Katsav looks to begin talks on new government by Sunday

President Moshe Katsav acknowledged on Tuesday that failure to vote could be seen as a form of protest, but warned such a move could backfire, resulting in a government with a different direction from that intended by the protesters. Katsav said citizens should not let others decide the fate of the country. "Whatever the outcome of the elections, it's preferable that the results are based on every citizen exercising the democratic right to vote." Katsav and his wife Gila voted at the School for the Arts on the capital's Rehov Elhanan behind the Inbal Hotel. There appeared to be more foreign media than local media waiting for the president's arrival. "You seem to be less interested in the elections than we are," remarked a Canadian radio broadcaster. Accompanied by senior staff, Katsav greeted all four voting scrutineers, shook their hands and asked about the voter turnout and whether there had been problems. He was told that voting had been steady, albeit not in streams of voters, and that there had been no untoward incidents. Gila Katsav went behind the voting screen before her husband and seemed slightly confused by the number of slips from which to choose. Someone provided her with an explanation and then withdrew before she made her decision. The president was much more decisive and spent barely a second behind the screen. He knew exactly which ballot slip to take. Asked later by reporters whether he had made up his mind some time ago as to which party would receive his vote or whether he had deliberated with himself before entering the polling station, Katsav refrained from a reply, explaining that whatever he said was bound to be misinterpreted. As for getting the new government under way, Katsav said that he hoped to start his round of consultative talks with party representatives by Sunday, providing that the election results had been officially published by then. Election results do not have to be published immediately. According to Article 11, The Basic Law: Knesset, the outcome of the elections must be published within eight days of the elections. The president, in accordance with Article 7(a), The Basic Law: Government, then has seven days in which to consult with representatives of the parties to determine the most suitable MK on whom to confer the responsibility of forming the next government. The conferment is not an order but a request, and the MK who is selected has the right to refuse. The MK does not necessarily have to be the leader of any party or faction. The parliamentarian chosen to form the next government has 28 days in which to do so, but may receive an extension of up to 14 days at the discretion of the president. The latest date on which the election results can be published is April 5, and the date by which the president must decide on a candidate to form the next government is April 12, which is the eve of Pessah. Katsav said he wanted to complete his discussions and make his decision well in advance of the time allowed him by law.