By Paul Hoskins and Mark Thompson DUBLIN, Reuters
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was set to clinch a third term on Saturday and begin the search for new coalition partners after his parliamentary ally for the past 10 years suffered heavy election losses.
With 90 percent of seats filled, broadcaster RTE predicted Ahern’s Fianna Fail party would win 78 seats in parliament, five short of a majority but one more than a potential opposition alliance of Fine Gael, left leaning Labour and the Green Party.
His junior coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats, were set to win two seats — down from eight in the last parliament — forcing Ahern to consider a range of options to secure a government capable of lasting a full five-year term.
“We’ll talk to anybody who’s interested in talking to us,” said Noel Dempsey, a Fianna Fail minister in the outgoing government.
Formal coalition talks were unlikely to begin until counting has finished, a process that could still take some days.
Bookmakers Paddy Power offered odds on five combinations involving Fianna Fail, making a pact with the Greens a narrow favorite ahead of the current coalition, which would need to rely on independents given the Progressive Democrats’ demise.
The Green Party campaigned for a change of government and has clashed with Fianna Fail over its energy policy, plans to cut taxes, and close ties with Ireland’s construction industry.
Greens leader Trevor Sargent told Reuters the party was ready to enter government for the first time, and he left open the possibility of a deal with Fianna Fail.
“I do think we are in a very strong position now and we are taking that extremely seriously,” he said.
“There are huge opportunities in this country but it does require an acceptance that business as usual is not an option and therein lies hopefully the makings of a good stable government with the Greens at the center.”
The Greens were set to win six seats, unchanged from the last election in 2002. Fine Gael, the main opposition party, had yet to concede defeat but its leader, Enda Kenny, accepted Ahern had “more options” in terms of forming a government.
Ahern may yet secure a slim majority with independent lawmakers and the remaining Progressive Democrats, but he appears to want a more solid platform after 10 years in power.
“Whatever I try to do, my favorite option is to make sure, as I have done twice back to back … to command a stable government for a five year term,” Ahern said on Friday.
Support from the Greens, or the Labour Party which had ruled out sharing power with Fianna Fail, would give him that.