Ireland appears to be careening toward an historic election outcome Friday. The question is: Historic in what way?
If the Fine Gael/Labour coalition of the last five years can hold, it would be the first time a Fine Gael leader is re-elected as Taoiseach for a successive term since the party was founded in 1933, The Economist notes. County Mayo native Enda Kenny leads the centre-right FG party in the role of prime minister.
But Fine Gael is treading water in the polls, and Labour is sinking. Opposition Fianna Fáil, which had a near monopoly on power in Ireland during most of the 20th century, is rebounding after being punished in the 2011 election for the country’s economic collapse. That has some pundits suggesting the once unthinkable possibility of a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which each evolved from the bitter split of Irish nationalists during the country’s civil war in the early 1920s.
In public, party leaders say this isn’t practical. They are still focused on winning Friday’s count. But if the results suggest such a coalition is the only way to move forward with a government, you can bet that private negotiations will begin immediately, even as public posturing continues.
Writing in The Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole suggests that “it’s surely been clear to any objective observer that the logic of the fragmentation of Irish politics (now about 10 parties) leads, at least in the medium term, in only one direction: Fianna Gael.” He continues:
When there were two big centre-right parties carving up anything from two-thirds to three-quarters of the vote between them, it made complete sense for those parties to exaggerate their tribal differences in order to generate the sense that something huge was at stake in their tribal competition. But the space they jointly occupy has shrunk; … they now have one comfortable majority between them. If they don’t occupy that space together, it becomes a power vacuum. One can never rule out the ability of petulance, tribalism and vanity to overpower logic, but office is a great magnet.
This suggests another possibility: a “hung Dáil,” or a stalemate due to the failure of any party or bloc of parties to form a majority of newly elected TDs in government, The Irish Times explains. This could mean months of gridlock, and eventually calls for new elections.
For a super-detailed looked at the last polling before the election, see the blog of Dr. Adrian Kavanagh, Maynooth University, FF-FG or Voting Again?