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Vice President Shimon Peres
Photo: Ronen Boidek
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Likud MK Reuven Rivlin
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau
Photo: Tzvika Tishler
Photo: Niv Calderon
Labor MK Colette Avital
Photo: Niv Calderon
Katsav indictment kicks off presidential race
Kadima's Peres is frontrunner in presidential race opinion polls show, representatives from Likud and Labor also aiming for presidency

A number of Israeli politicians are gearing up for a potential presidential race, following Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to indict President Moshe Katsav on several charges, including rape, and breach of trust. 

 

Kadima, Labor and Likud are widely expected to give the nod to Vice President Shimon Peres, MK Colette Avital and MK Reuven Rivlin respectively to announce their candidacy on behalf of their parties.

 

In the spring of 2006, Israeli media outlets reported that former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Lau was being considered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a replacement for Katsav when his term ends in 2007, but Lau has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.

 

 

Kadima's number two man Peres has shown interest in running for president again, but has yet to make an official announcement. Kadima
sources told Ynet that advisor Eyal Arad, who steered Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to victory in 2001, has been recruited to manage Peres' presidential bid.

 

Opinion polls projected Peres as the frontrunner in the race, with most Israelis favoring him for the presidency. However, the Israeli public does not determine the outcome of such a race.  Under Israeli law, a presidential candidate is elected by majority in the Knesset. 

 

Peretz to back Avital

"He is the candidate that all the people of Israel want. The question is whether he himself is interested and this remains unclear. We need to create a process that could pave the road for Peres to become president," Peres aides said Tuesday.

 

Avital is widely believed to be Labor's candidate. In October, Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Amir Peretz extended his support for her candidacy during talks in Tel Aviv.

 

Should Katsav announce his resignation at a much-anticipated press conference on Wednesday, his authority and duties will automatically pass on to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima), who will serve as acting president until a new president is elected.

 

Dalia Itzik has backed Peres' bid for president.

 

Although Likud MK Reuven Rivlin is widely tipped to announce his candidacy, aides said Tuesday that the former Knesset speaker could rescind his plan and support Shas' candidate should the Orthodox party decide to join the race.

 

"He is closer to Shas in terms of his political agenda, as well as on the religious front. He is a traditional man and has a warm and loving attitude to religious affairs," Rivlin aides said.

 

Shas' Council of Sages, which is headed by rabbi Ovadia Yossef, is the body authorized to choose a candidate to represent the party in the presidential race but Yossef has not convened a meeting to debate the issue.

 

The religious party could decide to support Peres, who has good relations with Yossef.

 

Neta Sela contributed to this report

 

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