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Sunday 21 September 2014

Right-winger Reuven Rivlin elected Israel's president

* Rivlin to succeed dovish Shimon Peres in July
* Presidential race marred by scandal, intrigue

Jeffrey Heller

Published 10/06/2014 | 14:20

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

Reuven Rivlin, a right-wing legislator opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, was elected Israel's president on Tuesday and will replace the dovish Shimon Peres in the largely ceremonial post.

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Rivlin, 74, is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. He has a reputation for political independence and has had a rocky personal relationship with the Israeli leader.

A former speaker of parliament, Rivlin defeated Meir Sheetrit of the moderate Hatnuah party by a vote of 63-53 in a run-off in the legislature, after none of the original five candidates won an outright victory in a first round ballot.

Although Israeli heads of state are not directly involved in political decision-making, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Peres used the presidency as a pulpit for advocating peace with the Palestinians, often taking a more dovish stance than Netanyahu.

Peres, 90, ends his seven-year presidential term in July.

Unlike Peres, Rivlin has called for a confederation with the Palestinians rather than negotiating an independent state for them -- something Palestinian leaders have long rejected.

Last month, Netanyahu floated a trial balloon on the future of the presidency, ordering his advisers to sound out cabinet colleagues on suspending the poll and evaluating the need for the position, political sources said.

Some political analysts suggested that Netanyahu was concerned that a victory by Rivlin, who once publicly accused the prime minister of showing disrespect to parliament, could make him more vulnerable in a future general election.

No single party has ever won an outright majority in a national poll. That makes the president - whose duties otherwise carry little power - a key player in coalition-building.

MUDSLINGING

The campaign for the election of Israel's 10th president was marred by rumours of foul play and mudslinging.

One leading candidate, veteran Labour politician Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, pulled out of the race on Saturday after police questioned him about alleged financial malpractice.

Ben-Eliezer denied any wrongdoing and said he had been "deliberately targeted" by enemies out to sabotage his bid.

Several weeks ago, another presidential hopeful decided against declaring his candidacy after authorities opened - and subsequently closed - a sex crimes investigation against him.

In the rough-and-tumble world of Israeli politics, the president is supposed to stay above the fray and promote national unity and moral values.

Peres, an internationally respected statesman, restored prestige to the post after he was elected in 2007 to replace Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape in 2010 and is serving a seven-year prison term.

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