There is a majority in the Knesset to end secret ballot voting, ahead of the race to succeed President Moshe Katsav, which would allow Vice Premier Shimon Peres to run for the presidency and win, sources close to Peres said Tuesday. Peres has never officially said that he would seek the presidency, which he has coveted since he was beaten by Katsav in 2000. But Kadima strategist Eyal Arad has been lobbying in the Knesset to pass a bill requiring open voting for president in order to allow Peres to feel confident enough of victory to be able to run. "I think that whether Peres runs depends on whether it will again be a secret ballot vote with political deals and lies," Arad said. "I would advise him not to run in a secret ballot vote, but if there is an open ballot vote, I would advise him to run."
Background: The president's options
Editorial: Katsav should resign
Analysis: A newfound intolerance for criminality
Katsav to be indicted on rape charges
MKs call on the president to step down
Olmert has told the faction that he supports the bill. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said the Kadima faction would convene soon to decide to back the bill and that "if Shimon runs, Olmert would support him."
Peres had no comment on Tuesday, except to say that he was busy preparing for his meetings at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and on Saturday with King Abdullah of Jordan.
A Likud source who supports the candidacy of former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said there was no chance for the bill to pass because he received a commitment from Labor, Likud, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, National Union-National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism MKs to maintain secret-ballot voting. The Labor faction will discuss the bill at a Wednesday afternoon meeting.
"Eyal Arad is a charlatan and a mercenary who is lying in order to create an atmosphere that would allow the bill to pass," the source said. "In the end, only Kadima and perhaps a few Gil Pensioners MKs would support the bill if it were brought to a vote."
The Likud denied a report on Channel 2 that if the bill passed Rivlin would decide not to run. Party officials said he had drafted the support of enough MKs to win even if Peres ran and whether or not the vote was conducted by secret ballot.
Besides Rivlin, the only announced candidate is Labor MK Colette Avital, who has the support of Labor chairman Amir Peretz and is expected to intensify her campaign now that the race has officially begun.
Sources close to Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who said in the past that he would run, said they had no new information on Tuesday about whether his candidacy was final.
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik told reporters recently that she supported Peres and did not intend to seek the presidency. Itzik would become acting president if the Knesset voted to allow Katsav to suspend himself, if he quits or if the Knesset toppled him.
If Katsav left the presidency an election in the Knesset would be held within 45 days. But sources close to Katsav told MKs he had drafted enough support to get his suspension approved, which could allow him to complete his term that ends in July.
In such a scenario, Itzik could be acting president for nearly six months, which could develop into another seven years if she decided to run in July. Itzik or Avital could become Israel's first female president, which Avital said would be fitting after the charges against Katsav.
Toppling the president would require the support of 90 MKs, which would be difficult to obtain. Avital said she hoped Katsav would decide to quit and not to suspend himself.
"There are certain things that are more important than scoring points," Avital said. "Dragging out the ordeal is futile and it does not do honor to the presidency, the country or to Katsav himself."