So, the election has been called, well, set. It’s been a hell of a week in the Dail, one that I’m sure TDs, party secretaries and press officers are scrambling to shove into their memoirs. A golf game that threatened the government, a leadership challenge, wait, no there wasn’t, wait, yes there was, a successful motion of confidence, six Ministerial resignations, attempted reward of those positions to new faces, a coalition snapping, and then an internal switch around.
All culminating in the announcement of the 11th of March, 11/3/11, to be the date wherein we elect the 31st Dail.
I’ll get more heavily into the political coverage much closer to the date in question, probably when the campaign season officially starts (presumably mid February). Till then, let me offer some scenarios.
I say scenarios because it is way too soon for predictions. I can present a scenario that I think is likely to happen, but I’d add the very big caveat that it is very much subject to change. So, instead of that, here’s some nice graphs illustrating the myriad of ways the next Dail might look. First, for the base point, the results of election night 2007:
And how the Dail looks today, after resignations, deaths, by-elections, party collapse and mergers. Three Dail seats are not filled at the present time:
The primer for anyone who isn’t aware: 166 seats. One of them is the Ceann Comhairle, the speaker, chosen by the house at the start of each term who does not face re-election. The current CC is Fianna Fail deputy Seamus Kirk, but that’s likely to change on the first day of the next Dail.
Since the CC tends to vote the way of the ruling party (because he/she tends to be from the ruling party) that means the majority needed in the Irish Dail is 83 seats. That’s the magic number, represented in these graphs by the blue line at the top.
(Authors note: I have not separated the ULA and Independents in these graphs, for the simple fact that I am not sure what to make of ULA chances just yet. They could win two, or they could win ten. For the moment, I’ll join them up with Lowry, Healy-Rae and co. If that changes in the next few weeks, I’ll make the changes here.)
Ok, here’s six scenarios.
Due to a vibrant FG campaign, an unexpectedly toothless/overestimated Labour effort and FF voters transferring to the old enemy instead of the more left parties, Enda Kenny gets what he must be dreaming for: the first sole Fine Gael government in history. The majority is slim, but could be stabilised by keeping some Independents onside. Labour would be forced, gallingly, to look to Fianna Fail to form a viable opposition.
The chances of this happening have gotten increasingly slim over the last year, though it would not be a result I would be unhappy with. Coalition politics hasn’t been great for Ireland’s political stability in the last while though I don’t dispute that they come with some advantages.
The Gilmore Gale
All of the Labour momentum comes through. Fine Gael end up losing seats to the “Gilmore Gale” and Kenny is done as leader. The expected coalition goes into power, but with the red party as top dog.
Increasing likely, but still a stretch too far in my opinion. FG will be fighting tooth and nail and a scenario where they lose seats is a bit much in my opinion.
The triumph of the left as Ireland turns away from tradition and gives its favour to Labour, Sinn Fein and left leaning Independents/ULA creating what some have dubbed the “Guns&Roses” government. A disaster for Fine Gael who are left frozen out with Fianna Fail. Of course, such a coalition is wobbly at best, SF never being the most reliable of partners and elements of the ULA openly despising the Labour Party.
I don’t see it happening for the very reason that it will depend heavily on left groups transferring to each other a lot, a lot more than their public attitude towards would indicate.
The Civil War Is Over
Similar to the previous, but neither Labour or SF make up as many seats, those that Fianna Fail don’t keep, going to Fine Gael for the most part. Faced with the prospect of being minority partners in the coalition (or at best, a revolving Taoiseach system), Kenny buries the hatchet and goes into coalition with a new-look Fianna Fail, probably excusing it by insisting that FF has changed due to their electoral blooding. Civil War politics are over.
I suppose it could happen, and I wouldn’t put anything past Fine Gael. But it would be a mistake. Any coalition where Fianna Fail retain a hand on power would be hideously unpopular and the following election, in 2016 or before, would be a landslide for Labour barring a massive financial turnaround.
The other numbers don’t really matter, this is about Fianna Fail. The polls turn out to be inaccurate in the unexpected direction, with Fianna Fail barely clinging on to single figures. In this scenario, there is no opposition, bar a rump.
A lot has been said about the poll numbers predicting such disaster for Fianna Fail. I would certainly count myself amongst the sceptics, not because of any pro-FF sentiment, but based on the noted inaccuracy of polls in the past, especially in the run-ups to general elections. Certainly Fianna Fail are going to lose a lot of seats, but I don’t honestly think, right now anyway, that it will be this bad. Nor would I be happy because, as noted, a viable opposition is always a good thing.
This is as close to a prediction that I will be making at the present stage. Fine Gael become the biggest party, Labour eclipse Fianna Fail, who are just about halved, Sinn Fein gain a few, the “Others” gain a few and the Greens retain a seat. This is actually my only scenario that includes any Green TDs, and even here I would say it’d be on a knife edge (and I speak of Sargeant of course). FG/Lab becomes the government, with a 65/35 split in cabinet seats.
There you have it. More political commentary to follow once there is more to talk about. I’ll be finishing up my Micro-Party series shortly and I hope to have another one talking about the individual candidates in my own constituency, Limerick City (eight so far) closer to the election. As well as that, I think a daily brief on my thoughts during the campaign, some debate reviews and a running post/article on Election/Counting day would be good too, provided that real life doesn’t intrude too much.
General Election 2011 starts here. All posts regarding this topic can be found by clicking the category tab to the right.