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Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny concedes election defeat

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has conceded defeat on behalf of his governing coalition. It is unclear who will form the next government: either Kenny's Fine Gael or longtime Republican adversary Fianna Fail.

Speaking on television on Saturday night, Prime Minister Enda Kenny said: "Clearly the government of Fine Gael and Labour are not going to be returned to office, and obviously one has to wait now until all the counts are in right across the country to see what the options that must be considered are."

Kenny's health minister, Fine Gael party member Leo Varadkar, had appeared earlier on RTE television to say that "the people have clearly decided not to re-elect this government and have given my party and the Labour party a very serious drubbing." He admitted that "it was certainly worse than my worst fears."

Varadkar also suggested that opposition parties could negotiate to see if they could form a viable government: "I don't think that the obligation to form a government necessarily falls on us automatically."

Irland Wahlen

The counting began on Saturday morning and is due to finish at the start of the week

Fine Gael strategist Mark Mortell, a key adviser to Kenny, said the prime minister and his party were feeling "deep disappointment." On Saturday, he said another general election would present a "risk" to Ireland.

Backlash

The ruling coalition appears to have been hit by a backlash after years of austerity and lack of benefits for the poor. "The government of Fine Gael and Labour cannot be returned," Kenny told journalists late on Saturday. "I've a duty and a responsibility to work with the decision that the people have made to provide the country with a stable government, and that I intend to do fully and completely."

Irland Parlamentswahl - Premierminister Enda Kenny

Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the Castlebar count center

After 38 of 40 constituencies had been counted, the center-right Fine Gael had taken only 26 percent of first preference votes. That figure is 10 percent below the 36 percent it took in the 2011 elections.

Mark Mortell said Kenny would "hold off making phone calls" until early next week, but added that there was a very high risk of a second election this year.

Labour member and Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said his party was out of the equation for the next government after taking just 7 percent.

Fianna Fail on the rise

Fianna Fail looked set to rise to 25 percent.

Irland Wahlen Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein politician and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

"We'll be putting a mandate before the Dail (parliament) on March 10 and seeking the support of others in the first instance and there'll be a large group of TDs (members of parliament) elected outside of Fine Gael and Sinn Fein," Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told national broadcaster RTE. "We're committed to ensuring the country gets a good government, but it's going to take time," he added.

The party was formed in 1926 after a split in Sinn Fein. The left-wing Sinn Fein, the former political arm of the Irish Republican Army, has taken about 16 percent of the vote, which makes it a main opposition party.

The first of the 157 parliamentary seats was declared on Saturday afternoon, but the final list of winners may not be announced until the count finishes early next week.

jm/jr (Reuters, AFP)

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