Facing Economic Woes, Irish Voters Stage ‘Rebellion’ at Ballot Box

BY Larisa Epatko  March 1, 2011 at 3:14 PM EST


Political graffiti in Ireland (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Much of Ireland’s modern history is defined by rebellion. It looks like the country had another one over the weekend.

An Irish electorate, disgruntled with its government’s handling of the economic recession, handed the ruling Fianna Fail party a defeat in Friday’s vote. But although the opposition parties won more seats, they still must negotiate a coalition government.

“This is an extraordinary political situation we’re in,” Deaglan de Breadun, political correspondent for the Irish Times, told us by telephone. “People are saying that in Egypt, people went on the streets, in Libya people went on the streets, and here in Ireland, people didn’t go on the streets, but they rebelled through the ballot box.”

After Friday’s election, Fianna Fail, which means “soldiers of destiny”, suffered its worst showing in 80 years, winning only 20 seats in the 166-seat lower house of parliament (it previously held 72 seats). Coalition talks are now taking place between the top two seat-getters: 76 for the center-right party Fine Gael, led by Enda Kenny, and 37 for Labor, the smaller of the three parties, headed by Eamon Gilmore.

“There are obvious differences [between the two parties] on the economy and cutbacks and state spending … but they have been in government together before, so it’s unlikely they will fail to form a coalition government,” said de Breadun.

But despite the new faces, de Breadun said it’s hard to see how the new government can do much to improve the economic situation in Ireland. “The crisis is so deep, and policy differences between the new government and the former government won’t be that great,” he said.

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