Former Knesset speaker, Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, has won Israel's presidential elections, beating his opponent MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) in the second round of votes.

119 out of 120 Members of Knesset voted in the second round, with 63 voting for Rivlin and 53 for Sheetrit. Three MKs cast blank ballots.

The election of Israel's new president took a dramatic turn Tuesday. In the first round of voting, MK Rivlin received 44 votes, and MK Sheetrit got 31 - and with no candidate receiving an outright majority the two were forced to face off in a second round of voting, which began around 2:00 p.m.

Also in the first round, ex-MK Dalia Itzik received 28 votes, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner got 13 votes and Prof. Dan Shechtman received just one vote.

Sheetrit's surprisingly strong showing was apparently the result of agreements reached between several opposition parties Monday evening, which also spilled over into the Coalition, of which Sheetrit's left-wing Hatnua party is a member. 

Although Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid announced his support for Rivlin, one of his party's ministers, Meir Cohen, lobbied party MKs for Sheetrit, who is married to Cohen's sister.

While the office of president is almost completely ceremonial in nature, Israel's president plays a key role in summoning a party leader to try and form a coalition, after elections to the Knesset are held. If the next election results are close, as many expect them to be, the identity of the president could determine which party leader is summoned first to try and put together a coalition.

There was much tension in the Knesset Tuesday morning, as persistent rumors said that MK Sheetrit was gaining strength and could be the candidate to face Rivlin in a second round of voting. 

An Arab MK told the Knesset Channel before the results were announced that most Arab MKs would vote for Sheetrit, as would many other members of the opposition. MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) also said that Sheetrit was gaining ground.

Ultimately, however, Rivlin took the second round by a 10-vote margin.

Tainted victory?

President Rivlin inherits the role at a difficult time, and will have to work hard to rehabilitate the role, after the race that preceded the vote was widely described as the ugliest presidential race Israel has seen.

MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) dropped out of the contest Saturday, after being questioned by police over bribe allegations that surfaced mysteriously just a few days before the poll.

The main beneficiary from Ben Eliezer's leaving the race was expected to be retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, according to some analysts. Five members of Meretz, who were going to vote for Ben Eliezer, announced that they would support Dorner instead. The sixth Meretz MK, Ilan Galon, said he intended to vote for Rivlin.

However, the last-minute shift involved many MKs ditching their previous candidates in favor of Sheetrit, who was seen as posing the most serious challenge to Rivlin.

Prior to Ben-Eliezer bowing out, Rivlin's fellow Likud MK Silvan Shalom quit the race after mysterious allegations of sexual assault were lodged against him. Many observers were extremely skeptical at the time, considering the circumstances and timing of the sudden complaint - which came 15 years after the alleged incident had occurred.

A police investigation subsequently cleared Shalom, but he left the race shortly afterwards.