Saturday

22nd Feb 2020

Irish election creates political puzzle

  • Prime minister Kenny said he would try to form a government (Photo: European People's Party)

Irish voters have turned away from the two parties responsible for unpopular austerity measures, but the result from Friday's (26 February) election is unlikely to leave any party with an obvious path to government.

With counting still going on in some districts on Monday (29 February), no clear winner has yet emerged from Friday's election.

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However, prime minister Enda Kenny's coalition has certainly lost its majority.

With the results in for 148 of 158 parliament seats, Kenny's centre-right Fine Gael party received around 25 percent of the votes, down from 36 percent in 2011.

His junior coalition partner, centre-left Labour, plummeted from 19 percent to 6.6 percent, while Kenny's rivals in the centrist/centre-right Fianna Fail party increased their support from 17 percent to 24 percent.

However, neither of the two mainstream parties, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, appears to be able to form a coalition with a junior partner.

In many European democracies, that would leave a grand coalition between the two as the most likely option, but in Ireland the two parties foster rivalries that go back to the 1922-23 civil war.

Health minister Leo Varadkar, of Fine Gael, said he was against a grand alliance with Fianna Fail.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for either party. I don’t think it would last. I don’t trust them and I think it would open the door to Sinn Fein as the lead opposition,” he said according to the Irish Times.

Left-wing Sinn Fein, with historic ties to the Irish Republican Army, won almost 14 percent, up from 10 percent.

Some have likened the election result to that of the anti-establishment outcomes of recent votes in Spain and Greece.

“The former coalition government has counted huge losses, with its support slumping almost 50 per cent. Sinn Fein has grown impressively, setting itself as the party that will define mainstream politics in Ireland from now on,” said Greek MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis, of the left-wing Syriza party.

Another left-wing group, the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, also did well, with around 4 percent of the vote.

Kenny has said he will try to form a government.

“I'd like to think that it could be possible, given the final results, to be able to put a government together that could work through the many challenges we have,” he said according to the BBC.

Other options beyond a grand coalition include a minority government, or fresh elections.

Finance minister Michael Noonan hinted that another election might have to be called, saying from an election count centre: “We may all be back here again very shortly.”

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