Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lacklustre election campaign only got into top gear one hour before polling stations closed.
With bleak grassroots reports flowing into his Likud party headquarters, it was clear that Netanyahu risked being outflanked by a centrist newcomer, setting up the possibility of the biggest electoral upset in Israeli history.
“Go vote. The Likud government is in danger,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. If it sounded as if he was in a panic, it was because he was.
Ever since he had forged an electoral pact with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party back in October, Netanyahu trusted in a slew of opinion polls that predicted he would easily win a third term in office in the Jan. 22 ballot.
The joint ticket ensured he would end up head of the largest single bloc, putting him in pole position to lead the next coalition.
His prime concern appeared to be a slippage of votes to rivals on the far right, which became such an obsession in the final days of campaigning that he forgot to check in his other mirror and see the centrists storming up on the outside.
“He made every mistake possible in the campaign,” said Gideon Rahat, a political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “It looks like he will be the next prime minister, but his party has paid the price.”
In the end, Likud-Beitenu captured 31 of parliament’s 120 seats, just enough to prevent the centre-left from creating a blocking majority but still 11 seats down on the number won by the two parties in the 2009 legislative election.