Voting underway for new Israeli President to replace Shimon Peres


Knesset members are voting in a secret ballot today to decide who will be the 10th president of Israel after a controversial campaign mired in scandal and political intrigue.

One of the main frontrunners, veteran Labour politician Binyamin Ben Eliezer, was forced to pull out of the race after allegations of financial misconduct.

Mr Ben Eliezer denies the accusations, calling the situation a "targeted hit". Many candidates have complained that their political opponents have employed private investigators to find negative material on their private lives.

Energy Minister Silvan Shalom was also forced to withdraw after he was accused of sexual assault. A criminal investigation resulted in no charges being made against Mr Shalom.

The position of president in Israel is largely ceremonial but the role does have one important power which analysts say has caused political interference by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the election.

The controversy surrounds the president's power to decide which party leader should form a government after a general election. Given that Israel's electoral system means it is almost impossible for any one
party to win an outright majority, the decision has huge potential significance.

Some commentators say that Mr Netanyahu tried to block the candidacy of the current frontrunner, Reuven Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker who is a major adversary of the Prime Minister within the Likud party.
But Mr Rivlin's bid remains on track with initial polling suggesting he is likely to make it to the second round of the vote together with Hatnua party MK Meir Sheetrit.

The other main candidates in the presidential race are former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, Nobel prize winning chemist Dan Shechtman and Dalia Itzik, who was the first female speaker of the Knesset.

During his time as president, Shimon Peres has been viewed as a unifying figure for the country and enjoyed huge popularity both at home and abroad. In a recent poll, two thirds of Israelis said they wanted him to stay in the position.

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