Ireland heads to polls amid economic austerity

Ireland elections may lead to hung parliament as austerity measures continue to bite

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A woman receives her ballot paper in a polling station at St Anthonys School in Castlebar, Ireland February 26, 2016.

Ireland's voters are deciding on 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 half a dozen parties went door to door with leaflets and organised 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.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny stands with his wife Fionnuala as he casts his vote in a polling station at St Anthony's School in Castlebar, Ireland February 26, 2016

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 on 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.

Leader of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams leaves after casting his vote for the general election in Ravensdale near Dundalk, Ireland February 26, 2016.

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.

TRTWorld, AP