JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Parliament voted on Tuesday for a new head of state to succeed President Shimon Peres after a scandal-tinged race for a largely ceremonial post that is supposed to serve as a moral authority for the nation.
None of the five candidates to take over from Mr Peres, a Nobel peace prize laureate whose term expires next month, captured the required 61 votes in the 120-seat legislature, to win outright, and a run-off will be held later in the day. In the second round, Mr Reuven Rivlin, a former speaker of Parliament who garnered 44 votes, will face Mr Meir Sheetrit, an experienced centrist politician, who took 31.
Mr Rivlin, 74, is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. He has a reputation for political independence, opposes Palestinian statehood and has had a rocky relationship with the Israeli leader.
Mr Sheetrit, a one-time ally of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has headed six ministries during his lengthy career, including the finance and interior ministries. He is a member of the moderate Hatnuah party, which is in the ruling coalition.
Last month, Mr Netanyahu floated a trial balloon on the future of the presidency, ordering key 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 Mr Netanyahu was concerned that a Rivlin victory could make him more vulnerable in a future general election. Israeli law grants the president the power to choose who should try to put together a government.
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.
The campaign for the election of Israel's 10th president has been 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.
Mr 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.
Mr Peres, a 90-year-old 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.