Candidates prepare for final stretch in presidential campaign

Rivlin, Ben-Eliezer and Itzik enlist second-round votes; Shas, Degel HaTorah undecided while Agudat Yisrael backs Rivlin.

Shas meeting (photo credit: YAAKOV COHEN)
Shas meeting
(photo credit: YAAKOV COHEN)
With the presidential election less than a week away the six candidates continue to work on getting every vote.
The three front-runners – MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu), MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and former MK Dalia Itzik – began working on getting votes for the second round of voting, which will take place three hours after the first round on Tuesday (except in the unlikely event that 61 MKs support the same candidate in the opening round).
The two candidates who receive the most votes in the first round will move on to the second.
The three leading candidates have talked to lawmakers who support MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua), Nobel laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman or former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner in an effort to win their votes in the second round.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) gave his party’s 11 MKs freedom to vote as they wish, and his party colleague Tourism Minister Uzi Landau announced on Thursday that he would vote for Rivlin.
Also on Thursday, the Shas Knesset faction convened to discuss whom the party will support for president.
A Shas spokesman said that party chairman Arye Deri would inform the four-member Council of Torah Sages of the MKs’ opinions and that the council would then make a decision.
Well-placed sources told The Jerusalem Post that Deri does not wish to support Rivlin, who is considered by many to be the front-runner, but is hesitant to throw public support behind anyone else lest he end up on the losing side. This is why the issue was passed to the Council of Torah Sages.
There are serious underlying tensions within the party, and the secret ballot by which the president is elected will make it difficult for Deri to impose his will on legislators dissatisfied with his leadership.
If it appears that none of the other candidates has a chance, Deri will ask the Council of Torah Sages to grant the 11 party MKs a free hand in the vote for the president.
The four MKs from Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic contingent of the United Torah Judaism party, are believed to be favor Rivlin. MK Ya’acov Litzman in particular has fought to gain support for Rivlin, primarily as a way to take revenge against the prime minister for failing to prevent the imposition of a legal obligation to perform military service on full-time yeshiva students in the law for haredi conscription that was passed in March.
The prime minister said he backs Rivlin, although he did so reluctantly.
In recent years their relationship soured, and he announced his support only after the official candidates list was closed.
The three lawmakers from Degel Hatorah, the non-hassidic constituent of UTJ, have yet to decide whom to support. MK Moshe Gafni of Degel does not look favorably on Litzman’s campaign for Rivlin, but it is unclear how the Degel legislators will vote.
The presidential candidates no longer need to court the Arab vote, as Balad (3 MKs) decided to support Ben-Eliezer and Hadash (4 MKs) backs Rivlin. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) also plans to vote for Rivlin, but the rest (3 MKs) of his party is split between Ben-Eliezer and Itzik.