In a historic victory, the left-wing Sinn Fein has emerged as the second largest party in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, making a considerable wedge into the century-long two-party rule in Ireland. The general elections to the 39 multi-seat constituencies across the country were held on February 8, Saturday, to elect the members to the 160 seat-Dail. The elections witnessed a 62.9% turnout.
“This election has been seismic & historic, and has been driven by the demand for change by the people,” Sinn Fein said in a statement.
As results were declared on February 10, Monday, the Sinn Fein registered a thumping victory by securing 37 seats out of the 42 it had contested, with 24.53% of votes. In the previous elections held in 2016, the left-wing party had won 22 seats. The incumbent Fine Gael has been able to secure 35 seats in the current elections with 20.86% votes, compared to 47 seats in the last Dail. The center-right Fianna Fail has won 38 seats and 22.18% votes, 7 seats less than its performance in the 2016 elections.
Jimmy Doran from the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) told Peoples Dispatch that “The establishment parties have failed the people for over 100 years. They offer nothing but a two-tier society where one million people are on hospital waiting lists, wages are low, employment contracts are temporary, housing is beyond the affordability of ordinary working people. This leads to large scale dissatisfaction and has led to the rise of Sinn Féin”.
The victory of Sinn Fein is attributed to its pro-people manifesto – Manifesto for Change – that promised to take steps to tackle the issues of wealth inequality, affordable housing, healthcare and education for all. There has been widespread anger against the the major establishment parties in Ireland – the Fine Gael government led by Leo Varadkar and the Fianna Fail led by Micheál Martin – as they failed to address the problems of rising inequality, the attack on labor rights and the increasing hate crimes in the country. The austerity policies implemented by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have further exacerbated the people’s discontent with the establishment parties.
As Sinn Fein’s rising popularity became evident, the corporate media attempted to discredit the party. Several media houses launched desperate attacks on Sinn Fein before the elections over the party’s links with the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) which was involved in the fight against British rule during the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998).
Challenges in government formation
With no party able to achieve a simple majority of 80 seats to form the government, all eyes are currently focused on the Sinn Fein leadership on whether they decide to form a minority government with the support of the independents (21 seats), the Green Party (12 seats), the Social Democrats (6 seats), the left-leaning People Before Profits (5 seats) and the Labour Party (6 seats). Fianna Fail may also raise a bid to form the government with the support of the independents and the minor parties.
A coalition of Sinn Fein with the Fine Gael is highly unlikely but chances of a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein government cannot be ruled out. There are also greater possibilities of an alliance between the incumbent Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to keep Sinn Fein out of power. The new Dail (33rd) is likely to be convened in February 2020.
The 2020 elections have witnessed the rise of a formidable political force that has shaken the status quo dominated by the traditional establishment parties in Ireland.