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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israelis Vote Katsav for President




JERUSALEM -- In a stunning upset, a little-known opposition lawmaker defeated former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in Monday's presidential race.


The victory of Moshe Katsav of the opposition Likud Party spelled a humiliating end to Peres' half-century political career and dealt another blow to beleaguered Prime Minister Ehud Barak.


Later in the day, Barak's minority government was to face another challenge in parliament f a motion of no-confidence over his willingness to make land concessions to the Palestinians. Barak was expected to survive the challenge, but just barely. A number of coalition legislators have defected to the opposition in recent weeks.


Peres had been the front-runner in the race for president and was the public's favorite. Informal opinion surveys had given him a two-to-one lead over Katsav, who never rose above second-tier Cabinet posts in his 23 years in politics.


The presidency is largely ceremonial, but the incumbent, Ezer Weizman, has used the prestige of the post in support of Mideast peace efforts. Peres, who led his nation to peace negotiations with the Palestinians in 1993, had been expected to turn the presidency into a platform for assisting the negotiators.


Katsav started his career as Israel's youngest mayor in the 1969, when he was 24. He was elected to the parliament in 1977 and rose to tourism minister and deputy prime minister. Born in Iran, he presented himself as the representative of Israelis of Middle East origin.


Katsav won 63-57 in a second round of voting in Israel's 120-member parliament. In the first round, neither candidate received the required 61 votes.


Peres had counted on the support of many of the 22 religious lawmakers. When he was prime minister, his governments were consistently generous to the ultra-Orthodox, a chronically impoverished sector of Israel's society; in addition, Peres' wife, Sonya, is herself Orthodox.


On the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox have identified more with the Likud's foreign policy in recent years and many see Katsav f who himself is religiously observant f as the more sympathetic candidate.


After the results of the first round were announced, Peres looked grim, trying hard to maintain composure as he walked past Labor Party members in the plenum. A jubilant Katsav said he was certain of victory.


Peres has had a topsy-turvy political career, holding nearly all of Israel's top jobs over the years, but also losing four of five elections for prime minister.


Peres served as prime minister three times, twice succeeding his longtime political rival, Yitzhak Rabin, and once in a rotation agreement after a deadlocked election. He is seen both as a visionary marching far ahead of his people and a merciless politician.