Call to Order / The Defection Game

It is not easy to choose a president, especially when one of the candidates has the best chance of becoming the next prime minister. "There are some people who support Shimon Peres and want him to become prime minister, and therefore they won't vote for him in the presidential race," explains a Kadima MK. "I wouldn't be surprised if some Likud members voted for him in the presidential race, to bar his way to the post of prime minister. Unlike Ruby Rivlin, I would be concerned about this scenario."

And if more than a few MKs take this consideration into account, what will the contenders for the post of prime minister - Tzipi Livni, Meir Sheetrit and Shaul Mofaz - do? What will former coalition chairman MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, a friend of Rivlin's who needs Peres out of the President's Residence to depose Ehud Olmert, do?

Perhaps more than any other person, Olmert is interested in appointing Peres as president and creating a situation in which Kadima has no consensus candidate to replace him. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the votes of about 10 solid Olmert supporters are guaranteed to Peres in advance.

Kadima members who switched over from the Likud are ostensibly a potential source of votes for Rivlin, but in practice, much depends on the pressure exerted on them by Olmert's people. Here is an interesting question: Will MK Haim Ramon, who has not shown up at the Knesset since the affair involving him forcibly kissing a young soldier began, make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to vote for Peres?

If Peres is elected, there will be an available position for a Kadima minister. This minister could be, for example, the chairman of the Knesset House Committee, MK Ruhama Avraham, or deputy Knesset speaker, MK Majalli Whbee. He could also come from the group of immigrants, such as Marina Solodkin (but she demanded Olmert's resignation after the Winograd Committee's report) or Zeev Elkin (but he signed Reuven Rivlin's form to enter the presidential race). There is a very powerful motive for each one of them to support Peres, or actually support his rival, if they feel they are not candidates to replace him in the minister's office.

Leftist supporters of Rivlin

The hard core of the Rivlin camp is the right-wing factions, which together have 32 Knesset seats. The National Religious Party (NRP) chairman, MK Zevulun Orlev, believes that if Rabbi Israel Lau does not submit his candidacy, all nine MKs from the National Union-NRP will vote for Rivlin. If Lau runs, the three NRP MKs will vote for him in the first round and only in the second round will they vote for Rivlin. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, MK Avigdor Lieberman, is inclined to support Rivlin, while the faction chairman, Robert Iltov, even signed his candidacy form. Nevertheless, one might wonder how MKs Yosef Shagal, who is considered a moderate, and Sofa Landver, who was Peres' Russian teacher, will vote.

The only Likud MK about whose vote the Rivlin camp is worried is MK Silvan Shalom. Nevertheless, there is some incentive for Shalom: if Rivlin is elected, Daniel Benlulu, who is considered an associate of Shalom, will take Rivlin's Knesset seat.

The Rivlin camp likes to boast about the support he enjoys from both the left and the center. Rivlin's candidacy form was signed by Labor's Shelly Yachimovich and Zeev Elkin of Kadima, among others. Elkin explains that in his opinion, the decision about whom to support in the presidential elections should be a personal decision and not a factional one. He feels that what is needed now is a president who is a unifying figure, and therefore Rivlin is the most suitable.

The chairman of the Knesset's Ethics Committee, MK Chaim Oron of Meretz, says: "I know that the Rivlin camp counts me as one of them. But I think the whole support game is virtual and I'm not going to reveal my vote." Hadash Chairman Mohammad Barakeh says: "I don't hide my satisfaction with Rivlin's functioning as Knesset speaker, but as a formal faction we consult and formulate a joint opinion."

The Peres camp also claims to have quite a few supporters in Yisrael Beiteinu, the National Union and the Likud and mention long-standing friendships that will play a role on election day. And only then, on June 13, will it be possible to know who won the defection game.

A third round

Contrary to what one may have thought, Colette Avital is not a negligible candidate. Not because she has any chance of winning and becoming Israel's first female president, but because she can get about 20 votes and necessitate a second and perhaps even third round of voting. According to the Basic Law on the President, if none of the candidates receives 61 votes, there will be a second round of voting, in which all candidates will participate. If the second round also fails to yield a candidate who received the support of 61 votes, the candidate who was awarded the lowest number of votes will drop out. In the fourth round, another candidate will drop out, and so on. All of the rounds, incidentally, have to be consecutive.

The Avital camp consists of many Labor MKs, female MKs who will vote for her because she is a woman (Meretz faction chairman MK Zahava Gal-On and Yisrael Beiteinu MK Esterina Tartman have already signed in favor of Avital's candidacy), and Arab MKs who will vote for her because of her moderate political stance. In other words, most of Avital's votes come from Peres' natural base of supporters. Therefore, it is likely Rivlin will end the first round with a substantial advantage over Peres. However, in the third round, after Avital drops out, the voting is likely to be even, perhaps very even. In this regard it should also be noted that if Lau runs, he is likely to take most of his votes away from Rivlin, and will serve as a counterweight to Avital in the first and second rounds.

A senior Balad official estimates that his party is likely to support Avital because of all the candidates, she has the most moderate views. He believes the other Arab parties will come to the same conclusion. Dov Khenin of Hadash says the faction will decide together how to vote. He believes the decision will be based on political stances. The question is how the Arab MKs will vote in the third round. How many of them will vote for Peres? How many will abstain? In the Rivlin camp, they are convinced he is guaranteed several Arab votes, even in the first round. Who, for example? In order to answer this question one can take a look around in Ahmed Tibi's Knesset office, which is adorned with a photo of him and Rivlin.

The Arab parties are not the only mystery; the situation in the Pensioners Party and in Meretz, which are both expected to allow members the freedom to vote as they wish, is also unclear. They do not appear in the election equation. The Pensioners Party faction chairman, Moshe Sharoni, signed Colette Avital's candidacy form. "We're from the same village," he explains, in an apparent reference to their common Romanian origin. He also says: "The time has come for a woman to be there. Then there will be fewer investigations and unpleasantness." The Rivlin camp is inclined to include Pensioners Party MK Yitzhak Galanti among its members. He refuses to disclose how he will vote, but notes that "Peres has the most serious record." In the Peres camp they are convinced that most of the Pensioners Party supports them.

'I cast entire bakeries'

As unclear as the balance of power is, one thing is certain: the Likud would prefer Dalia Itzik to Peres as Rivlin's rival. The main reason is Shas, whose votes were apparently promised to Peres. But what about the story Shas people are spreading, according to which they are looking into who has the better chance at winning before making a decision? The elections will only be held in a month and it is uncomfortable to tell Rivlin already now that Shas is planning to support Peres. So they come up with stories.

Nonetheless, it is worth inserting one proviso: in the previous presidential election, it seemed Peres was promised the support of four Shas MKs. In the end, all the party's MKs voted for the traditionally observant and Middle Eastern candidate, Moshe Katsav.

Shimon Peres likes to relate that the ultra-Orthodox always told him he must invest in them by casting his bread upon the waters in the present so he can reap the benefits many days later. "I cast entire bakeries," he complains. It did not help. But it is impossible to ignore one quality of the religious MKs: as far as they are concerned the vote is not a secret ballot, because there is a Creator above who sees all and records all. Therefore, if Rabbi Ovadia Yosef directs them to vote for Peres, they will all vote for Peres, even if deep inside they are casting an eye toward Rivlin.

The rabbinate without the presidency

It is unclear if Dalia Itzik's tenure as Knesset speaker will help or harm her if she decides to run in the presidential race. On the one hand, her reign in the Knesset is based on very strong alliances and just about every decision she wants goes through. On the other hand, she is also criticized and accused of aggressive behavior. Some of her rivals may be keeping the criticism to themselves, but in a secret ballot they will have no problem settling accounts with her. The mystery regarding Itzik's true power in the Knesset makes it more difficult to predict the election results.

If and when Lau decides not to enter the race, it will not be because of Shelly Yachimovich's warnings about the possible disclosure of embarrassing episodes from his past. Lau knew such episodes might be revealed even before Yachimovich reminded him of their existence. In effect, they were already disclosed in the race for the position of chief rabbi. The difference is that in the elections for the rabbinate Lau had a good chance of winning the sought-after post. This time, his chances do not appear to be great. Therefore it would be a pointless humiliation and besmirching. What makes it even harder for Lau is the fact that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef vehemently opposes his candidacy. Yosef feels that the rabbinate is the ultimate institution and after serving here there is no need to seek another position.