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Tags: EU | Ireland | New Leader

Next Irish Government in Limbo as Lawmakers Convene for Vote

Thursday, 10 March 2016 09:44 AM EST

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's new parliament convened for the first time Thursday to elect a government leader, but analysts forecast that no candidate would attract enough votes and Prime Minister Enda Kenny would be forced into a much-weakened caretaker role for weeks of uncertain coalition talks.

Kenny's Fine Gael remains the largest party following the Feb. 26 election, with 50 lawmakers in the 158-seat parliament. But Fine Gael no longer has a willing coalition partner strong enough to deliver a majority. Its only viable partner, in terms of pure arithmetic, is the No. 2 Fianna Fail party with 44 seats.

Those two parties trace their origins to the opposite sides of Ireland's civil war and have never shared power in the 94 years since.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is running against Kenny in Thursday's contest to become prime minister. Both sides have downplayed the possibility of forging an unprecedented "grand coalition" combining their two center-ground forces into one, possibly with Kenny and Martin taking turns in the top job.

Thursday's Kenny-Martin showdown should split the vote with neither able to command a parliament that otherwise features a half-dozen feud-prone, mostly left-wing small parties and independent lawmakers. That quarter of the house is expected largely to abstain while 23 lawmakers from the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party vote for their own leader, Gerry Adams.

Failure to elect a prime minister would leave Kenny's 5-year-old government in office but unable to wield power during several weeks of coalition negotiations. Underscoring their political impotence, three of Kenny's ministers lost their parliamentary seats in the election yet remain at the Cabinet table.

Coalitions have governed Ireland since 1989. This is the first time that the two heavyweights of political life have been unable to form a numerically stable coalition with anyone but each other.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail lawmakers express fears that any short-term cooperation would undermine public support for their own party and boost Sinn Fein, an Irish Republican Army-linked party that over the past decade has grown from a fringe player to become the largest left-wing voice. If, as many expect, Kenny and Martin cannot forge an agreement that delivers stable government, a second election could be called.

Analysts expect Kenny to tender his resignation if he fails to secure a parliamentary majority Thursday, but Ireland's head of state, President Michael D. Higgins, would be obliged to reappoint him immediately as caretaker premier.

Ireland's parliament might not convene again until early April following two of the biggest events on the Irish calendar, St. Patrick's Day and Easter. The latter holiday this year involves long-anticipated state commemorations of the 100th anniversary of Dublin's Easter Rising rebellion against British rule.

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Europe
Ireland's new parliament convened for the first time Thursday to elect a government leader, but analysts forecast that no candidate would attract enough votes and Prime Minister Enda Kenny would be forced into a much-weakened caretaker role for weeks of uncertain coalition...
EU,Ireland,New Leader
447
2016-44-10
Thursday, 10 March 2016 09:44 AM
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