The six candidates vying for the Israeli presidency will officially hand in their nomination forms Tuesday, as the race to succeed President Shimon Peres enters its final stretch.
MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), the current frontrunner in race, arrived first at Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstien's office after procuring the 10 needed signatories endorsing his presidential bid. He was followed by Labor's elder statesman and former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer,
The candidates also include former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner and Nobel Laureate Professor Dan Shechtman. Former minister David Levi's name was also suggested as an additional candidate and he has until midnight to file the paperwork.
From left to right: Itizk, Rivlin, Ben-Eliezer, Sheetrit, Shectman, Doner (Photo: Sasson Tiram, Yaron Brenner, Gil Yohanan, Avishag Shaar-Yeshuv, Meir Azulay, EPA)
The race for the presidency is slated to take place on June 10th in an anonymous ballot among Knesset members. The weeks leading up to the race were marred with speculation, with a number of prominent political figures toying with the idea of running but dropping out after failing to secure viable endorsements.
Such was the case with Likud Minister Silvan Shalom – whose candidacy was in doubt after decade-old accusations of sexual harassment surfaced – and who dropped out of the race after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman decided not to back him.
Despite coming from Netanyahu's Likud party, bad blood between Rivlin and the prime minister has ruled out the possibility Netanyahu would throw their support behind Rivlin, despite the swelling support he enjoys from party ranks.
"The law demands that the president be elected by elected officials, I can only hope they keep the public's sentiment in mind," MK Rivlin said after he handed in his form.
MK Sheetrit told that Edelstien "If someone had told me as a child in Morocco that I would be a candidate for president or a minister I would said that they were dreaming."
Itzik also handed in her nomination form, and said that "After 65 years and nine presidents, the time has come for a female president," Itzik said.
"With modesty I can say that I believe that I have years of experience, enjoy bipartisan support from right and left, from sabra and immigrants, Christians and Arabs. I will be a president for all of Israel's citizens," Itzik claimed of herself.
The Knesset hallways were astir with rumors and speculations as candidates attempted to sway uncommitted MKs in their favor and Monday's weekly party faction meetings were dedicated to what is expected to be a dramatic vote.
The two external contenders – Dorner and Prof. Shechtman – managed to garner the coveted signatures Monday and joined faction meetings to attempt to sway MKs to back them.
Rivlin swung right and crossed party lines to attend the Bayit Yehudi faction meeting, where he enjoys popular support, with all the party MKs expected to vote for him, expect for one – Bayit Yehdui Chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who has yet to announce who he will endorse.
MK Meir Sheetrit from the centrist Hatnua party, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, is placing his hopes in the left, and attended the Meretz party meeting and attempted to gain support. However, the majority of the party's MKs are expected to vote for Labor's candidate Ben-Eliezer; except MK Ilan Gilon, who is expected to vote Rivlin.
Rivlin and Ben-Eliezer's campaign have been working ceaselessly to find all uncommitted MKs and try to convince them.
But Netayahu's support is the most coveted of political gains, but a senior political source says "the prime minister has yet to decide and it is unclear if he will decide at all. It is far from certain that a public statement of support will do him any good, the most important power his support brings is the votes of Lieberman's (Yisrael Beitienu) MKs."
Affiliates of Prof. Shechtman and Doner say they are optimistic despite their slim chances. "For the first time there is a unique political constellation in the Knesset and there is no small number of MKs who will vote unexpectedly," a Shectman associate said.
"Needless to say, that some MKs view an external candidate as the adequate response to the current stalemate," to associate said.
Itizk, who in the past held political sway as Knesset speaker, but has lost power after taking a break from political life amid Kadima's political collapse, is running under the slogan "Time has come for a female president" and is also working the Knesset hallways in a bid to gain support.