Israel's parliament will head to a second round run-off vote to elect a new President after none of the candidates vying for the position captured the 61 votes needed to replace Shimon Peres, whose term ends in July.

In the second round, front-runner Reuven Rivlin, who garnered 44 votes, will face Meir Sheetrit who took 31.

Politicians from the 120-member Knesset will convene later on Tuesday to elect the new head of state.

Rivlin, a former speaker of parliament and a rival from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling rightwing Likud Party is widely tipped to win.

Opinion polls show Rivlin as the public's preferred candidate, with the 74-year-old a strong opponent of Palestinian statehood.

Meir 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.

The other candidates in the first round of voting included Dalia Itzik, the first woman speaker of the Knesset, retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner and chemistry Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.

Ceremonial role

Peres, a former prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has turned the ceremonial role of president into a position of international gravitas.

Having replaced disgraced politician Moshe Katsav, who was forced to leave office in 2007, Peres has become one of the country's most popular figures.

The presidential election comes at time when key coalition allies are demanding a government initiative to extract Israel from the West Bank. Others say the moment has come for enhanced Jewish settlements and even the annexation of some areas.

Last week's formation of a Palestinian unity government, backed by both President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah and the armed Hamas group, has only added to divisions.

Source: Agencies