DUBLIN (Reuters) - Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar appeared on course to succeed Enda Kenny as Ireland's prime minister after early results were declared on Friday in the governing Fine Gael party's leadership contest.
Whoever wins will take over from Kenny as prime minister later this month. Varadkar would be the once staunchly Catholic country's first openly gay prime minister, its first of Indian descent and the youngest person ever to hold the office.
Varadkar had already received the publicly declared support of almost two-thirds of the parliamentary party -- who account for 65 percent of the vote -- meaning his defeat among ordinary members was unlikely to change the expected outcome.
Varadkar won the backing of 35 percent of rank and file members compared to 65 percent who voted for his opponent, Housing Minister Simon Coveney. The 10,823 members who voted account for 25 percent of the selection vote.
The votes of the parliamentary party will be counted last but Varadkar had secured the backing of 46 of the party's 73 lawmakers ahead of the vote compared with 21 who say they would vote for Coveney. Six did not declare their intentions.
Coveney would have still needed a number of his colleagues to have changed their minds to secure victory and there was little indication that had happened.
An Irish Times tracking poll of party councillors showed that Varadkar was leading in the third college that makes up the remaining 10 percent.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans)