Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would have to invite Israeli magician Uri Geller to the Knesset to bend not only spoons but also Knesset members in order to pass the so-called Peres bill ending secret-ballot voting for the president, coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki of Kadima said Sunday. The bill that is intended to increase Vice Premier Shimon Peres's chances of becoming president passed by a seven to five vote in the ministerial committee on legislation on Sunday. But despite Olmert's lobbying efforts, the bill does not even have the support of a third of the Knesset. "I don't see how the bill can pass without a magician," said Yitzhaki, who opposes the Peres bill and drew fire from Olmert's allies by endorsing Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, Peres's main opponent.
Peres loyalists believe he could win (Jan. 24)
Olmert's allies slammed Yitzhaki in a meeting of Kadima ministers on Sunday, accusing him of being on the way back to the Likud. They charged that Yitzhaki wanted to harm Olmert by electing Rivlin, who could oppose the prime minister's peace overtures to the Palestinians as president.
"Yitzhaki made a covenant with a man who would embitter our lives from Beit Hanassi," Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said.
"Supporting Rivlin doesn't help Kadima at a time when Likud is trying to entice Kadima MKs to come back," Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said.
Olmert said in the meeting that "there was no reason to hide who we vote for" and that "everything should be done transparently."
Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, who was the only Kadima minister to vote against the bill, said he opposed the politicization of the presidency that he believes would be the result of an open-ballot vote.
"If we were in the opposition and we supported Peres and the coalition's candidate was Caligula's horse, in an open vote, Caligula's horse would win and not Peres," Sheetrit said. "We are not smarter than our predecessors who decided there should be a secret ballot vote for president, state comptroller and Knesset speaker. I support Peres, but it's not right to change the rules of the game during the game."
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz intends to propose in Monday's Kadima faction meeting that the public select the president and not the Knesset. Polls over the weekend found that Peres had twice as much support as any other candidate, even though Rivlin had more support in the Knesset.
"We saw what happened when MKs decide on the president," Mofaz's spokeswoman said. "It's important that the people can identity with the president and be proud of him, so he has to be chosen by the people. Mofaz wants politics out of the presidency."
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, who initiated the bill, said he would start meeting with faction heads on Monday to promote the bill with the hope of bringing it to a vote as early as next week. Kadima officials said they hoped some Labor MKs might support the bill, but Labor sources said the faction would likely impose faction discipline to force all of its MKs to oppose the bill.
Peres told a reporter on Sunday that he was "not in the mood for presidential declarations," but Channel 2 reported that he sent messengers to Labor MK Colette Avital and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade her to quit the race.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.