The Irish are widely expected to throw out the ruling Fianna Fail party in elections on Friday, with economic problems, a deeply unpopular IMF bailout and unemployment the main issues on voters' minds.
AFP - Irish voters are set to oust their government Friday in elections dominated by the collapse of the economy and a widely hated bailout, which would make Dublin the first to fall victim to an EU debt crisis.
When ballots open at 7:00am (0700 GMT), 3.1 million Irish voters will have a chance to pass verdict on the eurozone country's traditional party of government, Fianna Fail, and its discredited prime minister, Brian Cowen.
In November, Ireland was forced to go cap in hand to the European Union and International Monetary Fund for an 85-billion-euro ($115 billion) bailout after a debt crisis centred on the banks threatened to spiral out of control.
It was the second eurozone nation after Greece to seek help and the deal is widely viewed as a humiliation here -- particularly given that just a few years ago, Ireland's roaring "Celtic Tiger" economy had been the envy of the world.
"Due to foreseen circumstances, we regret to inform you that Ireland is cancelled," wrote one poster put up outside Cowen's office in Dublin this week.
The main opposition Fine Gael party has ridden the wave of outrage to finish at 38-40 percent in the polls, although most analysts believe it will fall short of a majority in the 166-member Dail (parliament).
Its leader Enda Kenny, a 59-year-old former teacher, will almost certainly be the new Taoiseach, or premier. He said his priority for his first 100 days in office would be to "restore Ireland's international reputation".
He has already taken steps to renegotiate the terms of the bailout, visiting Brussels and Berlin to discuss the "punitive" 5.8 percent interest rate on the loans and the cost of restructuring Ireland's debt-ridden banks.
The EU is open to amending the deal, but Dublin is under pressure to cut its ultra-low 12.5 percent corporate tax rate in return -- a rate that Kenny stressed this week was of "fundamental importance" to Ireland's economy.
If Fine Gael fails to win a majority then it is likely to form an alliance with the leftist Labour party, which is polling at 18 percent.
The centrist Fianna Fail, which has been in power for 14 years, is polling at about 15 percent and commentators predict it could win just 20 seats, a virtual wipeout compared to the 77 it won in the 2007 election.
In a sign of the anger felt towards the party, residents in one house in Dublin put up a poster saying: "No votes for Fianna Fail in this house!"
The party is led by former foreign minister Micheal Martin, who took over after Cowen bowed to months of pressure over his handling of the economy and quit the leadership in January. Cowen is not standing in Friday's vote.
Polling booths are open from 7:00am to 10:00pm, with exit polls due early Saturday. The complicated counting required for Ireland's single transferable vote system means results are not expected until later on Saturday.
Date created : 2011-02-25