- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

DUBLIN — Bertie Ahern, having defied the experts with a solid election victory, is preparing this week for a third term in office that will make him the most successful politician in modern Irish history and the longest-serving leader in Europe.

With vote counting from Thursday’s election stretching into Sunday morning, it took a late surge in votes for his Fianna Fail party to bring the prime minister and his Progressive Democrat coalition partner within two seats of a majority — much better than the five-seat deficit predicted earlier.

“We have been fairly well written out of it,” said a delighted Mr. Ahern, whose backers marched around Dublin chanting “Five more years.”

“I have dealt with it for weeks on end — meltdown, 68 seats, nosedive, 20 seats gone, obliterated. It was never that,” said Mr. Ahern, who now faces the relatively easy prospect of finding two more seats to form a government.

He said his party’s 41 percent share of the vote was “exceptional,” given that it has been in government for the past 10 years.

“There are very few parties anywhere in Europe that would have achieved what Fianna Fail did today. For that, I am hugely proud of Fianna Fail and our organization,” he said.

After spending most of the campaign answering charges of misconduct in his personal finances, Mr. Ahern turned things around in the final days with stunning displays in live debates on Irish television. Early last week, he was mobbed by crowds in Dublin and County Cork.

In contrast, an expected “bounce” for Sinn Fein after it concluded a power-sharing deal with the Protestants in Northern Ireland failed to materialize, dealing a personal blow to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

The party failed to make widely anticipated gains in Dublin Central and Donegal while losing a seat in Dublin South West, leaving it with fewer seats in the Irish parliament than before the election.

The result emphasizes the difference in the political climate between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. While Northern politics remains tribal and entrenched, the republic is prosperous and European, and voters here were mostly concerned with future economic growth.

Mr. Ahern has two weeks to form a new government, leaving him to decide whether to give ministerial posts to two independent members or cut a deal with the Green Party.

Yesterday, he was emphasizing the need for a stable government and the fact that any deal done in the next few weeks would have to last until 2012.

On Sunday afternoon, with the final result known, Mr. Ahern posed for photographers with his daughter and her new twin babies. Journalists were excluded from the event, which took place in a Dublin hotel.

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