Senior Kadima Officials: Peres Could Lose Presidential Race

Olmert: I have no doubt Peres perfect for presidency, will bring to office status, dignity that Israel deserves.

Two of the most seasoned politicians in the Kadima party said Monday that they believe that Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who earlier received the party's endorsement for the presidency, could lose the presidential race.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced at a Kadima faction meeting Monday that Peres would be the party's candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

Former coalition chair Avigdor Yitzhaki said Monday at the Kadima faction meeting that the party should have considered other presidential nominees, referring to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. MK Haim Ramon said that Peres has a 50 percent chance to win the presidential elections.

However, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday told Vice Premier Shimon Peres that he would do everything in his power to help him become the next president.

"I have no doubt that electing Peres is be the natural choice, and I have no doubt that if elected president he will bring to the role the status and dignity that Israel deserves. Had we tried to compile a list of all the qualities and merits that a president must have, I suppose Peres' biography would have fit the profile perfectly," Olmert said at the meeting.

Peres himself is expected to announce his candidacy only Wednesday, due to his wife Sonia's failing health. Sonia Peres suffered severe heart failure last week and is now recovering.

Coalition whip MK Yoel Hasson and MK Ronit Tirosh, both Kadima party members, have begun to collect MKs' signatures in support of Peres' presidential bid.

Olmert was the first to sign up, and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson, among others, have also offered their support.

Kadima intends to sign up all of its MKs, with the exception of MK Ze'ev Elkin (who is supporting Likud candidate Rueven Rivlin) and MK Marina Solodkin (who is supporting Labor candidate Collette Avital).

Lawmakers from other parties are also expected to support Peres.

Hasson said Saturday that he is certain that the Knesset will respect the public's wishes to see Peres as president, and that the vice premier will win support from many parties.