Vice Premier Shimon Peres will appear before the Gil Pensioners Party faction at the Knesset on Monday, continuing his efforts to discretely seek support for his presidential bid.
Peres's official reason for requesting to appear before the Pensioners was to ask for the faction's support for his "Peace Valley" proposal for economic cooperation with Jordan and the Palestinians. But unofficially, the meeting is seen as an opportunity for the Pensioners' MKs to probe him ahead of the presidential race.
"If they raise the issue of the presidency, he will reply that there is a sitting president and the race has not begun," Peres's spokesman said.
But Peres is counting on support from the seven Pensioners' MKs, none of whom would see the 83-year-old Peres as too old to seek the presidency. Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri endorsed Peres on Sunday. The rest of the faction is expected to follow.
Meanwhile, Peres's former adviser, Labor MK Yoram Marciano, submitted a bill together with Kadima MK Yoel Hasson on Sunday to change the secret ballot cast by MKs for the president to an open-ballot. If the bill passes, it would significantly increase the electoral chances of Peres, who was burned in the 2000 presidential race by MKs who said they would support him but secretly voted for President Moshe Katsav.
"The votes of the MKs are extremely relevant to the public and therefore should be transparent," said Hasson. "When an MK has the protection of secrecy he can say that he will vote one way and instead choose another."
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki, who supports the candidacy of Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, said he would oppose the bill, because the presidential race has begun and it would be unfair to change the rules for the benefit of one candidate.
In any case, because the bill would change a basic law, it is unlikely that the legislation will pass in time to affect the current race.
MK Gideon Sa'ar, the Likud faction chairman, announced that he would oppose the bill on the grounds that it would eliminate the ability of lawmakers to vote their conscience.
"It will compel them to adhere to party and coalition discipline," said Sa'ar.