The Irish prime minister's coalition looks set to fall well short of re-election to a second term. An unusual alliance with Fine Gael's historical rival, Fianna Fail, appears to be the only way to maintain power.
Exit polls from Friday's general election in the Republic of Ireland showed the governing coalition well short of an overall majority
Vote counting gets underway at 9 a.m. local time (0900 UTC) on Saturday.
An exit poll for the Irish Times showed that support for Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael had slumped from 36.1 percent in the last general election to 26.1 percent. Its Labour Party coalition partner gathered only 8 percent support, well below the 19.5 percent it achieved in the 2011 election.
The two parties' combined poll of 34 percent, if confirmed in the count, would fall well short of the 42 percent that Finance Minister Michael Noonan said would be needed to form a government. Even alliances with independent candidates or smaller parties would probably leave too large a gap to achieve a majority in the Dáil (parliament).
"If the final result is close to the exit poll predictions, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition will be far short of the numbers required to form a majority government," the Irish Times wrote.
Kenny may therefore be obliged to make an alliance with its historical rival, the Fianna Fail party, which increased its vote to 22.9 percent. That is a significant rise over the 17 percent it achieved in 2011.
Michael Ring, a junior minister for Fine Gael, told Newstalk radio that such an alliance would have to be considered if the exit poll proves accurate.
The complexity of the single transferrable vote system makes it difficult to provide an accurate prediction of the number of seats which will be won by the various parties.
If the numbers are confirmed in the count, Fianna Fail could reach its target of 40 seats in the Dail. This would represent a major achievement for party leader Micheal Martin.
In Dublin, Fine Gael has emerged as the largest party with 25.7 per cent of the vote, followed by Sinn Féin with 15.4 per cent, according to the poll. Fianna Fáil is on 14.6 per cent, Labour 9.4 per cent, others 34.9 per cent.
Overall turnout appears to be about 65 percent, which is down from 70 percent in 2011, according to party sources.
After counting starts on Saturday morning, the first results are expected to be announced in the late afternoon. Counting will continue late into Saturday night and Sunday morning.
jm/jr (Reuters, AFP)