Early results from Ireland’s national election suggest that the ruling Fianna Fail party has incurred a huge defeat from voters enraged by the government’s austerity budget months after it received a massive 85-billion euro bailout package from the European Union/International Monetary Fund.
Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for eight decades, is on the brink of an ignominious defeat.
The principal opposition party, Fine Gael, is likely to form the next government, probably in tandem with the Labour Party – although Fine Gael officials insist such a coalition may not be needed.
According to a national exit poll by Irish broadcaster RTE, Fine Gael has gained 36.1 percent of the vote, while Labour won 20.5 percent - its best showing ever. Fianna Fail fell into a distant into third place with just 15.1 percent, its worst-ever result.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein (traditionally shunned by the mainstream due to its historical links to the Irish Republican Army) received 10.1 percent, the Greens, Fianna Fail's junior coalition partner, got a measly 2.7 percent. Independent parties took in another 15.5 percent.
It's looking pretty grim, said Noel Dempsey, a former Fianna Fail minister.
Still, Fine Gael is expected to fall just short of an overall majority.
Michael Marsh, a professor at Trinity College Dublin, estimated that of Ireland’s 166-seat parliament, Fine Gael will gain, 72 seats, Labour, 38 seats, and Fianna Fail, 20 seats. Independents and Sinn Fein will have 15 seats, respectively,
We have to wait until we see the pattern of (vote) transfers, the party's director of elections, Phil Hogan, told RTE.
Analysts warn, however, that given the country’s perilous financial status, the next ruling administration will have little choice but to continue the widely unpopular austerity program of higher taxes, job cuts and elimination of many social services.
However, Fine Gael’s leader Enda Kenny has promised he will seek to re-negotiate the terms of the EU/IMF bailout.