Exit polls in the Republic of Ireland’s general election suggest the governing Fine Gael-Labour coalition could lose its majority.
An exit poll commissioned by the Irish Times suggests Fine Gael, the senior party in the governing coalition will remain the largest party with 26%.
However Fianna Fáil, the main opposition, appears to be close behind on 23%.
Ireland’s complex voting system means that the count may last all weekend.
The Irish Times poll puts Sinn Féin at 15%, well ahead of Labour, the junior coalition partners, on 8%.
The Irish broadcaster, RTE, unveiled its own exit poll on Saturday morning indicating broadly similar results.
If borne out by the count, the vote shares would result in a hung Dáil (parliament), but with Fine Gael still taking the largest number of seats.
Over three million people were entitled to vote in Friday’s poll in 40 constituencies, with early indications that turnout stood at about 66%.
Voters were electing 157 members of parliament, known as TDs. The Ceann Comhairle (speaker) is automatically returned.
Observers are predicting that it will be hard for any party to put together a coalition, which needs to have the support of 79 TDs.
As for Sinn Féin, it will almost certainly improve on the 14 seats it currently has. Whether or not it comes close to doubling that number will become clearer as counting progresses.
The campaign was fought mainly over economic issues, with the government parties asking voters for their support to keep the recovery going at a time when international storm clouds are gathering.
But the opposition parties countered that not everyone, especially outside of middle-class Dublin, is yet benefiting from the up-turn.
That perceived lack of fairness is expected to hurt the coalition parties.
The Republic of Ireland has had the biggest growing economy in the eurozone for the last two years.
In the last election five years ago, voters punished the once dominant Fianna Fáil for its role in the economic crash that required an EU-IMF bailout.
Led by Enda Kenny, the current coalition had been in power since March 2011.
It is being challenged by 13 other parties, as well as a number of independents among the 552 candidates standing for election.
TDs will be elected according to the single transferable vote (STV) system, in which candidates have to reach a quota, before their surplus votes are distributed to others.