Sunday, May 27, 2007

Politics: Europe: Republic of Ireland voters stunned with the win of Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail Party, spurned coalition with Sinn Fein Party in Rpblc

BBC carries an article by James Helm, "Irish PM achieves 'unlikely' victory" (May26,2k7):

A couple of weeks ago, in the corridors of Stormont, the seat of devolved government in Northern Ireland, Bertie Ahern [Republic of Ireland "prime minister"] looked happy and relieved.

After 10 years of negotiations and frustrations, a power-sharing government - something that had at times seemed a distant, unlikely prospect - had been achieved [in Northern Ireland, which has remained part of the UK with local self-govt, but a UK working hand-in-glove with the Irish Republic which straddles most of the island from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.]

The man known across Ireland simply as "Bertie" told me that, as a politician, this was "as good as it gets".

For Mr Ahern, the events of the last couple of days may push that achievement close for top billing. For much of the campaign, he was on the back foot, criticised and scrutinised, his strategy derided and his personal credibility called into question.

The polls had, more than once, suggested that voters might dump him out of office.

Third term

The two largest opposition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, with their "Alliance for Change", had suggested that the Irish electorate had an appetite for new faces and different policies.

Many pundits joined in, asking if this might be the end of the road for the man who has led Ireland since 1997.

Instead, he has won a remarkable victory, and is heading for a third term in office.

His personal popularity, which has carried him through tough times before, has again paid off. The man once dubbed the "Teflon Taoiseach", [Taoiseach is the Irish word for Prime Minister - P] because criticism just never seems to stick to him, has done it again. Mr Ahern may well be feeling pretty satisfied.

So how did Mr Ahern confound the pollsters, the pundits and the bookies?

Perhaps it was that personal popularity, or the fact that Irish voters objected to the questions and scrutiny of Mr Ahern's own financial dealings back in the 1990s - something those around him suggested had become a witch hunt.

Or maybe it was a satisfaction with the status quo.
Europe > Republic of Ireland
Media 'intrusion'

Much of Ireland, though not all, has had it pretty good [economically] in recent years, enjoying rapid economic growth. The campaign focussed on the state of public services, especially the health system.

Enda Kenny had been favoured to unseat Mr Ahern. But, as some looked down at their ballot papers, they might have wondered whether it really was the moment to sweep the current government from power.

Mr Ahern, never one to blow his own trumpet, said Fianna Fail had done well because of a surge in support among young voters. He also complained about what he said was an increasingly intrusive media.

Yet in the next couple of weeks Bertie Ahern will have little time for his favourite leisure pursuits, watching sport or tending his beloved hanging baskets. ...

Thursday's election saw Mr Ahern's Fianna Fail emerge as the largest party, while the biggest opposition grouping, Fine Gael, made strong gains.
Voters selected two main parties to set the tone of the national political debate--one to govern, the other to offer a serious loyal opposition--with the remaining parties pretty well particalized.
But the smaller parties - Labour, Greens, Sinn Fein and the Progressive Democrats [PDs] - were squeezed. Independents also suffered.

Sinn Fein had gone into the election with high hopes, seemingly riding the crest of a wave after joining the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

But afterwards its president, Gerry Adams, talked of his party "dusting itself down" and looking at why it failed to build on past successes.
The very good news is that Sinn Fein--now presumably thoroly disconnected from IRA terrorists that targetted Northern Ireland for so many years--is losing what bloc of interest and influence that they had had during the previous election in the Irish Republic.

For all its satisfaction, Fianna Fail does not have an overall majority in the 166-member parliament.

For the past ten years, the right-of-centre PDs have been its coalition partners. But their support drained away this time round, and its leader, the controversial Justice Minister Michael McDowell, was the election's most high-profile casualty.

So the most likely options are that Mr Ahern forms a coalition with Labour Party or Greens. Either way, it means a possible change of political direction.

Mr Ahern is 55, and has said he will leave active politics when he turns 60. In his retirement, when he has more time for gardening and football-watching, he may look back at May 2007 with a great deal of fondness.
I hope that Bertie, tho he may be somewhat the scoundrel some of his detractors amplify, has another full term. Realignments in the Irish array of parties, where coalition govts are the norm, are taking place already. The process will continue. At some point, Fianna Fail will have a new younger Taoiseach at its helm, Sinn Fein will disappear from the Republic of Ireland.

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