Netanyahu Wants to Push Off Presidential Vote, but Fails to Get the Votes

PM wants to postpone or eliminate the presidency, but even top members of in his own party come out against him.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin.
Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Reuven Rivlin.Credit: Amit Shabi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu estimated on Saturday that the presidential election slated for June will not be postponed.

In recent days Netanyahu tried to garner the support of coalition parties for legislation that would hold off the vote for President Shimon Peres' replacement by six months while forming a committee to review the need, as well as possible alternatives, to Israel's presidency.

One of the ideas that would have been examined by the committee is to eliminate the institution of the presidency and introduce legislation that would grant the leader of the largest party in the Knesset the right to form a governing coalition. The law today says after a general election, the president, following consultations with all party heads, chooses the Knesset member most likely to form a viable coalition.

The move to eliminate the presidency was promoted by a Likud minister under the assumption that it would be supported in the coalition since both Tzipi Livni's Hatnua and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid are working on similar legislations. The thought was, right-wing sources said, that the suggestion to eliminate the presidency could convince Livni and Lapid to postpone the election. But, for now, it seems that Netanyahu lacks the votes to pass such legislation.

Sources with knowledge of the matter described Netanyahu on Saturday as "obsessive in his attempts to postpone the presidential election." The timing of such a move was said to be "complicated only one month before the election – this is very bad timing and it is doubtful that it could be carried out." They said that Netanyahu knows Livni and Lapid both want to change the current law, but it seems that he is unable to persuade them to back him.

In the general election of 2009, Livni led Kadima to a significant electoral achievement - 28 Knesset seats. The party maintained its place as the largest faction in the Knesset, but the president granted Netanyahu the first right to form a coalition, after he was recommended to the president by the largest number of MKs.

A person close to the prime minister confirmed that the idea to grant the head of the largest party the task to form a coalition was brought up, but he said that this was only one of many possibilities, and not necessarily the first in line, that was to be examined by the committee.

The idea, he said, was not even put in writing, and anyway, he added, it was bad for the right. Such a move could end up harming the right-wing's chances to win a general election. He says that while the right-wing is made up of many social groups, such as religious Zionists, ultra-Orthodox and Russians, the number of factions in the left is determined according to the identity of whoever is leading the parties.

Another idea that was to be reintroduced is to establish a presidential system of government in Israel instead of the current parliamentary system.

A proof of Netanyahu's failure could be seen in a Facebook status that was posted on over the weekend by Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who made it clear that he opposes the postponement of the presidential elections.

"I will oppose any attempt, if there will be one, to push off the presidential election or eliminate the presidency on the eve of the vote," Sa'ar, who, unlike Netanyahu, supports former MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), wrote.

"One does not change the rules mid game," he added.

Another key Rivlin supporter, MK Haim Katz (Likud), also expressed his strong objection to push off the vote.

"My colleagues in the Likud and I will not be part of an attempt to change a Basic Law for personal reasons Rivlin is the most suitable and the best candidate for the Likud and we all support him for president," he said. Katz also called on Netanyahu to back Rivlin.

Sources in the Likud said that Sa'ar would not have published the message had he thought that postponing the vote remained an option.

In recent months, sources close to Netanyahu voiced his frustration with the list of the possible candidates in the presidential run and the fact that he has yet to find a contender of his own that could secure Knesset support. Among the coalition parties, only Hatnua has so far announced its candidate for the presidential election, MK Meir Shitrit, who has yet to collect the signatures of ten MKs required to officially enter the race.

Another factor that should be taken under consideration in the presidential race, a senior Likud member says, is the decision of Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom, who until recently was considered a sure candidate.

Some six weeks ago Shalom was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman who worked for him some 15 years ago. Shalom denied the incident and said he does not remember the complainant. The case was closed last week due to the statute of limitations, lack of evidence and the fact that other women which were questioned refused to file a formal complaint.

"The key to understand the election currently lies with Silvan Shalom's decision whether to run or not," a senior Likud member told Haaretz. He predicts that former MK and Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik will not run if Shalom is in the race; but if he decides to sit this one out, Itzik's chances significantly increase and "she could find herself competing in the second round [of the presidential election] head-to-head with Rivlin."

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