Ireland Heads to First Election After Bailout Exit: Guide

  • Voting starts at 7 a.m. on Friday, ends at 10 p.m. local time
  • Exit polls will be published from 7 a.m. by state broadcaster

Irish voters go to the polls on Friday, choosing who will run the country for the first time since exiting an international bailout in 2013. Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who leads the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government, is seeking to become the 1st leader of his party to win a second consecutive term.

How is the election run?

Voting begins at 7 a.m. and finishes at 10 p.m. local time. About 3.2 million citizens are eligible to cast ballots. Some 158 seats over 40 districts are up for grabs with a minimum of 79 needed for a majority. Known as the Dail, parliament is due to meet again in Dublin on March 10.

Under the Irish electoral system, seats are not exactly distributed in proportion to the share of the vote received. To win a second term, Kenny’s coalition needs to win about 44 percent, according to Philip O’Sullivan, an economist at Investec Plc.

When will we know who won?

State broadcaster RTE will start releasing exit poll results from 7 a.m. on Saturday. Counting begins at 9 a.m. Given the electoral system and the absence of electronic voting, counting could run through the weekend, with the final seats possibly in dispute until next week.

What have polls been telling us?

The coalition leads in all the latest polls. Still, up to yesterday, the most generous poll to the alliance gave it about 38 percent. The coalition may win 60 seats, well short of a majority, Cantor Fitzgerald LP said earlier this week. Still, a final poll released yesterday gave Kenny’s grouping 40 percent support, indicating a late swing back to the coalition may be at play.

What if there isn’t a ruling majority?

Once the counting ends, or maybe even before, the talking will begin on forming a new government. Should Kenny lose his majority, he could scramble to form a first-ever grand coalition with Fianna Fail or an alliance with more than two parties from among groups like the Greens and independents. As leader of the likely biggest party, Kenny has an 88 percent chance of being prime minister after the election, according to bookmaker Paddy Power.

The bookmaker says a first-ever grand alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is the most likely election outcome, even though both parties have so far ruled it out. Be warned though. Paddy Power placed a 44 percent chance on a second election this year.

What do investors think?

The spread between Ireland’s 10-year benchmark government bonds and German securities of a similar maturity has increased to 77 basis points from 44 basis points six weeks ago. Still, the nation’s debt office this month auctioned 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) of 10-year bonds at a record-low yield, and the benchmark 10-year is yielding 0.89 percent on Friday.

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