Olmert endorses Peres for president

Olmert: He's the man most perfectly suited for job; election set for June 13.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres will be Kadima's sole candidate when MKs elect the next president on June 13, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Kadima faction on Monday. "Peres is the man most perfectly suited for this job. His personal history and dedication to Israel has no comparison," Olmert said. There "is no one in the entire world who has done as much as [Peres] for the State of Israel" "If we tried to create a template for the ideal presidential candidate, Shimon Peres's life would perfectly match. At the age of 29, Peres became director-general of the Defense Ministry, and was David Ben-Gurion's right-hand man. His contribution to the State of Israel is unrivaled, and the security of the state would have been entirely different if it wasn't for Peres," said Olmert. "I have no doubt that his election as president of the state is the natural choice. There is no doubt that if he is elected president he will restore it to the position of honor it deserves." Peres missed the meeting because his wife, Sonia, is ill. With the help of fellow faction member MK Yoel Hasson, Peres began collecting signatures supporting his candidacy earlier Monday morning. Each candidate needs the signatures of at least 20 MKs to run. "We expect everyone here to sign and by the end of the day to officially submit Peres's candidacy for the position," Hasson said. However, several Kadima MKs have already said they would not support Peres's bid. MK Ze'ev Elkin has endorsed Likud candidate MK Reuven Rivlin, and MK Marina Solodkin has promised to back Labor's MK Colette Avital. Candidates have one more week to submit the 20 signatures required, but it appears Avital, Rivlin and Peres will be the only contenders. "It is about time things heated up," said Rivlin when he heard about Peres's bid. While Peres was widely expected to enter the race, rumors persisted that he might instead opt to campaign for prime minister. Sources close to Peres said he was the "natural choice" to succeed Olmert, if the prime minister were forced to resign following the publication of the final Winograd Report this summer. The interim report released on April 30 dealt a heavy blow to the Olmert government and spurred renewed calls for the prime minister's resignation. Officials involved have said the final report will be even more damning and that "it might become necessary for the prime minister to step down." Aides close to Peres said that after careful consideration Peres had decided that Olmert was not planning on resigning or being toppled anytime soon. "Peres knew that the best place for him to serve and the position to which he should be elected was the presidential chair," said one aide.