Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is examining the possibility of extending Shimon Peres's presidential term, according to IDF Radio. If the move is passed, the next presidential elections after Peres's term will be turned into a popular vote, according to that report.
Extending the term of the current president for an additional year will allow the Central Elections Commission to prepare for a general vote, along the same lines as the preparations for general Knesset elections.
According to the report, the process would involve changing the Basic Law: The President of the State. The law, which was passed in 1964, forms part of the foundation of Israel's governmental procedures and protocol. If the process of extending the term under law is successfully completed, the plan is to add a clause mandating a popular vote for the presidency.
Sources close to the Prime Minister this morning refused to comment on the issue. However, analysts claim that the Prime Minister's decision is connected to difficulty in choosing a suitable candidate for Likud.
The presidential race begins
Daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom reported on Sunday that Tourism Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beytenu was considering running for president and would be endorsed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu if he does.
Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin is the current Likud candidate for the presidency. However, Rivlin’s relationship with Netanyahu remains shaky; the Prime Minister replaced Rivlin with current Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in the 19th Knesset, and Rivlin has been critical of Netanyahu’s statements at times.
Another former Knesset Speaker, Dalia Itzik, has begun to collect signatures from MKs, with Shas’s Yaakov Margi being the first one to sign for her.
Other candidates in the presidential election include Nobel Laureate Professor Daniel Shechtman, who recently announced his candidacy. Shechtman's announcement made waves when he declared that he wants to be "a man of the people" and not identify himself with a specific party.
A matter of public support
In a January poll, 63% of respondents expressed support for Peres’s term, which is to end this summer, being extended by three years. By contrast, only 28% said they opposed extending Peres’s term in office.
As for the next president, Rivlin has garnered overwhelming support so far, according to a recent poll. So has the idea of holding a direct popular vote: 72% of the public thinks Israeli citizens should have direct elections to decide on the president, with only 8% saying MKs should continue choosing the president.
The survey also found that 63% of the public supports preserving the institution of the presidency, in response to a new bill proposed last week by MK Zevulun Kalfa (Jewish Home) that would cancel the presidency.