DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's lawmakers have failed for a third time to select a prime minister, leaving the country in political limbo for a record 48 days following an inconclusive election that could be rerun within weeks.
Thursday's result followed the pattern of two previous stalemate votes in parliament, when a majority of lawmakers failed to back either caretaker Prime Minister Enda Kenny or his sole remaining challenger, Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin.
This time, Kenny received 52 votes, all but two of them from his own Fine Gael party, while Martin received 43 votes exclusively from his own party.
Kenny needs at least 79 votes to regain a governing majority in the 158-member Dail Eireann, Ireland's parliament, which he has overseen since 2011. But voters in the Feb. 26 election weakened his party and decimated his previous coalition partner, left-wing Labour, leaving Kenny unable to forge a new government without support from Fine Gael's age-old enemy, Fianna Fail.
Both parties compete for the same center-right ground in politics. They have never shared power since the 1920s, when they emerged from opposite sides of Ireland's civil war following independence from Britain.
Minutes after Thursday's vote, a downbeat Kenny addressed Martin across the chamber and invited him to return to partnership negotiations. Kenny said their two parties must "focus with a sense of urgency."
Martin in reply raised doubt of a deal, criticizing Fine Gael's management of their talks and questioning his opponent's sincerity.
Martin, a former foreign minister, already has ruled out entering a coalition government alongside Kenny, but has kept open the possibility of supporting a minority Fine Gael government on a vote-by-vote basis.
If the two parties cannot reach common ground on key policy issues, Ireland could face a second 2016 election in a bid to alter the arithmetic. That hasn't happened since 1982.
Parliament convenes for a fourth attempt to elect a premier on April 20.
"Get on with it," said Mary Lou McDonald, a lawmaker from Irish nationalist Sinn Fein, which is the third-largest party with 23 seats. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have ruled out the Irish Republican Army-linked party as a potential coalition partner citing its hard-left economic rhetoric and its paramilitary past.
"Make up your minds, and stop insulting people's intelligence with the postures and poses that you strike," she said, in remarks directed equally at Kenny and Martin.