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Rivlin chosen as Israeli president

Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin is the new Israeli president (AP)
Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin is the new Israeli president (AP)

Israel's parliament has chosen Reuven Rivlin, a stalwart in the ruling Likud Party, as the country's next president.

Policy makers chose the former parliament speaker and cabinet minister in a secret run-off ballot against long-time legislator Meir Sheetrit, by 63 votes to 53.

Mr Rivlin faces the difficult task of succeeding Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate who brought the position international prestige.

The job of the presidency is largely ceremonial, but Mr Rivlin's political views could prove tricky.

He opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, putting him at odds with the international community and even his own prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Rivlin, 74, has been a supporter of Jewish settlements in occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians and proposed a special union with the Palestinians in which Jews and Arabs would hold common citizenship but vote for separate parliaments.

The president is meant to serve as a unifying figure and moral compass for the country, and Mr Rivlin has said that in contrast to Mr Peres, he would focus on domestic affairs if selected.

"I think the people's will was manifested," Mr Rivlin said after the vote. He dismissed speculation that he might be upset at Mr Netanyahu, who tried to block his candidacy, saying he was "not angry at anyone".

Three other candidates were eliminated in a first round of voting in the 120-member parliament earlier in the day.

Mr Rivlin will have big shoes to fill after Mr Peres, 90, steps down. Mr Peres, whose political career stretches back decades and who has been an outspoken proponent of peace with the Palestinians, restored honour to the position, which was tarnished after his predecessor, Moshe Katsav, was forced to step down by a sex scandal. Mr Katsav is in prison after being convicted of rape.

The vote capped a nasty presidential campaign that saw mudslinging, political intrigue and scandals that forced two hopefuls out of the running.

Mr Netanyahu's public standing has also taken a hit during the campaign due to his attempts to shape the race and block Mr Rivlin's candidacy. They are long-time rivals in the Likud.

While most political power is held by the prime minister, the president plays several key roles in Israel.

Most critically, the president chooses a member of parliament, or Knesset, to form a majority coalition after elections. This has usually been the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament, but with a rise of a number of mid-size parties in parliament, the next president could theoretically have more influence over choosing the country's prime minister.

The other candidates included Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court judge. Ex-parliamentary speaker Dalia Itzik and Nobel prize in chemistry winner Dan Shechtman also vied for the job.

Speaking at a Knesset ceremony to celebrate his election, Mr Rivlin said his new position "commits me to remove the robe of politics", an indication that he may subdue his political beliefs as president.

"I am not a man of a (political) movement. I am a man of everyone. A man of the people," he added, visibly moved as he made his acceptance speech.

He is to be sworn into office for a single seven-year term on July 24.

Mr Netanyahu congratulated Mr Rivlin and said he would work with him.

"I know you will do all you can as president and I promise that I as prime minister ... will do the same with you," he said.

Although Mr Rivlin will play no role in Israeli foreign policy, Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Palestinian official, said the election of a man with his views sent a bad message.

"I don't see how he will contribute anything to peacemaking in the region. He is opposed to the two-state solution," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph