Not because of Netanyahu or because of Itzik, but because of Rivlin. The prime minister knew that from the start.”
Lieberman added, “The message that came out of Rivlin’s office [when he was] Knesset speaker was not to my liking. I don’t think it’s right to get involved in gossip about bonuses or trips [that Rivlin allegedly granted MKs when he was speaker]. His positions on a lot of issues are not acceptable to me. During the last race I supported him openly.”