Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has conceded defeat following elections that saw the governing coalition punished by voters weary of austerity, leaving the eurozone country in political limbo with no clear winner.
"Clearly the government of Fine Gael and Labour are not going to be returned to office," Kenny, the leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party, told RTE television.
Early indications suggest that Fine Gael and its centre-left junior partner have been hard hit by continued public anger over years of austerity, despite Ireland recording the fastest growth in the European Union.
Many voters turned to independents and anti-austerity parties, and the country now faces the prospect of protracted negotiations as political leaders try to build enough support to form a new governing coalition.
Kenny said the early signs were "a disappointment", as exit polls indicated the coalition would fall far short of the 80 seats needed to form a parliamentary majority.
"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," he said.
Fine Gael health minister Leo Varadkar said: "I don't think that the obligation to form a government necessarily falls on us automatically."
Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from Dublin, said anger at public spending cuts, rising social inequality and mistrust of established politicians have all played a role in a loss of support for the ruling coalition.
"The election has followed a similar pattern to other EU countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece that have also been through austerity, but Ireland's story is different," he said.
"Austerity is officially over and the economy's now the fastest growing in Europe, but that hasn't stopped many voters from punishing the outgoing government in the polls."
The centre-right Fianna Fail appeared to have regained some ground lost when the party was routed five years ago in the wake of Ireland's housing crash and economic crisis.
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But anti-austerity groups, independent politicians, small parties and left-wing party Sinn Fein are all on course to increase their seats in parliament, as commentators heralded a "seismic change" in politics.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, who have taken turns ruling Ireland since 1932, would likely have enough seats between them to form a coalition government.
But despite their political similarities, they are bitter rivals whose differences date back to a civil war almost a century ago.
"The option that screams out the most is a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition," said University of Maynooth lecturer Adrian Kavanagh.
Source: Al Jazeera And AFP