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Israel parliament considering open presidential ballot after Katsav scandal

[JURIST] An Israeli parliamentary subcommittee approved day an amendment Saturday that would require Knesset [official website] members to cast open rather than secret ballots in presidential elections. The "Peres law," so called because it would greatly favor presidential candidate Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres' [official profile] chances of winning, was passed by a 7-5 margin. It now must receive a 61-vote majority in the Knesset to pass into law; the vote is not expected to take place this week, reportedly due to Peres-supporter Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's [official profile] reluctance to move forward [Israel National News report] until the bill's odds of passing improve. Supporters point to broad public support of Peres as a candidate and to a general move towards transparency; opponents object to amending a law simply to favor one particular candidate.

The Israeli presidency has recently moved into the spotlight as current president Moshe Katsav [official website; JURIST news archive] faces possible charges of rape, sexual harassment, abuse of power and obstruction of justice [JURIST report]. Last week Katsav was granted a three-month temporary suspension [JURIST report] by the Knesset. Israeli Attorney General Menahem Mazuz [official profile] said that there is enough evidence to indict Katsav but that formal charges will only be made once a hearing is held [Reuters report] in which Katsav will be allowed to present his case. Katsav maintained his innocence on Israeli television last week, claiming these charges are a result of a "vicious campaign by journalists, police and the state prosecution;" his lawyers are expected to receive a draft of the indictment and the prosecutor's investigative material on Sunday. Allegations of foul play have also arisen as the state attorney general's office has been accused of using undue influence to get a statement that led to a rape charge; the Ministry of Justice [official website] denies the charge. Haaretz has more.

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