Latest update: 21/01/2011
- elections - government - Ireland
Irish PM sets March 11 election date following cabinet reshuffle
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was forced Thursday to announce an election for March 11 after his surprise cabinet reshuffle caused outrage among MPs, sparking chaos in parliament.
AP - Ireland will hold early elections March 11, Prime Minister Brian Cowen was forced to announce Thursday after bungling a surprise attempt to promote several lawmakers to the Cabinet.
Cowen’s Fianna Fail party has fallen to record-low levels of support after leading the country from the Celtic Tiger boom to the edge of national bankruptcy. Adding to the sense of chaos, the prime minister managed to bring his own administration to the brink of collapse Thursday through an ill-calculated bid to inject his Cabinet with fresh blood.
Five ministers - a third of Cowen’s Cabinet - resigned from the departments of defense, justice, health, transport and trade between Wednesday night and Thursday morning because they were not planning to seek re-election. Cowen hoped to promote five new lawmakers in their place to boost their pre-election profiles.
But the gambit provoked fury in parliament and a backlash from Cowen’s coalition partners in government, the environmentalist Green Party. Cowen spent the morning pleading with the Greens to back the election of the new Cabinet ministers but they refused and demanded that he set an election date.
When Cowen finally appeared in parliament, he appointed five current Cabinet ministers to take on the additional departments for the next few weeks before parliament is dissolved in mid-February. The move avoided the need for a parliamentary vote that Cowen was sure to lose.
Fianna Fail lawmakers expressed dismay that their leader hadn’t seen the Green opposition coming. They said his actions have hurt the party - which has won the most seats in parliament since 1932 and governed Ireland almost continuously since 1987 - even more just before an election it is universally expected to lose.
“I’m really infuriated by what’s happened. ... Whatever his great plan was, it has totally backfired,” said Fianna Fail lawmaker Tom Kitt. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Kitt said some Fianna Fail lawmakers were privately joking that Cowen had been calling around Thursday trying to offer them Cabinet posts - but they’d switched off their cell phones to avoid him.
Underscoring the tensions in Ireland’s coalition government, the Greens’ six lawmakers boycotted Cowen’s statement to parliament.
Cowen denied that his plan to replace Cabinet ministers with new, young lawmakers was a pre-election stunt - provoking a deafening uproar in the parliament.
Cowen rose to power as Ireland’s 13-year Celtic Tiger economic boom was giving way to a property-market implosion and banking crisis.
Ireland has nationalized four of the six Irish-owned banks and repaid tens of billions to foreign bondholders. It spent two years trying to fund the bank bailouts itself, but the cost drove Ireland’s 2010 deficit to 32 percent of gross domestic product and forced the country to negotiate a ¤67.5 billion ($91 billion) bailout loan with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
So far Ireland has received ¤5 billion ($6.7 billion) of those funds. The two opposition parties expected to win the March 11 election and form the next coalition government, Fine Gael and Labour, have pledged to reopen negotiations with the EU and IMF.