Ireland faced political turmoil Sunday as an exit poll from the weekend’s parliamentary election suggested that Sinn Fein, a left-wing party committed to reunification of the island, finished in a virtual dead heat with the two parties that have governed since the country won independence almost a century ago. While ballot counting remained underway, the poll indicated that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s centrist Fine Gael party, centrist rival Fianna Fail, and Sinn Fein all received about 22% of first preference votes, the AP reports. The predicted outcome means some type of coalition government is almost inevitable, with Sinn Fein likely to be a central player in the negotiations to form one.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have until now refused to work with Sinn Fein because of its links to the Irish Republican Army. The centrist parties say Sinn Fein failed to repudiate the IRA’s role in the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. "The frustration people have felt for a long time with the two-party system, whereby Fine Gael and Fianna Fail handed the baton of power between each other—that's now over," Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said Sunday, per the BBC. It is still unclear how many seats each party would have in Ireland’s 160-seat parliament, known as the Dail, because the country uses a proportional representation system known as the single transferable vote.
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