Vice Premier Shimon Peres spoke about his expected run for the presidency in a meeting with the Meretz faction on Wednesday and hinted he would not run unless the vote would be held openly and not by secret ballot.
Peres told the faction that he did not want to see a repeat of the 2000 presidential election when at least four Labor MKs voted against him. A bill that would end the practice of electing the president by secret ballot is expected to reach the ministerial committee on legislation next week.
The bill was sponsored by MKs Yoel Hasson (Kadima) and Yoram Marciano (Labor), who is a former Peres adviser. Peres's rivals alleged on Wednesday that the idea to change the system for electing the president was born two weeks ago at a birthday party for Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik that Peres attended. But Peres said he was not told about the bill and Hasson said he thought of the bill himself and he did not attend the party.
"The Knesset speaker has to act impartial but instead she is acting as Peres's campaign manager," said a source close to the front-running candidate, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.
Likud officials said that Jewish National Fund President Ronald Lauder asked Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu to back the bill and help Peres's chances of getting elected but Netanyahu declined. Sources close to Peres said he did not meet with Lauder when he was in Israel this week and that the two men only talk about the overlapping work of JNF and Peres's Negev and Galilee development ministry.
Israel Beiteinu decided on Wednesday to vote against the bill, giving it little chance of passing. Peres had been set to meet with Shas leader Eli Yishai on matters related to their ministries on Wednesday but Peres delayed the meeting, because he did not want it to be given political connotations.
Peres did meet on Wednesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert but spokesmen for both men would not elaborate on whether the presidential race was discussed. Peres and Meretz MKs vehemently denied a Channel 2 report that during Peres's meeting with the Meretz faction, he said that as president he would pardon Palestinian prisoners.
The vice premier said he was not concerned about the upcoming release of a comptroller's report on illegal fundraising in last year's Labor leadership race. Peres, who was defeated in the primary by Amir Peretz, reported contributions of $320,000 from three foreign businessmen, Haim Saban, S. Daniel Abraham and Bruce Rappaport.
A source close to Peres said that all his fundraising was legal and that he sent proof of such to the comptroller. Officials in the comptroller's office have hinted to Peres that he will not be accused of illegal fundraising.
The state comptroller examined the amount of money each Labor candidate received for the primaries for the slate of Knesset candidates in Labor and the Likud, and in the Labor race for party chairman. According to reports, Matan Vilna'i also allegedly broke the funding law by receiving close to NIS 350,000 in contributions. The law permits NIS 9,118 from an individual contributor, and the head of a party can raise NIS 36,472 from an individual.
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.
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