The next president of Israel may be chosen by the general public instead of members of Knesset, a radio report said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing the possibility of amending the law to allow the move, Army Radio reported. The identity of President Shimon Peres’s successor — Israel’s tenth president — is currently set to be determined by the Knesset in late April.
However Peres, whose seven-year term expires in July, was quick to reject the reported initiative, with his office making clear that the president opposed any changes to the law and fully intended to complete his term in accordance with the current law.
But such a move by Netanyahu would necessitate extending the 90-year-old Peres’s term by a year, in order to allow time to prepare for a nationwide vote, the report said. It would also necessitate swift and drastic changes to Israel’s Basic Law: The President of the State, drafted in 1964.
The Prime Minister’s Office turned down requests for comment on the report.
The president is currently chosen by the 120 Knesset members, who tend to elect one of their own for the largely ceremonial but resonant position. However, in recent years there have been increasing calls to change the law to allow the public to elect its president directly, free of political intrigue and partisan maneuverings.
A poll by the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom last week found that 72 percent of the public favored direct elections for the presidency, as opposed to only 20% who said they preferred the Knesset to continue making the choice.
Two public figures who are not politicians – former supreme court justice Dalia Dorner and 2011 Nobel chemistry laureate Dan Shechtman – have recently announced presidential bids. Other leading candidates include Likud’s MK Reuven Rivlin and Negev Minister Silvan Shalom, Labor’s veteran lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky.
A Times of Israel poll conducted in December (before Dorner and Shechtman announced their candidacy) found that a majority of Israelis would actually like to see Peres continue serving in the role (though the law currently forbids him from seeking a second term) with 29% choosing the incumbent president. Rivlin came in second at 22% of respondents, followed by Ben-Eliezer (11%), Sharansky (8%) and Shalom (6%).
Adiv Sterman and Stephan Miller contributed to this report.