‘Seismic change’ as Irish voters reject ruling coalition


Voters punished Ireland’s coalition government and boosted smaller parties in the first election since emerging from a bailout programme, exit polls showed Saturday, raising the prospect of weeks of uncertainty in the eurozone country.

The coalition of Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael and junior partners Labour suffered from continued public anger over years of austerity and hardship, despite Ireland recording the fastest growth in the European Union.

“It’s a very disappointing day from the government’s point of view,” Tom Curran, Fine Gael’s general secretary told broadcaster RTE.

Exit polls indicated the coalition would fall far short of the 80 seats needed to form a majority, while the centre-right Fianna Fail regained some ground lost when the party was routed five years ago in the wake of Ireland’s housing crash and economic crisis.

Anti-austerity groups, independent politicians, small parties and left-wing party Sinn Fein are all on course to increase their seats in parliament as commentators heralded a “seismic change” in politics.

The two parties likely to have enough seats between them to form a coalition government are Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, bitter rivals that have taken turns ruling Ireland since 1932 and whose differences date back to a civil war almost a century ago.

Party figures indicated an alliance could be considered but would be extremely difficult for either party to accept.

“I think Fianna Fail in particular are going to struggle to do this, I think Fine Gael certainly don’t want to do this,” said Mark Mortell, a senior Fine Gael strategist.

“I think the prospect of another election very soon is now very very high.”

‘Anti-establishment’

As counting got underway initial tallies showed a fragmented political landscape with support ebbing from established parties and a surge in support for insurgents.

The first candidate to be elected was Shane Ross, a independent candidate who stood in south Dublin on a platform of ending political cronyism and transforming Irish politics.

“It’s similar to what we’ve seen in Greece, Spain, in Italy, in Portugal where there’s been a swing towards anti-establishment parties,” said University of Maynooth lecturer Adrian Kavanagh.

“We’re into a period of uncertainty. We may be heading to a situation where the only option is to go back and do this again in two or three months time.”

He added that it was unlikely a government would be formed on March 10, when the newly-elected representatives are due to meet in the lower house of parliament Dail Eireann and, in theory, appoint a Taoiseach or prime minister.

Sinn Fein were set to increase their seats to become the third largest group in parliament, continuing an upward trend in support for the party led by Gerry Adams.

It was once seen as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army but has transformed itself into an anti-austerity force south of their power base in Northern Ireland.

Ireland has become the fastest growing country in the eurozone in recent years, with predicted GDP growth of 4.5 percent in 2016.

Kenny had asked voters to return the coalition to “keep the recovery going”, in the first election held since the country of 4.6 million people exited a bailout in 2013 imposed after the financial crisis.

But anger over a housing shortage, rising homelessness and poverty was clear on the streets of Dublin, where thousands marched against austerity on the weekend before the vote calling for an end to a controversial water tax.

“They have broken every single promise, every single promise,” said Jim, a middle-aged Dubliner who said he had voted for the government five years ago but was “totally against” them this time round.

The impact of the election may be felt far beyond Ireland’s borders, according to the Economist magazine, which commented that a Fine Gael defeat with the economy doing well may ramp up pressure on Brussels to reconsider its policy on austerity.

“Ireland’s election may well turn out to be a historic event, not simply for Fine Gael or the other parties contesting it, but also for the future of the eurozone,” it said.

(AP)

Date created : 2016-02-27

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