In an unexpected move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to succeed the 90-year-old Shimon Peres as Israel’s next president who is stepping down in July.
The election of the new President by the Israel’s parliament will take place on June 10.
The new president will be chosen by a secret ballot of the 120 Knesset members.
On Wednesday, the Knesset Speaker, Yuli Edelstein, finalised the list of six presidential candidates a record, who have secured the necessary endorsement of 10 Knesset members : Former Knesset Speaker and Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, Labour’s Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a former Defence Minister and Hatnuah’s former Finance Minister Meir Sheetrit were joined by Dalia Itzik, who is not a current MK but had previously represented both Labour and Kadima, former Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner and Nobel Prize laureate Dan Shechtman.
Although Rivlin was already considered a front-runner, it had been well-reported that Netanyahu holds deep antipathy towards Rivlin and was searching hard for a candidate to rival his fellow Likud MK.
With no apparent alternative, Netanyahu was expected not to publicly endorse any candidate rather than back Rivlin, who is a popular Likud figure.
Netanyahu told Rivlin, “As the prime minister and the Likud chairman, I am expressing my support for your candidacy,” noting that, “We have been through a lot together in our lifetimes. Someday were good and some not so good, but I hope we will know better days.”
Rivlin has also been publicly backed by Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.
However, it is unclear whether Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Leiberman, who is also Foreign Minister, will urge his faction to support Rivlin in the wake of Netanyahu’s endorsement.
It has also been suggested that some ultra-Orthodox MKs who oppose the current government may be less inclined to support Rivlin following Netanyahu’s announcement. Nonetheless, at this stage Rivlin is considered the favourite to win the vote, with either Ben Eliezer or Itzik most likely to contest the final round of voting against him.
Born in Jerusalem on 9 September 1939, Reuven Rivlin is a lawyer by profession and a veteran Likud Member of the Knesset. He was first elected to the parliament in 1988 and was Likud chairman from 1988 to 1993. He was Minister of Communications in 2001-2003 and served as Speaker of the Knesset from 2003-2006 and 2009-2013.
He stood against Shimon Peres in the 2007 presidential elections.
He is considered a staunch defender of Israeli democracy. Although he personally opposes the two state solutions, he has said he would not intervene in the decisions of Israel’s elected politicians.
The presidency: A largely ceremonial and constitutional role
The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial and constitutional role. The president is not meant to play an active part in every day Israeli political affairs.
The Israeli president holds the constitutional duties of a head of state, including signing legislation into law, pardoning prisoners and nominating a politician to form the government.
The president serves a seven year term and is limited to one term.
The president is elected by the 120 members of the Knesset. Any Israeli citizen is eligible to run.
In order to run, candidates must been endorsed by at least 10 Members of Knesset (MKs).
To be elected, the presidential candidate must receive the votes of a majority of the members of the Knesset (61 votes out of 120 MKs). If there is no majority in the first ballot, the candidate with the smallest amount of votes is eliminated and the vote is repeated.