Irish voters, tired of austerity measures, have apparently dealt a blow to the existing coalition government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
"Clearly the government of Fine Gael and Labor are not going to be returned to office," said Kenny, the leader of the center-right Fine Gael party, which had formed a ruling alliance with Labor.
"Democracy can be very exciting, but it's merciless," the prime minister said.
Voters at the polls Saturday turned to an array of independent and anti-austerity parties, leaving Ireland facing the prospect of protracted negotiations as political leaders try to build enough support to form a new governing coalition. Ireland is still counting votes with the final results expected Monday.
One possibility facing the politicians is a coalition between bitter rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fail whose differences date back to a civil war almost a century ago.
"The option that screams out the most is a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition," says Adrian Kavanagh, a University of Maynooth lecturer. "If neither party can agree a common ground, then we're into a period of uncertainty."
A Fine-Fail alliance would still need support from another party.
One thing both parties, which are the two largest groups in parliament, have agreed on is that there is no possibility of forming an alliance with Sinn Fein, citing its links to the Irish Republican Army.
Sinn Fein is the third-largest parliamentary group.
A new election could be held if the politicians cannot form a coalition.
Some material for this report came from AP and AFP.