Ireland's new leader, Fine Gael's Enda Kenny
Ireland's main opposition leader Enda Kenny has said his Fine Gael party has won a "massive endorsement" to govern after parliamentary elections.
Votes are still being counted but Fine Gael is expected to be the largest party in the Republic's parliament, without having an overall majority, reports the BBC.
The dominant party for generations, Fianna Fail, faces a crushing defeat.
Kenny said he would now work on renegotiating the previous government's 85bn-euro (£72bn) EU/IMF loan package.
The Irish Republic is the first EU member state to have received a financial bail-out to go to the polls. Kenny said the "exceptional mandate" he had secured would enable him to put his case to other EU countries for changing the terms of the loan.
"I look for co-operation and support across Europe," he told Irish national broadcaster RTE, adding that he intended to make an immediate start on revisiting the terms of the bail-out in the coming week. Kenny is particularly keen to reduce the 5.8% interest rate imposed on EU loans.
He said European leaders knew of the difficulties that the Irish people had with the loan package and he saw "room to manoeuvre" over the interest rate. He aimed first to speak to the European People's Party grouping of centre-right parties in Helsinki on March 4 before tackling the issue at an EU summit in Brussels a week later.
A lot will be said in the coming days about a fresh start for Ireland and a new beginning.
However, given the dire state of the country's public finances, the new government will have no option but to continue with austerity measures.
The extent of his election success was emphasised by the 17,472 first preference votes he received in his Mayo constituency in the west of Ireland. It was the highest number of first preference votes for any candidate under the Irish system of proportional representation.
RTE said Mr Kenny was now certain to be elected Taoiseach (Prime Minister) when the Dail met on 9 March.
Outgoing Taoiseach, Brian Cowen congratulated Kenny, describing the opposition's vote as "outstanding".
Voters blamed Fianna Fail for the end of the "Celtic Tiger" economic boom. The party is on course to lose more than 50 of the 78 seats it secured in the 2007 election. Former junior coalition partner, the Greens, also fared badly.