The Latest: Irish confirm national popular vote in election

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Posted: Feb 27, 2016 7:19 PM
The Latest: Irish confirm national popular vote in election

DUBLIN (AP) — The Latest on the 2016 Irish election (all times local):

12:00 a.m.

It's taken all day and night, but Ireland's ballot counters have calculated the national totals of "No. 1" votes cast for candidates from each party and independents.

The government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, suffered heavy losses from their 2011 highs in Ireland's last election. Fine Gael slumped by 10.6 percentage points to 25.5 percent. Labour dropped 12.8 percentage points to just 6.6 percent.

Fianna Fail, Ireland's perennial party of government that suffered its worst loss in 2011, nearly regained its customary top spot with 24.3 percent support, a 6.9-point gain.

Sinn Fein came third with 13.8 percent, a 3.9-point gain.

Three new left-wing parties who, like Sinn Fein, were hostile to the government's austerity program attracted a combined 11 percent backing.

Counts under Ireland's complex proportional representation system continue Sunday to fill Ireland's parliament. As of midnight, only 70 of 158 winners had been declared.

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11:20 p.m.

In County Kerry, officials struggled to confirm even the first-preference results after a marathon 14-hour count — because two leading candidates, Danny and Michael Healy-Rae, are brothers and ballot counters accidentally scrambled their vote counts. Tempers frayed as a late-night recount was ordered.

With midnight approaching, Michael Healy-Rae finally was declared Kerry's first winner. Boisterous supporters lifted the lawmaker into the air, his trademark farmer's cap somehow staying on his head, as they sang his campaign song: "Make your vote and pray, that he goes all the way! He's flat to the mat with his black cap, and there's no time for tae (tea)."

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9:15 p.m.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny says voters have clearly rejected his 5-year-old coalition with the Labour Party, but as leader of the largest party he will remain in pole position to form the next Irish government if a different cross-party partnership can be forged.

Kenny — who won easy re-election to his own parliamentary seat in Mayo, western Ireland, for the 12th straight time dating back to 1975 — says he cannot consider forming a historic coalition with longtime nemesis Fianna Fail until full results are declared Sunday or Monday.

He concedes that Ireland could face a second 2016 election if he or Fianna Fail chief Micheal Martin are unable to forge a parliamentary majority with each other or other smaller parties.

"That's the difficulty," he said when asked of the possibility of a second election to overcome a hung parliament. "Obviously I'd like to think that it will be possible, given the final results, to be able to put a government together."

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8:15 p.m.

Michael Lowry is one of the most divisive figures in Irish politics — and the voters of Tipperary in southwest Ireland keep rewarding him for it.

Lowry retained his parliamentary seat in election results announced Saturday. He was expelled from the ruling Fine Gael party in 1997 as he faced multiple investigations for receiving secret gifts from tycoons in exchange for business favors.

Lowry, now an independent, says his old party actively campaigned against him, even colluding with archrival Fianna Fail in futile hopes of toppling him. He said both parties should set aside their historic hostilities and share power.

The lawmaker says "it's time for the two main parties to step up to the plate and form a government."

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7 p.m.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is leading his nationalist party to its best-ever result in the Republic of Ireland, a solid third-place finish, and calls its involvement in a future Irish government just a question of time.

Adams is topping the results table as ballots continue to be counted Saturday night in his border district of Louth, midway between Dublin and Belfast. The longtime Northern Ireland-based leader won a parliamentary seat in Louth in 2011 as he sought to spearhead Sinn Fein's growth in the independent south.

Adams says he expects his party to double its seats in parliament from the 14 it won in 2011. But he says it's too early to say whether Sinn Fein could gain a slice of power in Ireland's next coalition government.

He called Sinn Fein's rise "another step in the realignment of politics on this island."

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6:15 p.m.

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, considered a great coalition negotiator, says he thinks Irish lawmakers face an unusually long, grueling process to form their next government.

The new Irish parliament is scheduled to convene on March 10. After Friday's national vote, the leaders of both the Fine Gael and the Fianna Fail parties could nominate themselves then as prime minister — even though neither may be able to win a majority of votes.

Ahern, who stepped down in 2008, says he doubts a new government can be formed by March 10. He says "it'll probably go to the other side of St. Patrick's Day" — referring to Ireland's national holiday on March 17.

Ahern declined to specify his preferred coalition but predicted "in the next two weeks, a lot of the combinations that are theoretically there will be ruled out."

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5:30 p.m.

With early Irish election results pointing to the possibility of a historic Fianna Fail-Fine Gael coalition government, leading Irish lawmakers are warning that such a partnership would be fraught with difficulty.

Agriculture and Defense Minister Simon Coveney, a leading Fine Gael member, said it would be "difficult to form a coalition with two parties of similar size that are competing with each other in many ways."

Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea, a lawmaker from Limerick and a former Irish defense minister, says bringing Ireland's two traditional heavyweight political parties together would leave the main opposition to Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army. He says that would make Sinn Fein a more dangerous foe. Sinn Fein was running a strong third in Saturday's voting results.

O'Dea says "I'd be extremely nervous about putting Sinn Fein in pole position in the opposition."

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4:20 p.m.

Micheal Martin, the leader of Ireland's opposition Fianna Fail party, won't rule out forming a historic coalition with the governing Fine Gael party as official results from Friday's election start to trickle in.

Martin, whose centrist party has never shared power with longtime nemesis Fine Gael, was asked Saturday whether he would talk to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael chief, about a first-ever partnership. The two parties trace their origins to opposite sides of Ireland's 1922-23 civil war.

Martin says "we're committed to doing our best by the country and ensuring that the country gets a good government."

He adds that any successful coalition negotiation "has to be very much focused on the issues and on policies, and not just on numbers" of seats in parliament.

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4 p.m.

The first official winner of a seat in Ireland's next parliament, Shane Ross, says he's open to propping up the next government — so long as it's interested in drastically changing its economic policies.

Ross, an incumbent independent who has opposed the government's austerity and bank-bailout policies, won the first seat in the Dublin district of Rathdown. He says he hopes to help form a powerful bloc of like-minded independents in Ireland's 158-seat parliament.

He noted that for the first time in Irish history, the two traditional big guns of Irish politics — the governing Fine Gael and the opposition Fianna Fail parties — had attracted less than half of the popular vote. He said the political landscape is now open for mavericks like him to wield real influence over Ireland's next government coalition.

Ross says "it looks today as though we've got a massive and very welcome change in Irish politics."

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3:40 p.m.

With official Irish election results yet to trickle in, leaders of the governing Fine Gael and Labour parties say Ireland's voters have demonstrated that they want a change in government, with 60 percent or more of voters picking an array of other parties, mostly on the left of the political spectrum.

Analysts poring over results compiled by election observers predict that Fine Gael will win fewer than 50 seats and Labour probably fewer than 10 in Ireland's 158-member parliament. A governing majority requires at least 79 lawmakers.

Kevin Humphreys, a Labour lawmaker fighting to retain his seat in Dublin Bay South, says his left-wing party has "had a very bad day ... but we'll rebuild and come back."

The first official winners are expected to be declared Saturday afternoon.

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7:30 a.m.

A detailed exit poll for Ireland's election has found that most voters spurned the coalition government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny and the country faces either a hung parliament with no workable majority — or an alliance between the traditional polar opposites of political life.

The poll by Irish broadcasters RTE was revealed hours ahead of Saturday's start to a ballot count expected to run into Sunday.

The poll says Kenny's Fine Gael party has received 24.8 percent of first-preference votes — much lower than any opinion poll during Ireland's three-week election campaign — while the party's age-old enemy Fianna Fail has won 21.1 percent.

The poll found that Sinn Fein received 16 percent of first-preference votes, sufficient to double its number of lawmakers — but not enough to give either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail a majority, even if either cut a deal with the Irish Republican Army-linked party.