Presidential elections to go ahead as planned despite Ben-Eliezer withdrawal

Edelstein decides not to postpone election; candidates release financial statements and scramble for Labor votes after Ben-Eliezer corruption probe.

June 8, 2014 18:36
Presidential race

Presidential race. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,REUTERS)

The Knesset will elect the next president on Tuesday as scheduled, Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced on Sunday.

Edelstein considered delaying the vote by two weeks after MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer (Labor) dropped out of the race on Saturday following the initiation of a police investigation into whether he illegally received funds to buy his apartment in Jaffa.

The Knesset speaker met with Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon on Sunday afternoon to discuss their options following Ben-Eliezer’s withdrawal, and chose to continue as planned.

“The difficult atmosphere that continues to surround the presidential race is unsatisfactory and casts a dark shadow on the candidates and the Knesset,” Edelstein said after the meeting.

“The No. 1 citizen needs to be No. 1 in integrity, trustworthiness and morality and reach the position of president in the straightest, cleanest way possible. Unfortunately, we cannot deny that in the existing atmosphere the presidential election will be without any dimension of festiveness and respectability, which it is supposed to have,” he added.

Later on Sunday at the Herzliya Conference, Edelstein said he lost his sense of humor in the last few days and it will be a struggle on Tuesday “to show a festive face and not act like it’s Tisha Be’av.”

Several ministers, including Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Transportation and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz, as well as the Labor Party, expressed opposition to postponing the vote.

Ultimately, Edelstein chose not to delay the election out of concern that there would be a continued deterioration in the campaign’s tone in the coming weeks.

As such, 120 MKs are to vote in a private ballot for one of five candidates: MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu), ex-MK and former acting president Dalia Itzik, MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner and Nobel Prize winner Prof.

Dan Shechtman.

Ben-Eliezer’s departure from the race left the remaining candidates scrambling for support from the lawmakers who pledged to vote for him, with many holding meetings with Labor MKs and focusing on the second round of the election. Labor chairman Isaac Herzog met with Dorner and Sheetrit on Sunday.

Herzog granted his party’s 15 lawmakers the freedom to vote for any candidate.

MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) followed in the footsteps of his party ally MK Shelly Yacimovich, announcing he would vote for Rivlin, because, despite their political differences, the Likud Beytenu legislator is a true believer in democracy.

Dorner greatly benefited from Ben-Eliezer’s departure, with most of the six Meretz lawmakers planning to vote for her and several Labor and Arab MKs who backed Ben- Eliezer leaning in her direction as well.

Still, any guess as to who will win would be unwise, with the race wide open and many MKs admitting that they lied to the candidates about whom they support. About 40-50 lawmakers are undecided, especially regarding the second round of voting.

The candidates will have one fewer MK to court, as Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) plans not to vote. Rivlin still seems to be a sure thing to reach the second round, but who his opponent will be remains unclear and many expect surprises.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni vowed on Sunday to pass laws that will ensure a cleaner presidential election.

“I plan to propose legislation that will set clear rules for the presidency – for funding election campaigns, ways to campaign, limiting donations and above all, transparency,” she said at a conference on ethics in Jerusalem.

“The body that elects the Knesset must have all the information when it chooses the best candidate. The public must also have that information.”

Livni said she plans to create an institution to which citizens can submit information about the candidates.

“The standard for a president should not only be criminal, but it should be moral,” she said.

The justice minister expressed doubt as to whether the Knesset should continue electing the president.

Similarly, Yacimovich said she would resubmit a bill requiring all MKs and senior public officials to release a declaration of assets.

Meanwhile, Itzik released a full financial statement, compiled by her accountant, showing she and her husband have three apartments, worth NIS 6,108,650 with a NIS 2.1 million mortgage, among other assets. She said she plans to sell one of them to cover the cost of another that she recently purchased.

Itzik has NIS 160,000 in jewelry.

“Like many of my generation who worked hard, we reached relative economic stability. The world of wealth doesn’t interest me – not that there’s anything wrong with it. I was interested in public service for decade,” Itzik wrote on Facebook. “Some advised me not to ‘increase the discourse’ on this topic, but I believe the opposite, that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

That is how I behaved in all my public positions and that is how I will continue.

“As someone who served as acting president, I know very well that whoever is elected this week will have to immediately strengthen the public’s trust in the institution. If I am elected, that is what I will do,” she said.

Soon after, Rivlin released his own declaration of assets, showing he owns an apartment he bought in 1973 for NIS 220,000, has NIS 450,000 in savings and NIS 300,000 in investments.

“Every elected official needs to be open and transparent to the public when it comes to his income and property to avoid speculations about his independence and unbiased judgment,” he said.

Dorner owns a four-bedroom, third-floor walk-up apartment in Jerusalem, which she bought in 1974, but did not declare its worth.

Shechtman lives in an apartment in Haifa that he and his wife bought in the 1970s for 140,000 lira, which he estimates is worth NIS 3m. today. In addition, he owns a house that he bought for NIS 500,000 and rents out.

He and his wife own a house in the US that is worth $190,000.

The professor has funds from the many prizes he won, including the Nobel Prize and the Israel Prize, which are worth $1.8m.

Sheetrit is the only candidate who did not release a financial statement.

Forbes Israel ranked him as one of the 10 wealthiest politicians in Israel, with an estimated worth of NIS 57m. Most of his money comes from his wife’s public relations business.

“MK Meir Sheetrit submits a declaration of wealth to the Knesset Ethics Committee every year, according to the law,” his spokesman said. “MK Sheetrit plans to continue to report fully and openly to the authorities according to the law.”

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