DUBLIN - Ireland's ruling Fianna Fáil party faced its worst defeat in nearly 80 years as a tidal wave of voter anger about the country being nearly pushed to bankruptcy swept an opposition party to the brink of power yesterday.
Fine Gael polled 36.1 percent support with the first round of counting completed in all 43 constituencies, a figure that would put it in power but without a majority of seats in the Dáil, the lower house of parliament. Party leader Enda Kenny, destined to become prime minister, pledged to move quickly to form a government.
Labour, Fine Gael's possible coalition partner, was running second at 19 percent while Fianna Fáil polled a historic low of 17 percent. The actual vote share matched the figure in an exit poll released an hour before the count started.
Irish voters punished Fianna Fáil for 13 percent unemployment, tax increases, wage cuts and a humiliating bailout that Ireland had to accept from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. In elections going back to 1932, Fianna Fáil had never won less than 39 percent and had always been the largest party in the Dáil.
"The political landscape of Ireland is completely and utterly redrawn," said Roger Jupp, the chairman of Millward Brown Lansdowne, which conducted the exit poll for the broadcasting company RTE.
The Green Party, which had six seats in the Dáil and was Fianna Fáil's junior partner in government, was in danger of losing them all.
Fine Gael ("tribe of the Irish") and Fianna Fáil ("soldiers of destiny") were born from opposing sides in Ireland's civil war of the 1920s, and many see little difference between them on the issues. Fianna Fáil, however, was leading the government when the property boom collapsed in 2007, and it put taxpayers on the hook to bail out Ireland's failing banks.