Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Peres elected president of Israel

FAMILIAR FACESThe Nobel Peace Prize was the sole candidate in the second round of voting. His win came on the heels of Ehud Barak's comeback as leader of the Labor Party


In this photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, right, Shimon Peres, center, and parliament speaker Dalia Itzik, left, laugh together at the Knesset in Jerusalem yesterday after Peres was elected president.


Elder statesman Shimon Peres was elected Israel's ninth president yesterday in a race that capped his six-decade political career, but was overshadowed by rape allegations against the sitting president.

Peres, of the ruling Kadima Party, won the support of 86 of parliament's 120 members in a second round of yea-or-nay voting in which he stood alone. His two rivals, Reuven Rivlin of the hawkish Likud and Colette Avital of the centrist Labor, withdrew from the race after he seized a commanding lead in the first round.

The new president, an 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who has held all of Israel's top civilian posts, but failed in all his bids for elected office, is to be sworn into office on July 15 for a seven-year term.

In a speech to lawmakers following his victory, Peres said he saw his new role as a unifier of Israel's fractured society.

"The president's role is not to deal with politics and partisanship, but to represent what unites us in a strong voice," he said.

Peres had been seen as a shoo-in to win the post in 2000 -- only to lose in a stunning upset to the now-disgraced Moshe Katsav, a political backbencher with the blessing of a prominent rabbi.

The office of president, conceived as a ceremonial post held by a prominent statesman or thinker, has been tainted by allegations that Katsav raped or otherwise sexually assaulted four women employees.

Katsav has not been formally charged, pending a final hearing before the attorney general, but has stepped down temporarily to fight the allegations.

Israelis hope that Peres, with his international stature, will be able to rehabilitate the position.

Speaking at parliament ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "the history, actions and contributions of Shimon Peres to the State of Israel" made him "a model" for the ideal presidential candidate.

A top aide to Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, Peres was elected to parliament in 1959, then held a series of top posts, including the premiership, as well as minister of defense, finance and foreign affairs. He served as prime minister in a caretaker role in the 1970s, and once in the 1980s under a rotation agreement with political opponent Yitzhak Shamir after a general election failed to produce a clear winner. He served in the post again in the 1990s after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.


In other developments, former prime minister Ehud Barak won the leadership of the dovish Labor Party yesterday in a dramatic political comeback -- six years after was tossed out of office in a humiliating election defeat.

Barak, 65, a former commando and army chief of staff who is the nation's most decorated soldier, faced off in Tuesday's race against political newcomer Ami Ayalon, a former navy commander and head of Israel's internal security service.

Barak won by a margin of 6 percentage points, party officials announced early yesterday.

At a victory gathering early yesterday at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Barak called for unity and pledged to restore Israel's military might and deterrent power. He also pledged a policy that "combines uncompromising security, protecting Israel's solidarity and democracy, a determined pursuit of real peace, the reinforcement of the rule of law and healing Israeli society."

Barak is unlikely to immediately pull Labor out of its partnership in Olmert's coalition. He is expected to become defense minister.

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