Luke “Ming” Flanagan has emerged as the frontrunner to represent the Midlands-North-West in the European Parliament.

The independent incumbent topped the poll in the first count of 700,700 ballots from the constituency.

The results, which were announced after 10pm at the TF Royal Theatre count centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo, showed that Mr Flanagan received 78,214 first preference votes.

Mr Flanagan was followed by Fianna Fail candidate Barry Cowen on 73,908 votes, and Fine Gael candidates Nina Carberry and incumbent Maria Walsh with 73,888 and 71,476 votes respectively.

Former RTE correspondent Ciaran Mullooly was in fifth place with 57,297 votes.

Sinn Fein candidate Michelle Gildernew was in sixth with 45,807 votes.

However, none of these candidates was successful in reaching the required quota of 113,325 votes to be elected – meaning further counts of voters’ second preferences on the ballot papers are required.

There are a total of 27 candidates fighting for five seats in the massive electoral region which spans 15 counties.

Other hopefuls include Aontu leader Peadar Toibin and unsuccessful presidential election candidate and entrepreneur Peter Casey – who are in 8th and 11th place respectively.

The official figures end days of speculation after votes were initially cast on Friday.

Fianna Fail candidate Barry Cowen at the Midlands-North-West count centre (Cillian Sherlock/PA)

The count formally began on Sunday and is predicted to last into late on Tuesday night, at the earliest.

Mr Flanagan has also predicted that the crowded field could give rise to conditions for a recount – which would extend the process further.

Fianna Fail’s campaign in the constituency has been marred by infighting, as border region hopeful Niall Blaney accused the party leadership of throwing him and Lisa Chambers “overboard” in favour of Mr Cowen, who brings strong name recognition to the table.

Mr Blaney placed ninth with 30,387 votes.

Mr Mullooly, who would have been tasked with covering several election counts throughout his career with RTE News, said he had deliberately avoided the count centre until Monday evening.

The Independent Ireland candidate, who said he was nervously waiting to see if transfers could secure him a seat, added: “I hate counts, I hate election counts. I have done for years.”

Fine Gael candidate Nina Carberry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Hundreds of count staff have been processing approximately 700,000 ballots for the region in Castlebar.

The 73cm-long ballot paper was described as “like a toilet roll” by Mayo politician Michael Ring.

That means there was around 6,650kg of paper across more than 500km of ballots to sort through by hand – longer than the length of the island from Malin Head to Mizen Head.

With so many candidates, the entire process is projected to last until at least Wednesday – with Mr Flanagan predicting a recount at some stage during the proceedings.

Returning officer Marian Chambers Higgins said counters would “be well into it by Tuesday night”, adding that she had no problem going late.

Should a recount push things on through Friday night – when Irish comedian Jarlath Regan has a scheduled sell-out show at the theatre – count staff certainly will not be laughing.

There is a Tina Turner tribute act booked for Saturday night – with parties hoping their candidate will be crowned simply the best long before then.