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DUBLIN Ondrej Palat Lightning Jersey , May 17 (Xinhua) -- Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Fine Gael (United Ireland Party) leader Enda Kenny announced on Wednesday evening that he was stepping down as party leader as of midnight Wednesday.
"Last year I indicated that I would not lead the Fine Gael party into the next general election. I have decided to implement that decision today," Kenny said in a statement issued at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.
"Therefore, I will retire as leader of Fine Gael effective from midnight tonight," he said.
In the 2016 general election, Fine Gael didn't win an overall majority. The party then formed a minority government with independent TDs (members of parliament), with party leader Kenny serving as Prime Minister for the second time. Kenny has led the party since 2002.
Kenny has been a member of the parliament for west Ireland's County Mayo since 1975 Alex Killorn Lightning Jersey , having succeeded his father Henry Kenny. He is the longest-serving lawmaker currently in the Dail Eireann, the lower house of Irish parliament.
But Kenny said he would remain on as Prime Minister until a new party leader was elected.
"I will continue to carry out my duties as party leader in an acting capacity, until my successor is elected through the Fine Gael leadership election process," he said.
"I have asked that the Fine Gael Executive Council expedite this process and to have it concluded by close of business on June 2. I want to assure people that throughout this internal process, I will continue to carry out my duties and responsibilities as Taoiseach in full," he added.
Kenny also said it had been a "huge honor and privilege" for him to have led the party for the past 15 years.
At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting Chris Kunitz Lightning Jersey , participants gave a long standing ovation to Kenny, praising him for his remarkable service to the country and party.
"Under Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, we saw a devastated economy repaired, long-ignored social issues addressed, and the rebirth of a self-confident Ireland," Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said.
"His leadership of Fine Gael since 2002 has brought us to our most successful period in government as the largest party in Dail Eireann for the last two terms J.T. Miller Lightning Jersey ," Heydon said.
A party leadership contest has officially begun. Minister for social protection Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney are widely considered the two frontrunners in the leadership race.
Education minister Richard Bruton is also reported to be assessing the possibility of entering the race.
The Fine Gael leadership will be decided by an electoral college that gives the parliamentary party -- TDs, Senators, and MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) -- 65 percent of the vote. Rank-and-file members are allocated 25 percent and councilors 10 percent.
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