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Ireland elects center-right government

Irish voters overwhelmingly reject Fianna Fail government, blaming it for financial collapse.

Ireland election fine gael enda kenny 2011 2 16Enlarge
The center-right Fine Gael party, led by Enda Kenny, will form a new Irish government after winning the election. Here Kenny smiles as he holds 6-month-old May Hennelly during the campaign. (Peter Muhly /AFP/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, Ireland — A 60-year-old former schoolteacher from the west of Ireland has been given the task by the Irish electorate of leading the country out of its biggest financial collapse since independence in 1921.

Enda Kenny, leader of the Fine Gael Party, is set to become Ireland's next taoiseach (prime minister) following a surge in support for his center-right party, and the meltdown of the once-dominant Fianna Fail party in Friday’s general election.

Now Kenny has to make good on his promise to renegotiate the harsh terms of the financial bailout that Ireland was forced to seek from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank at the end of 2010.

The election followed the break-up of the government led by Fianna Fail, which has been in power almost continuously since 1987, caused by the defection of its coalition partner, the Green Party.

Widely held responsible for policies that led to Ireland's world-record property crash and the near-collapse of the country’s banks, Fianna Fail was swept away in a tide of public anger.

All parties except the Green Party benefited from the big Fianna Fail slump, including Sinn Fein, whose leader Gerry Adams is sure of a seat in Louth. For the first time since the 1920s, Fianna Fail has failed to return a deputy from a number of multi-seat constituencies.

Fine Gael won an estimated 36 percent of the vote compared to Fianna Fail’s 15 percent. It is unlikely to achieve an overall majority, but is preparing to form a coalition government with the Labour Party, which won 20 percent support, its best-ever election result.

Dublin has become a Labour stronghold and only one of the 13 outgoing Fianna Fail deputies from the Dublin metropolitan area is expected to retain a seat. Under Ireland’s proportional representation system of voting, several candidates are elected from each of 43 constituencies to the 166-member Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament.