JERUSALEM, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Reuven Rivlin, Israel's former parliament speaker from the ruling right-wing Likud Party, won the Israeli presidency on Tuesday after a close race with veteran politician Meir Sheetrit.
Voting started Tuesday morning at 11:00 a.m. local time (GMT+3), when 119 Knesset (parliament) members gathered to elect a replacement for current president Shimon Peres, choosing from among five candidates.
By the end of the first round of voting, Rivlin managed to garner 44 votes, while Sheetrit received 31 votes. Other candidates included, former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who received 28 votes, former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, who received 13 votes and Chemistry Noble Prize laureate Dan Shectman, who received only one vote.
Collecting 63 votes and surpassing the required majority in the final round of voting, Rivlin defeated Sheetrit, his biggest challenger from the leftist Hatuna Party, which is a junior partner in the ruling coalition.
Rivlin had always been considered the front runner throughout the race, receiving a 30 percent public approval rating in various polls. His top competitor, MK Benjamin Ben Eliezer (Labor), withdrew from the race on Saturday after he was interrogated under the suspicion of taking bribes and evading tax payments.
"The Knesset was a home for me and I love it tremendously," Rivlin said at a speech following the announcement of his victory. "I am saying goodbye today to this place which was my home."
Rivlin also said that his main goal as a two-time Knesset speaker was "to safeguard due process of democracy," while adding he will continue to champion those values.
In a statement issued by his office after the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who endorsed Rivlin despite an uneasy relationship between the two, said he is looking forward to working with Rivlin, "who is a longtime member of the Likud party and a man from the national camp."
Rivlin was also congratulated by left-wing MK Shelly Yehchimovich (Labor), who said that the "state of Israel earned a great president," adding that he will "glue the different parts of the people together with his modesty and decency."
The newly-elected president will be sworn in at an official ceremony in late July, when outgoing President Shimon Peres is due to retire after his seven-year term will end.
The role of the president in Israel is mainly ceremonial without much executive power. The president of Israel is elected for seven years and cannot preside for more than a single term.
This is not the first time Rivlin ran for president. In 2007, after former president Moshe Katzav stepped down from his post after charges of sexual assault and rape were leveled against him, Rivlin ran opposite Shimon Peres and former Labor MK Colette Avital.
Rivlin, 75, is a veteran politician from the right-wing camp known for his moderate views and cooperation with members from parliament throughout the political spectrum. He is married, has four children and had been a member of the Knesset since the 80's.
He served twice as the Knesset speaker and was communications minister in the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.