Thursday, May 24, 2007

Todays National Elections in Ireland

Republican Politics, Irish Style
Published May 24th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

So what is my perspective on Ireland’s political parties? Well to begin with, they are all to the philosophical left of both the Democratic and Republican Parties in the US. I have heard the comparisons some people make between the centrist Fianna Fail (FF) / pro-business Progressive Democrats (PD) coalition and the decidedly pro-business US Republican Party.
While there is some validity to these, the truth is Bertie Ahern’s governing coalition would be lucky to capture 5 seats in the Dail if they ever tried to run on anything resembling the conservative US Republican Party‘s conservative platform here in Ireland. The secret to the US Republican Party’s success since 1980 has been its ability to recruit traditionally Democratic working class voters to join its pro-business base of middle to upper income professionals and social conservative voters.
In contrast with US Republicans, I believe much of FF’s success in past elections has been due to the reverse, its ability to attract more conservative middle and upper income suburban voters to cast ballots for its candidates. Much like the current US Republican Party, I sense that FF/PD’s strength now lies with business interests and constituencies outside of more urban Dublin, with older, and more conservative middle to upper income voters in the rural and suburban areas of the country, in addition to its traditional constituency of working class voters.
This is a different constituency than that of the centrist Fine Gael (FG) / left-leaning Labour Party (LP) coalition, which I believe is more popular with students and workers in Dublin and Leinster as well as among farmers hurt by global economic market forces. I can also more readily envision the leftist Green Party joining in a coalition with the FG/LPs if need be, because they draw their support from somewhat similar constituencies in Dublin and other areas of Ireland.
What I find amazing about Irish politics though, is the fact that leftist Sinn Fein (SF) supporters are more in favour of being in a coalition with Fianna Fail than with the more leftist oriented opposition alternative FG/LP coalition. I guess this is because SF supporters are primarily lower income voters drawn from FF/PD’s traditional working class constituency.
But I have noticed that SF advocates social welfare policies similar to the now defunct Socialist Workers Party in the US. I also sense some support among some FF/PD voters for this coalition possibility as well. But I ask myself, what leftist SF supporters really have in common with the majority of centrist FF/PD voters? I don’t get it. All I can say is coalition politics sure do make for some strange bedfellows
In a recent TV interview, I was asked if I could foresee Sinn Fein becoming a part of a coalition government here in the Republic of Ireland. I said I thought they could under certain conditions. To begin with, I think SF would have to obtain more seats in the Dail by getting more 2nd, 3rd and 4th preference votes, but even then I don't see them being a factor in any coalition government until they first demonstrate that they can be an effective part of a government in Northern Ireland.
I also said that if economic conditions were worse than they currently are here in the Republic, then their social(ist) programs might find a broader appeal among voters. This would increase the number of seats they might win in a national election and give them more leverage to use when the time comes for SF to be considered as part of a future coalition government. But I think that time is still at least another election or two away because of SF’s past links to 40 years of IRA violence
As for which coalition will come out on top in this election, I see very little difference between the positions of both coalitions. Their messages are pretty much the same; cut taxes like stamp duties for first time home buyers, improve Ireland’s transportation infrastructure, cut crime with more Gardai and do a better job of addressing the country’s heath care and hospital concerns.
However, I do think the recent drop in house prices favours the FF/PDs. People tend to vote their pocketbooks in national elections and in times of rising economic uncertainty they will vote for the devil they know, instead of the devil they don’t. Bertie’s work on the Northern Ireland peace agreements is also a point in his favour
But the ruling coalition faces the same dilemma that incumbent parties in the US face. Since World War II, the presidency generally has switched from one party to the other every two terms: eight years of Democrat Harry Truman followed by eight years of Republican Dwight Eisenhower followed by eight years of Democrats John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and so on.
The exceptions were Jimmy Carter's failure to win re-election in 1980 and the senior George Bush's success in holding the White House for a third straight Republican term in 1988. But Bush won primarily by capitalizing on Reagan's popularity and Democrat Michael Dukakis’ mistakes.
So Bertie Ahern is also bucking history, in much the same way the US Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee will be, in his bid for an unprecedented third term as Ireland’s Prime Minister
If FG/LP can make Bertie’s “personal loans” and failure to deliver promised government services in a cost effective way, bigger issues than they currently appear to be, then I would say that Ireland will have its closest election in many years and that there will be a new governing coalition come May 25th when the results are announced tomorrow.
Otherwise, I think you will probably wake up tomorrow morning facing another 5 years of the same governing FF/PD coalition, albeit one with fewer seats in the Dail and maybe even another coalition partner as well.