Imagine back to 1993, when the 9-year majority government rule of the Progressive Conservatives ended opposite how the Cold War did - with a very large bang. Now, imagine that, instead of the Liberals reaping the benefits of that collapse due to popular policies and a relatively popular leader, they had the second most unpopular person in the political scene, and that instead of getting a huge majority, voters diverged so wildly among the other parties - Reform, NDP, Bloc, and PC - that it ended up disenfranchising two mainstream parties in one go, collapsing another, and gives a boost to smaller parties, but not enough of one to actually make them anything better than accessories to a shaky coalition. So instead of a stable majority, you get an unstable government beholden to various rumps of parties and caucuses, with most main players unpopular and the popular ones basically pointless.
That's pretty much exactly what is going on in Ireland right now. Remember before I gave a short little piece about an election in March? Well, it's now February 25th, and the Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, isn't contesting it; instead, his failed leadership rival, Michael Martin, will carry Fianna Fáil's banner into the election. However, they're still at record lows, and facing third place - or worse - with their traditional opposition, Fine Gael and their leader, Enda Kenny, coming out in top in recent polls. The currently third-party Labour (analogous to the NDP) are coming in second, topping at around 20-25%, compared to the 10% they received in their last election. Their leader, Eamon Gilmore, is the most popular leader in the country.
The problem, however, is that FF's collapse is leaving such a large void in Irish politics that support is flying everywhere. While you would assume that FF and FG would share the most votes, this simply hasn't happened - most of FF's lost votes, or 20% of the electorate, have fled away from FG, flying to Labour, the IRA-linked Sinn Fein, and "others." That presents the funny situation described above; that votes are flying off in so many directions, no party can really reap the benefits to their greatest extent. Unlike our 1993 election, where the votes that mattered (Ontario, basically) fled en masse to one party (the Liberals), the votes that matter in the Irish election are pumping up pretty much all opposition parties (except the Greens) to strong positions, meaning no one has a strong position in the end. Funny, isn't it?
The one saving grace is that FG and Labour are traditionally allies, and in the past when the former has been able to form a government, Labour was their traditional coalition partner. If all goes well this election, the same is likely to happen. However, I question whether or not that is what will happen; according to projections by Nick Boragina of ridingbyriding.com, Labour's hand will be stronger than it ever has been, with 40 seats to FG's 58. If they teamed up, they'd have a very large majority (98 of Ireland's 165 seats up for election in the Dáil Éirann, or their HoC), but if I were Gilmore, I'd consider my options. They could definitely get a lot out of such an arrangement, but if the projection were different, with a smaller position for FG, then, well, you never know what could happen.
Then there's our Bloc analogy - Sinn Fein. This virulent little party with ties to the IRA and a left-wing agenda is one that no one wants to work with, but seems set to get about 20 seats in the Dáil. That's enough to make people raise an eyebrow and throw a wrench into everyone's careful planning, much like how the Nazi-esque Sweden Democrats totally screwed up the government in Sweden, who went from majority to minority thanks to them. Sinn Fein is a fun little wild card that is sure to not disappoint come the 25th.
So, fun! I'm such a nerd for this stuff that I'm going to create a special category for the Irish election on this blog - to the right, under, erm, "Irish general election" - and I may just have to take off a day of work on the 25th to watch the election results live. Yep. I just have that much of a life.