Rivlin still confident of presidential victory

Rivlin says MK's who had pledged their support were "avioding his glance"; Shas rabbis to decide Thursday on who they will endorse.

rivlin cool 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
rivlin cool 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Likud MK Reuven Rivlin expressed confidence on Tuesday that he would win the June 13 election for president even if Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, as expected, endorses his competition, Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Rivlin, who had been considered the front-runner before Peres joined the race last week, told Army Radio that MKs who had promised their support had recently begun averting their eyes when he walked by to avoid his glance. Rivlin revealed that he had recently asked Yosef not to force Shas MKs who wanted to vote for him to vote for Peres. "There are still Shas MKs whose heart would skip a beat if they submitted a ballot that didn't have my name on it," Rivlin said. "I don't intend to eulogize myself. I think my chances are still great, because I have support from MKs in every faction." Yosef will convene Shas's council of Torah sages on Thursday to make a final decision on whom to support in the race and whether to bind Shas's MKs to the decision with a vow. Two Shas MKs who would prefer to support Rivlin said Tuesday that they would vote Peres if the rabbis obligated them. In the 2000 race between Peres and President Moshe Katsav, Yosef wanted to support Peres but the rabbis on the council persuaded him to back Katsav instead, allowing him to win the race. One source in Shas said that there was no chance that the council would resist Yosef this time around. "That was a completely different situation," the source said. "Katsav is Sephardi and traditional, so it made sense. But this time, both men are secular, both are Ashkenazim. There is no way it is going to happen again." But another Shas source said the party's MKs were worried that their right-leaning electorate would never forgive them for electing Peres and that "there are Shas MKs who are on the extreme Right and are not students of [Yosef], who will vote according to their conscience and against Peres." Due to the importance of Shas's support, the only interview Peres intends to give this weekend will be with the Shas party newspaper, Yom Leyom. Peres gave an interview to Channel 2 talk show host Yair Lapid on Monday that his competition said unfairly gave a boost to his campaign. "I have changed my plans," an ebullient Peres said in the interview. "This time I intend to win." Channel 2 reported Tuesday that Labor candidate MK Colette Avital would drop out of the race after the first round of voting. Avital denied the report and said she intended to remain in the race "until the very end." "These are all ploys and media spins designed to take votes away from me," Avital said. The presidential election in the Knesset can continue for up to three rounds. The first two rounds are open to all contenders. The third round, however, is only open to the top two MKs from the first rounds of voting. A candidate needs a simple majority of 61 votes in order to win the election. All votes are by secret ballot. The Israel Beiteinu faction decided Tuesday to enforce faction discipline. The decision forces three MKs who wavered between Rivlin and Peres to support Rivlin. The Gil Pensioners Party faction will meet next week to decide whether to enforce faction discipline. Gil MKs were angered when party chairman Rafi Eitan announced that the party's seven MKs would all vote for Peres. "He doesn't decide for us on his own," faction chairman Moshe Sharoni said. "We are grown children. We decide together." Several Arab MKs have not yet decided whom to support. The Balad faction wants the three Arab parties to decide together whom to back. "Ruby was the best Knesset speaker ever for Israeli Arabs but our decision won't be made based on our personal relations," wavering MK Taleb a-Sanaa of the United Arab List told Army Radio. Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.