OSLO – A president should be elected at the time prescribed by law, President Shimon Peres said Monday as coalition chairman Yariv Levin worked to convince Likud Beytenu party leaders to agree to postpone the vote as per Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request.
“At this time, I think we should fulfill the constitution and the law as it is written and on time,” Peres said at a press conference for Israeli and Norwegian press in the Royal Palace in Oslo.
Peres hinted there may be something undemocratic in canceling the presidency, saying “usually, in democracies, there is a president and a prime minister.”
As for delaying the election, which could take place no later than the first week of July if no changes are made, Peres said “I don’t think another half a year will solve the problem.
“I don’t want to be part of making these changes,” he added. “The Knesset will decide.”
Any change to the presidential election procedure requires a vote to amend Basic Law: President of the State before the end of the Knesset’s summer session, which began Monday.
Netanyahu has yet to announce support for any of the presidential candidates, but his relations with the only MK from Likud Beytenu who announced his entry in the race, Reuven Rivlin, soured before last year’s election.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, who was rumored to be considering a run, has yet to publicly state his doing so, despite the dropping of a sex crimes investigation against him last week due to a lack of evidence.
Possible Netanyahu-friendly candidates who were floated by political sources close to the prime minister, such as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, former foreign minister David Levy or even Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, said they’re uninterested in running.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post if the brewing political crisis over the presidential election is because his shoes are too large to fill, Peres quipped: “I’ve been wearing the same shoes for seven years. I’m leaving with the same shoes.
“I hope that whoever will succeed me will wear them properly too, according to law,” he added.
“I thank the Israeli parliament that elected me. My job is to serve, not to rule, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve,” Peres concluded.
Edelstein said he “read all the different theories in the media about the presidential election – they don’t reflect in any way what I am aware of.”
Edelstein reiterated that he plans to speak with all of the candidates within the next week and plans to announce an election date next week, which will be “in a few weeks.” Channel 2 reported Edelstein would choose a date between June 10 and 18.
“The whole process will take place strictly according to the rules,” he stated. Levin said Monday the only way any change can be made is by selling the idea to coalition party leaders.
“There’s no majority for canceling or changing the institution of the presidency, but there could be for a delay,” Levin explained, adding that a bill pushing off the election would have to pass within the next three weeks.
The coalition chairman added that he thinks the institution of the presidency is “problematic” and “wasteful,” as it has few responsibilities and presidents are “unable to resist stretching the role like that absurd story of Peres nearly reaching a peace agreement.”
Levin faces an uphill battle, as Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah called the idea “unrealistic.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said her Hatnua party supports its MK Meir Sheetrit for the position of president and wants a significant electoral reform, but will discuss any serious proposal to delay the vote with her faction.
MK Haim Katz, who is very influential with Likud activists and is campaigning for Rivlin, expressed hope that Edelstein “sets a date for the race and ends the saga.”
“The prime minister’s proposal isn’t good for Likud MKs, who’ll find themselves out of the Knesset,” Katz said.
However, Yisrael Beytenu decided to support a delay in the vote if it comes with moves toward changing the system of government to a presidential regime.
In the opposition, Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On said Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wants a “Putin-style” presidential regime.
“Netanyahu’s move a moment before the election, disrespects the institution of the presidency and tramples the little bit of dignity our democracy still has,” she stated. “It also shows the president is hysterical. This is an awful farce.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) admitted he was asked by the coalition about canceling the presidency.
“We won’t let this institution fall on a whim of the prime minister. We’ll make sure the election is held on time,” he said.
Shas leader Arye Deri said his “unambiguous position is that the race has begun and you can’t stop it in the middle. This is disrespectful to the state, the institution of the presidency and those who are proposing to postpone the election. It leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.”
A Shiluv poll broadcast on Channel 2 Monday night found 49 percent of respondents opposed canceling the office of president and 35% were in favor. When asked about Netanyahu’s motives, 59% said they were personal and political. Just 20% said Netanyahu was advancing the move for the good of the country.
Gil Hoffman and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.