May 6, 2016 / 1:32 PM / in 2 years

Irish prime minister secures re-election after 10-week stalemate

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Enda Kenny was re-elected Ireland’s prime minister on Friday to end 10 weeks of political deadlock, when his party’s biggest rival abstained to usher in the first minority government in decades — and one many believe will be short-lived.

President Michael D. Higgins (L) holds the holds the Seal of Taoiseach as Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny holds the Seal of Government to office, in Dublin, Ireland May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

After suffering heavy losses at the Feb. 26 election, Kenny’s center Fine Gael party returned to power with the backing of nine independent lawmakers and facilitated by its main rival, Fianna Fail, which agreed to abstain from opposition on key votes until the end of 2018.

“The government I lead will be a very different kind of administration formed in almost unprecedented circumstances,” Kenny told parliament after 59 of its 157 members — one more than he needs to be assured of passing legislation — backed him on the fourth attempt in two months.

Kenny was forced to sit in the chamber awaiting the result of last-minute talks with the independents, which delayed the vote.

Punished by voters who felt the fruits of Europe’s fastest-growing economy were not being fairly distributed, Kenny must now address growing discontent over pay levels and tackle serious bottlenecks in housing and infrastructure.

He said Britain’s June 23 referendum on European Union membership was of “profound consequence” to Ireland. He would do whatever he could in the hope it would stay in, including visiting Britain to encourage Irish citizens to vote.

A draft government policy program, a copy of which was published on the Irish Times newspaper’s website on Thursday, indicated no dramatic shift in fiscal policy, though it suggested the state would take a more active role in the banking sector.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan, one of the longest-serving members of the euro zone’s group of finance ministers, was reappointed to his position.

Kenny becomes the first two-time Fine Gael prime minister and the first European leader to implement a bailout program and be returned to office, though he has said he will not seek a third term. Commentators say he could be replaced within a year in order for a new leader to prepare for the next election.

Analysts have said such a patchwork government may struggle to last until 2018, and that policymaking could be hamstrung.

Fianna Fail, buoyed by an unexpected recovery in February’s poll, might be tempted to force a snap election at any time, while three independents will sit at cabinet for the first time and their resolve will be tested by any major crises.

“The narrowness of the numbers and the gamesmanship that brought us to this point wouldn’t strike me with any great confidence that this government will last until 2018,” said Gary Murphy, politics professor at Dublin City University.

“Fianna Fail have all the power here. They will be able to pull the government down at any time.”

(The story corrects paragraph 9 to remove reference to party members)

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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