It is decision day in Ireland where people are voting in what is expected to be one of the closest general elections of recent times. Prime Minister, or Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern is hoping to lead Fianna Fail to a third term in office. It has been a close-run campaign but the latest surveys have indicated the country’s largest party has pulled away from its main rival Fine Gael.
The government is highlighting its strong economic record and peace in Northern Ireland. But Ahern’s campaign has been undermined by financial scandals. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has focused on problems in the health service, and what he claims as the government’s failure to live up to earlier pledges.
The party’s fortunes have been transformed under his leadership since a poor showing in the last election in 2002. The other main parties are Labour, led by Pat Rabbitte, and the current coalition junior partners, the pro-business Progress Democrats of Michael McDowell.
Even though there has been a late surge in support for Fianna Fail, analysts say it is far from clear that the same coalition would be returned to power. It is thought there will be much horse trading in the election aftermath and that parties like Sinn Fein and the Greens could have an influence on the eventual outcome.