With early returns and exit polls in the 2016 Irish general elections indicating that the incumbent Fine Gael-Labor coalition will fall short of the 79-seat majority required to form a coalition government, many observers here now predict Fianna Fail (Republican Party) and Fine Gael (United Ireland Party), the two civil war era rivals, could become bedfellows this year, marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Uprising that resulted in Irish nationhood.
As early poll results come in, pundits, political analysts, and even bookies are speculating on a historic coalition government that may see Fianna Fail and Fine Gael united to form a majority government.
Though the two parties are similar in their right-of-center fiscal and social policies, the political sparring between supporters of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael go back to the very beginning of the Irish state. “Fianna Fail would have taken a staunch nationalistic stance, while Fine Gael was open to negotiations with the UK,” explained Dr. Mary Murphy, a political sociologist at National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
But the bookies are willing to put their money on it. Up to now, with only 32 out of 158 seats completed, Irish bookmakers Boyle Sports announced pay out of bets for a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition government, saying “at present, we are confident in our decision.”
Analysts seem to agree. “Opinion polls suggest that a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition would be the most viable. This would be historic, but would require choreography,” said political scientist John O’Brennan.
“There are extreme risks in forming this coalition. The junior party in a coalition has losses. They are blamed for unpopular government decisions, as evidenced from what has happened with the Labor Party in this election. At the end of five years in government, Fianna Fail would have ceded much ground to Sinn Fein (“We Ourselves”),” he said.
“But if Fianna Fail does as well as they are expected to, they will have very healthy numbers and enter a coalition as equal partners,” he speculated. “This would make a coalition more attractive, especially with the projected economy growth of 4-5 percent over the next five years.”
O’Brennan said that Fianna Fail holds most of the cards in this election. “They could also do very well by staying in opposition, and supporting Fine Gael by picking and choosing issues. A Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition would be equally historic.”
Though neither party have ruled out a potential coalition, both agree that it would take very careful consideration on both parts. Though many see this coalition as one that would give the country the most stability, Mark Mortell, advisor to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, was quoted in Breakingnews.ie as saying that forming the coalition could cause massive fracturing in the Irish political system that could ultimately create volatility. “If you look at what has happened in Spain and Portugal – we are going to have a very interesting couple of weeks ahead. Some very demanding ones.”
In a statement, Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin said he has not ruled out forming a coalition with Fine Gael. The two parties trace their origins to opposite sides of Ireland’s 1922-23 civil war. “We’re committed to doing our best by the country and ensuring that the country gets a good government,” he said. “Negotiation has to be very much focused on the issues and on policies, and not just on numbers of seats in parliament.”
Analysts say pessimistic view of the coalition of the two major parties would be the creation of monolithic party without viable dissent, which could be disastrous for the country. Or one party could cannibalize the other with the stronger one surviving. A Fianna Fail-Fine Gael coalition could put the third strongest party showing in this election, Sinn Fein, who represent the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, in prime position as the opposition party.
As for forming a rainbow coalition with the record number of independent candidates expected to win seats this election cycle, O’Brennan said this depends on which independent candidates are elected, since many of them are running on single issue platforms. “What kind of public policies will emerge will be difficult to predict until we know which independents are elected,” he said.
Political pundit and Newstalk Radio host Shane Coleman feel that a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition may prove to be too difficult. “If a coalition fails to be established, a second election will need to be called in a couple of months, and that would be very costly.”
Source: Xinhua, February 28, 2016