Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's coalition government has failed to win an overall majority in the general election, an exit poll has indicated, threatening to plunge the country into a period of political instability.
Ireland's uneven economic recovery was the focus in Friday's election in which voters punished the government for years of austerity despite warnings that political instability might damage a nascent recovery.
Kenny's Fine Gael will win the election with 26.1 percent, the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI exit poll said. With partners Labour in line with 7.8 percent of the ballot, they would fall well short of the 41-42 percent they identified as being needed for re-election.
Such an outcome would leave an unprecedented and potentially unstable alliance between historic rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which the exit poll put at 22.9 percent, as potentially the only viable way to break the deadlock.
One Fine Gael junior minister said he would "of course" be open to the prospect minutes after the exit poll was released, the first senior member of either party to say so.
"We have to have a government and every option will have to be looked at. The only option I would have a problem with is Sinn Fein," Michael Ring told the Newstalk radio station, referring to the left-wing party which polled at 14.9 percent.
Ring said that if the exit poll proved accurate, it would be a very disappointing and difficult result for Fine Gael which won 36 percent of the vote in 2011 and came into the campaign above 30 percent in most polls.
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Framed as a debate over how to distribute the profits of an economic growth surge since the country took a sovereign bailout in 2010, Kenny's campaign to "keep the recovery going" fell flat among many yet to feel any impact after years of austerity.
Al Jazeera's Neave Barker, reporting from Dublin, said the aftershocks of the economic crisis are still being felt across the country.
"Ireland is the fastest growing economy in the European Union, but not without painful cuts to public services like housing, education and policing, to name a few," Barker said.
"While many in Ireland want the country to remain on the same roadmap to recovery, others are desperate for change."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies