Jerusalem: A political rookie, Yair Lapid, has emerged as a kingmaker in Israeli elections spoiling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's victory celebrations, as undecided voters rallied behind the former scribe at the last moment in polls marked by plummeting support for the ruling Likud party.
Pollsters were swept by surprise as the change in public mood at the last moment saw exit polls throwing a major surprise with the right wing bloc losing popular support and in the end centre-left bloc ending up very close at 61-59 mark raising speculations that some of Netanyahu's natural allies may be left out of the next coalition.
All the Israeli news networks projected the joint Likud-Yisrael Beteinu list to have won 31 Knesset seats, a sharp drop from the 42 mandates that two parties currently hold, but enough for Netanyahu to be invited again to form the next government.
Netanyahu put up a brave front saying he viewed the results as an endorsement of his leadership, vowing to immediately start working on forming a coalition that would include parties on the Right, Left, and Center.
He also immediately called Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid (There is Future) party, who won an unexpected 18-19 seats in exit polls, and asked him to cooperate with him in his next government.
"The exit polls clearly indicate that the citizens of Israel want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel and form the widest possible government," the Prime Minister wrote on Facebook.
"The results are a great opportunity to make many changes for the benefit of the citizens of Israel," he added.
Labour party stood third in the exit polls at 17 seats. Its leader, Shelly Yacimovich, another former scribe, in her address to party workers vowed "to do all in her strength to prevent Netanyahu from becoming the next Prime Minister".
She called on Lapid not to join a Netanyahu government and to instead join her in trying to form an alternative coalition focusing on socioeconomic issues.