Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported Friday to be behind an initiative to advance legislation aimed at postponing presidential elections for up to six months.
According to Israel Radio, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein would fill in for President Shimon Peres whose term ends in July.
The closure of the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct of Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom — who is running for the post — increases the likelihood that the elections will be postponed, Israel Radio reported, citing political sources.
Netanyahu, said to want to consider abolishing the presidency, could presumably use this time to push through a law that would abolish the presidential post, according to a report in Maariv.
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.
“I am unhateable,” the former defense minister and one-time head of the Labor Party told The Associated Press at a Tel Aviv cafe recently. “My expertise is taking an enemy and turning him into a friend.”
His main rival is Reuven 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 an unwanted candidate by Netanyahu who has had a tense relationship with the former Knesset speaker since the January 2013 national elections.
Rivlin, 74, says his popularity and ability to connect to all elements of Israeli society make him most suitable for the role. Unlike the globe-trotting Peres, he says his focus will be domestic.
“He has no intention of trying to fill Shimon Peres’ shoes. He has his own shoes,” said Harel Tubi, a top adviser.
The wild-card candidate is 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 calls the accusations part of a political conspiracy aimed at removing him from a race he has yet to formally enter.
Either way, the campaign has been characterized by mutual mudslinging between the candidates for an office typically filled by respected elder statesmen expected to serve as a moral compass for the country.
A pair of outside candidates looking to tap into the public’s aversion to professional politicians has thrown their hats into the ring. However, 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, said Amit Segal, a political analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 TV.
His own Likud Party is divided between Shalom and Rivlin, two men with whom Netanyahu has testy relations. The prime minister is reportedly looking for another candidate to support, with the former Soviet dissident, human rights activist and author Natan Sharansky considered his preferred candidate. Sharansky has not said whether he wants the job.