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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Ahern moves ahead in Irish polls
Rival leaders Enda Kenny (left) and Bertie Ahern
Rivals Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern are battling to be taoiseach
Bertie Ahern looks set to be returned as taoiseach for a third term, as counting continues in the Irish Republic general election.

One veteran Fianna Fail member said of her party leader: "It was a Bertie Ahern election and he won it for us."

But Michael McDowell, the deputy prime minister and leader of coalition partner Progressive Democrats, is to quit politics after he lost his seat.

The official counting is expected to take several days.

The Fianna Fail-led coalition has 44.2% of the vote, against 36.2% for Fine Gael's centre-left alliance.

The Republic of Ireland's system of proportional representation means that parties' representation in the 165-seat Dail (lower house of parliament) closely matches their percentage of the vote.

After 10 years, Bertie's team could do with a change. Our public services need more attention
Micheál, Cork, Ireland

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

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

Exit poll

The exit poll from national broadcaster RTE has Fianna Fail with 41.6% of Thursday's vote - little changed from its winning 2002 result.

But analysts say Mr Ahern may be looking for a new coalition partner, as the exit polls suggest his outgoing partners, the Progressive Democrats, are down a few percentage points - at 2.6% - from 2002.

Fine Gael is credited with 26.3% of the vote and its Labour Party alliance partner with 9.9%.

The nationalist party Sinn Fein has 7.3% and the Greens have 4.8%.

Opposition alliance partner, Labour leader Pat Rabbitte, seemed to concede the election by saying he expected Mr Ahern to remain as Taoiseach.

However, his prospective coalition colleague, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, has refused to admit defeat.

Early on Friday afternoon, one popular bookmaker was so certain of the result, it paid out to punters who backed Mr Ahern to return as taoiseach.

It is not yet clear whether his Fianna Fail party will gain the requisite 83 seats to form a majority government, or whether they will need to form a coalition government as has been the case for decades in the Republic.

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