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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Counting begins in Irish election
Voting in north Dublin, 24 May 07
Voting in Dublin: The outcome is expected to be very close
Counting is due to start in Ireland following Thursday's election with the turnout predicted to be about three million people.

Current premier Bertie Ahern hopes to return for a third term as taoiseach.

The outcome is expected to be close, with Mr Ahern facing a strong challenge from a centre-left alliance of the Fine Gael party and the Labour Party.

Ireland's proportional representation voting system means it may be several days for the outcome to be clear.

Voting was described as "slow but steady" by Irish state broadcaster RTE. Counting begins on Friday morning.

Coalition conundrum

The contest involves 466 candidates fighting for 165 seats in the Dail (lower house of parliament).

Mr Ahern's Fianna Fail party currently shares power with a smaller group, the Progressive Democrats.

He has been praised for his role in the Northern Ireland political process, which saw the return of devolved power-sharing earlier this month.

The taoiseach has led a coalition government since 1997 - a period of sustained economic growth for Ireland.

Bertie Ahern
Mr Ahern hopes the healthy economy will swing the vote his way

But critics say his centrist Fianna Fail government should have done more to improve public services.

Travelling around Ireland during the campaign, Mr Ahern tried to stress the economic success.

However, he has faced questions about his credibility surrounding money given by a friend in business towards the renovation of a house in Dublin which Mr Ahern eventually bought.

During the campaign, the rival coalition led the opinion polls, only to be pegged back in recent days, with Mr Ahern hoping to again emerge triumphant.

If the result is close, as predicted, smaller parties such as the nationalist Sinn Fein and the Greens may play a significant role in building a governing coalition.

Political leaders on the campaign trail

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