Ireland votes amid austerity anger, fears of hung parliament

AP News
Posted: Feb 26, 2016 5:01 AM
Ireland votes amid austerity anger, fears of hung parliament

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's voters were deciding Friday who should lead their economically rebounding nation for the next five years, with polls suggesting the outcome could be a hung parliament.

At dawn, volunteer armies from more than a half-dozen parties went door to door with leaflets and organized carpools to polling stations in schools, gyms and church halls as Prime Minister Enda Kenny sought a second five-year term for his coalition government.

While all polls during the three-week campaign suggested that Kenny's Fine Gael would retain its top spot in parliament, the law-and-order party faces certain losses that mean it cannot hope to form a government without new outside support. Kenny's partner since 2011, the union-dominated Labour Party, faces a likely pummeling as working-class voters switch allegiance to a dizzying array of anti-government voices on the hard left who want to reverse the government's broadly successful but painful austerity program.

The other two parties expected to fare well when ballots are counted Saturday are Fianna Fail, the populist party at the traditional heart of Irish politics, and Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army-linked party anchored in Northern Ireland that has steadily grown in popularity in the Republic of Ireland since 1990s IRA cease-fires. Kenny has ruled out a coalition with either party citing irreconcilable differences on ethics and economic policy.

Analysts say it's hard to see how any new government can be formed without some form of cooperation between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which between them have led every Irish government since 1923 — but never together. They trace their origins to opposing sides in the merciless Irish civil war that ended that year and, four generations on, still scars the political landscape.