Ireland’s three biggest parties are tied neck-and-neck following Saturday’s general election, according to an exit poll, leaving the battle to lead the next government too close to call.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s incumbent Fine Gael party, center-right rivals Fianna Fail and left-wingers Sinn Fein all received 22 percent of first preference votes, according to the PSOS MRBI poll issued as the polling stations closed at 2200 GMT.
The survey of around 5,000 voters leaving the polls – which has an estimated margin of error of 1.3 percent – put Fine Gael on 22.4 percent, Sinn Fein on 22.3 percent and Fianna Fail on 22.2 percent.
The Republic of Ireland uses a single transferable vote system to elect multiple deputies from each of the 39 constituencies, making it hard to extrapolate a likely seat forecast from the exit poll figures for first preference votes.
The count gets underway at 0900 GMT on Sunday.
“We’ve never seen a general election result like it,” said Pat Leahy, political editor of The Irish Times newspaper.
“Basically a statistical tie between what are now the three big parties. Government formation is going to be a very difficult exercise indeed if the parties maintain their pre-election positions,” he told RTE television.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which have traditionally held a duopoly on power, pledged they would not form a coalition with Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army paramilitary group.