Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began efforts to get vice premier Shimon Peres elected president on Thursday when he decided to convene the ministerial committee on legislation on Sunday to promote a bill ending secret-ballot voting for the president. The Knesset House Committee decision to suspend President Moshe Katsav made it likely he would complete his term that is set to end in July. But Olmert told Peres he would already start promoting his candidacy and persuading MKs to support him. Peres has decided to seek the presidency if the vote is conducted openly, but his advisers are divided about whether to run if the vote continues to be held by secret ballot. A source close to Olmert said it would be difficult to pass the bill and he hoped Peres would run regardless of how the vote was conducted.
AG: Katsav hearing to be held ASAP
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni already referred to Peres on Thursday as "the next president." Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik denied that she would run for president on Thursday but she is expected to reconsider her decision if Peres decides not to run.
Polls sponsored by Yediot Aharonot, Ma'ariv, Channel 10 and Israel Radio all found that among the public, Peres had twice the support of any other candidate. Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was second, followed by Likud MK Reuven Rivlin and Labor MK Colette Avital. But the vote would take place in the Knesset, where Rivlin has more support.
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz asked Labor faction chair Yoram Marciano on Thursday to head Labor's lobbying effort for Avital. Avital said she would not endorse any candidate in the Labor leadership race and that all five candidates support her.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak left for the United States on Friday to close his business interests in order to focus full-time on politics. Wednesday is the deadline for Labor candidates to join the race and it is the last day of the party membership drive that will have a significant impact on who will win. Young supporters of MK Ami Ayalon will hold a march through Tel Aviv on Thursday to call upon people to join the party.
Peretz is expected to make an extra effort to register new Labor members in the Arab sector, taking advantage of his decision to appoint Arab MK Ghaleb Majadle as a minister. But Olmert has prevented the cabinet from voting on the appointment and his associates said it was unlikely the vote would take place next week.
Labor's executive committee, which met in Ramat Efal on Thursday, decided that if Majadle is not appointed next week, Labor's central committee would convene to discuss leaving the coalition.
Peretz was expected to ask Olmert to allow Majadle to join the cabinet on Sunday as a minister-without-portfolio before deciding what portfolio he would be given, but Olmert's spokesman said on Thursday that he "would not give into ultimatums."
A source close to Olmert said Majadle would likely have to make do with being a minister-without-portfolio after a cabinet reshuffle that would take place following Wednesday's ruling in former justice minister Haim Ramon's trial. The Science, Culture and Sports portfolio is expected to instead go to Israel Beiteinu.
Kadima officials raised objection on Wednesday to Peretz's decision to appoint Majadle as science, culture and sports minister because the position comes with access to national secrets. A former science minister said that on his first day on the job, he met with Israel Atomic Energy Agency head Gideon Frank, who told him sensitive information.