Rivlin Faces Sheetrit in Runoff Vote for Israeli Presidency

Reuven Rivlin and Meir Sheetrit awaiting the result of the vote to become 10th Israeli president. Result expected soon.

Alon Ron, Emil Salman

MK Reuvin Rivlin (Likud) will face MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) in a runoff vote for the Israeli presidency on Tuesday, after the first round of voting failed to produce a clear winner.

In the first round, which began at 11 A.M. in the Knesset, none of the five presidential candidates received the necessary 61 out of 120, or in this case 119 (due to Meir Porush's absence - he is currently overseas), votes.

The Knesset members are slated to commence the runoff vote at 1:45 P.M.

Of the 119 votes, two were disqualified. Rivlin got the most votes, 44, followed by Sheetrit with 31. Former MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima) came close behind with 28 votes, followed by former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, 13, and Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman, 1.

The two candidates who received the most votes, Rivlin and Sheetrit, will face off in the next round of voting. The other three candidates were eliminated from the race.

Rivlin, 74, a lawyer by training, served as director and chairman of the Beitar Jerusalem Sports Association, as a member of the Jerusalem city council for a decade and as chairman of the Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene. He also served as Communications Minister in the Ariel Sharon government at the start of the previous decade.

Sheetrit, 65, was the first mayor of the city of Yavneh and has been a Likud MK since 1981. He served as treasurer of the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut labor federation. He also served as finance minister, justice minister and education minister.

The two beat out three other candidates in a somewhat unusual vote in that neither the coalition nor the opposition officially ran a candidate. The race was also unusually dirty, with two additional candidates forced to quit the race after police probes into their affairs.

One of the candidates who dropped out of the race early on was Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), who was seen as a frontrunner when he unofficially began campaigning earlier this year. He was forced to bow out in disgrace following allegations that he sexually assaulted a former employee 15 years ago. The police case against Shalom was dropped last month, but his presidential aspirations were gone by then.

Another leading candidate who dropped out of the race, this time due to corruption charges, was MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor). Ben-Eliezer quit the race at the last minute when police opened a criminal investigation into his financial affairs.

Before voting began, there was no clear favorite. More MKs had publicly declared support for Rivlin than for anyone else, though the secret ballot meant no safe predictions could be made.

MKs could vote for someone other than the candidate they publicly supported, and that has happened before. In the 2000 presidential election, for instance, Shimon Peres was the heavy favorite, but ended up losing to Moshe Katsav, only to win when he ran again seven years later.

Alon Ron, Emil Salman
Reuters