Knesset Panel Agrees on June 13 for Presidential Election

Rivlin courts Shas in election bid, but party favors Peres; Labor MK Yachimovich warns ex-chief rabbi Lau against running, says 'certain stories from the past may arise.'

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A parliamentary advisory panel convened by the chairman of Knesset House Committee, MK Ruhama Avraham (Kadima), agreed Wednesday that the election for the next president of Israel will take place on June 13.

The proposal will be presented for approval by the Knesset presidency next Monday.

At present, only two people - Labor MK Colette Avital and former Kneset speaker Reuven Rivlin of Likud - have formally announced their candidacy. Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who is currently serving as acting president, must decide in the next two weeks if they are in the running.

President Moshe Katsav's tenure is set to end on July 15. A president must be elected at least 30 days before Katsav's tenure expires, which sets the election date somewhere between June 11-13.

To be eligible, candidacies must be submitted 20 days before the election, which means candidates must announce their intention to run for president within the next two weeks.

Rivlin met earlier Wednesday with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, seeking to court the party's support for his election bid.

The Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party said after the meeting, however, that it was still inclined to back Peres for the post.

Rivlin's 30-minute meeting with Yosef was attended by Shas ministers Eli Yishai, who heads the party, and Ariel Attias. Shas said that the meeting had been conducted in an excellent atmosphere, and Yosef wished Rivlin success.

On Tuesday night, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich warned former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau that he should not try to run for president, warning him that such a move could lead to unwanted revelations.

"In light of the circumstances surrounding President Moshe Katsav's incapacity, I strongly recommend to Rabbi Lau that he give up his candidacy, Yachimovich said. Katsav has suspended himself in light of allegations of rape, sexual assault and breach of trust.

Lau responded that he "didn't see or hear about this and has no comment."

Yachimovich continued to subtly threaten Lau and said that "I have reasons to believe that if he runs for president, certain stories from the past may arise, including some that have never been publicized."

Yachimovich is one of 10 MKs that have signed Rivlin's application for the presidential candidacy.

It appears that the race for the presidency will be between Rivlin and Peres, unless the latter decides not to run. In that situation, Rivlin would probably find himself running against Itzik.

The president must have a majority - at least 61 Knesset votes - to be elected. Peres ran against Katsav in the 2000 presidential ballot, but lost to his Likud rival in a surprise defeat.

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