Yisrael meir lau 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Candidates for the upcoming presidential election began testing their supporters Thursday, in light of the announcement that Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau had informed the prime minister he will not seek the post.
According to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, Lau told Olmert he would not participate in the elections and was pursuing "other options."
Speculation that Lau would withdraw from a race he never formally entered has increased in recent weeks, especially following rumors that several women's groups had evidence that Lau allegedly participated in indecent behavior in the past. Those groups had threatened to make their information public only if Lau ran for president.
The only two candidates officially in the race, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and MK Colette Avital (Labor), anticipated Lau's withdrawal and have already begun canvassing the religious parties for their votes.
The third likely contender, Kadima's Vice Premier Shimon Peres, has seesawed over his candidacy, as his aides continued polling the Knesset.
According to several of Peres's advisers, his success in the election would hang on Shas, which betrayed him in the last presidential elections, handing victory to current President Moshe Katsav.
In a meeting Thursday with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured the Shas spiritual leader that Peres had the support of the entire Kadima Party except for three MKs.
The three that Olmert referred to, Marina Solodkin, Ze'ev Elkin and Avigdor Yitzhaki, have all announced that they will not vote for Peres. Spokesmen for Rivlin and Avital, however, say there are at least nine other MKs from Kadima that have made clear they will not vote for Peres.
"The prime minister, or Peres, or both are living in a dream if they think they have the whole Kadima Party behind them," said a Knesset official. "This race is going to be every MK for himself."