Irish voters went to the polls on Friday to punish their government for bringing the former "Celtic Tiger" economy to its knees and leaving it a ward of the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The ruling Fianna Fail party is set to be the first political victim of Europe's debt crisis with opinion polls suggesting the giant of Irish politics will be reduced to a rump amid voter anger over the economic meltdown.
Ireland's main opposition party Fine Gael is on course to lead the next government but without an overall majority, an exit poll for state broadcaster RTE showed on Saturday.
The centre-right party is expected to win 36.1 percent of first preference votes under Ireland's system of proportional representation, its best result since 1982, but below expectations for a record victory.
The ruling Fianna Fail party is expected to win just 15.1 percent of first preference votes, its worst ever result, after voters took revenge for its mishandling of the economic crisis.
The Labour party, Fine Gael's traditional partner in government, secured 20.5 percent of the vote, which would be its best ever electoral performance, the poll showed.
Ireland's transformation from economic pin-up to euro zone struggler on the back of reckless property lending has angered the 3 million plus electorate but overall their instincts remain conservative.
Like Fianna Fail, Fine Gael has a pro-business and low-tax ideology and has pledged to stick to the overall austerity targets laid down by the EU and IMF as a condition of an 85 billion euros bailout package agreed in December.
But Fine Gael is less tainted by the allegations of crony capitalism that dogged Fianna Fail. Polls show it could win nearly 80 seats, putting it within reach of forming a single-party administration.
A minority Fine Gael government would need the support of independents and for the sake of stability, most analysts expect Kenny will form a coalition with the centre-left Labour party to navigate the EU/IMF programme.
While Ireland's borrowing costs may be reduced as part of a wider EU agreement on resolving the debt crisis next month, Dublin is unlikely to receive a green light to impose losses on some senior bondholders in Irish banks due to ECB opposition.
Despite the return of mass emigration, one in 10 unemployed, widespread negative equity and a rising suicide rate, Ireland has not experienced mass public protests.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Şubat 2011, 11:41