DUBLIN - Ireland remained mired in political limbo Wednesday after lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected all three candidates to lead the country's next government.
It was the second time that lawmakers tried and failed to select a prime minister following Ireland's Feb. 26 election. That poll 40 days ago left the two traditional enemies of political life — caretaker Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael and Micheal Martin's Fianna Fail — virtually neck and neck in a fractured parliament. Their center-right parties trace their origins to the opposite sides of Ireland's 1922-23 civil war and have never shared power.
But after both men failed to win the leadership vote, Kenny and Martin confirmed that they would meet Wednesday night to open discussions on forming a possible coalition. Kenny received all 51 votes from his own party, Martin 43 from his own party. A third candidate, socialist Ruth Pottinger, received 10 votes. A winner would have required at least 79 votes in Ireland's 158-member parliament.
A glum-faced Kenny, who has been Ireland's leader since 2011, said he would try to form a government with Fianna Fail that could survive a full five-year term.
“I hope the discussions that I hope to initiate with Deputy Martin will lead us very much in that direction,'' he said. Members of Irish parliament are called deputies.
But Martin highlighted the possibility that Fianna Fail could refuse to enter a coalition government and instead offer vote-by-vote support to a minority Fine Gael government.
"The notion that the government must win every vote and get its way on every issue is a nonsense,'' said Martin, who was foreign minister in Ireland's previous Fianna Fail-led government.
Fine Gael opposes the idea of forming a minority government, a normal occurrence in other European countries, because it would give Fianna Fail the power to pull the plug and force an early election whenever it chose.
For the first time since Ireland's 1920s independence from Britain, only a combination of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would produce the parliamentary numbers needed for a stable majority.
Should their coalition talks fail, Kenny could call a second 2016 election. Ireland hasn't experienced back-to-back elections since 1982.
Ireland's record for going without a government is 48 days, when a November 1992 election produced a coalition pact in January 1993. That record could be matched or broken this month. Kenny scheduled the next possible leadership vote for April 14, 48 days after the election.