A growing chorus of MKs from the ranks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own party spoke out over the weekend against his rumored plans to postpone the upcoming presidential vote and possibly abolish the office altogether.
“We will not allow the change of a basic law just for personal considerations,” Likud MK Haim Katz said Saturday. “Reuven Rivilin is the most deserving candidate from Likud and we all support him for the presidency. We will oppose every effort to postpone the presidential elections or abolish [the presidency].”
Netanyahu was reported Friday to be behind an initiative to advance legislation aimed at postponing presidential elections, scheduled for the end of June, for up to six months. According to Israel Radio, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein would fill in for President Shimon Peres, whose seven-year term ends in July.
Netanyahu, who is said to be considering abolishing the presidency, could presumably use this time to push through a law that would eliminate the post, according to a report in the Maariv news outlet.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar was the first Likud member to register his opposition, and in addition to Katz, was also joined by MK Miri Regev Sunday.
“We must hold elections on time,” Regev said. “Abolishing the presidential office and postponing the elections sends an undemocratic message. We don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”
The opposition within the ruling coalition is not limited to those who have spoken out publicly, according to Israeli news source Ynet.
“As usual, his behavior was amateur,” a senior official in the coalition was quoted saying. “Netanyahu does not at this time have the ability and power to guide this process to realization. And he does not have the necessary partners from the coalition. As it looks now, there is no possibility of postponing the presidential elections.”
The presidential campaign has been tendentious thus far, characterized by mudslinging between the candidates for an office typically filled by a respected elder statesman expected to serve as a moral compass for the country.
Among those vying to become Israel’s next president are a former defense minister, a former foreign minister, a former finance minister, a respected long-serving lawmaker and a Nobel Prize winner.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 78, a former general who came to Israel from Iraq as a child and maintains good relations with Arab leaders, promises he will be a unifying leader who will try to reach out to neighboring countries. He was particularly close to deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and says he also has a good relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His main rival is Rivlin, a former speaker of parliament and stalwart in the ruling Likud party. Most public opinion polls show he is the preferred candidate of the public. But the vote itself is held in a secret ballot among parliament’s 120 members, adding to the unpredictable nature of the race. The vote was set to take place in June.
Rivlin is reportedly unfavored by Netanyahu, who has had a tense relationship with the former Knesset speaker since the January 2013 national elections.
The wild-card candidate is Silvan Shalom, a Likud politician whose long career has included stints as Israel’s foreign and finance minister. Shalom’s campaign took a big hit when a former aide alleged he committed a sex offense against her. Shalom called the accusations part of a political conspiracy aimed at removing him from a race he has yet to formally enter.
A pair of outside candidates looking to tap into the public’s aversion to professional politicians have thrown their hats into the ring. But both Dan Shechtman, a Technion professor who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and Dalia Dorner, a retired Supreme Court justice, appear to have little chance of winning.
Two other longshot candidates are Meir Shitreet, a former finance minister, and Dalia Itzik, another former speaker of parliament.
The race remains wide open particularly because Netanyahu, who wields the most political power in the country, has yet to make his preference known, according to Amit Segal, a political analyst for Channel 2 TV.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.