Ireland holds its breath as counting gets underway in the closest general election for years. Turnout has been high. Prime minister Bertie Ahern has been in power for 10 years and his party Fianna Fail has more than twice the number of seats as its nearest rival. However despite a nearly two decade-long economic boom there are criticisms that Ireland’s new-found wealth is being wasted, and that the health and transport sytems need a major overhaul.
Ahern’s personal standing remains high in opinion polls despite questions about his personal finances hurting the start of his campaign, and he may find the electorate forces him into a coalition deal. Currently Ahern rules with a junior partner, the Progressive Democrats, but he may find he will need a bigger party on board as well. Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny says she will do everything she can to prevent Sinn Fein playing a kingmaker role in any future coalition, as does Labour’s Pat Rabbitte.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams is spending political capital, gained in the north, in the south, and his party could win as many as 10 seats, giving it a potential hold on the balance of power. Although everyone is ruling out sharing power with Sinn Fein, when the counting is complete it may yet have a say in Dublin.