Ireland’s ruling party suffered a crushing defeat in elections amid public anger over the economic crisis and an EU-IMF bailout, exit polls showed yesterday, with the opposition set to take power.
Fianna Fail, the party of Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen which has ruled the country for 21 of the last 24 years, slumped to just 15.1 percent of the vote, its worst ever general election result, the poll for state broadcaster RTE said.
The main opposition Fine Gael party is set to lead the new government, taking 36.1 percent of the vote in Friday’s election, although this is not enough to win the majority of parliamentary seats needed to govern alone.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is on course to be taioseach, or prime minister, with a promise to renegotiate the bailout, but will have to form a coalition or an alliance with independent lawmakers to form a government.
His likely coalition partners would be Labour, which secured 20.5 percent of the vote — its best ever share — according to the exit poll of 3,500 voters conducted by Millward Brown Lansdowne.
Fianna Fail had become the focus of public anger over the economic crisis that downed Ireland’s once-vibrant “Celtic Tiger” economy and forced Dublin to agree to an 85 billion euro (US$115 billion) bailout with the EU and the IMF in November.
Amid plummeting opinion polls ahead of Friday’s vote, Cowen had already conceded defeat, telling local media as he cast his ballot in the central county of Offaly that his party would now “regroup.”
“I have always been proud of who we are and what we are. This organization will come again,” Cowen said, according to the Irish Times.
“We will regroup and come back and provide and offer them an alternative on the basis of a peaceful constitutional democracy and republicanism to which we all subscribe,” he added.
Fianna Fail is led by former Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin, who took over in January after Cowen quit over his handling of the economic crisis following months of pressure from his party. Cowen did not stand for re-election but will remain as prime minister until the new Dail meets on March 9.
Counting of the votes began at 9am and the first results are expected later yeterday.
According to an analysis by Micheal Marsh, a professor at Trinity College Dublin, Fine Gael is on course for about 72 seats in the 166-seat Dail, or lower house of parliament — short of the 84 needed for a majority.
Fianna Fail will return with just 20 seats, a huge drop from the 77 it won in 2007, while Labour will win 38, Marsh told RTE.
The number of independents is expected to soar from the last Dail, with 20 predicted to be elected, and the republican Sinn Fein, which is strong in Northern Ireland, looks set to triple its lawmakers to about 15.