The weekend’s election in Ireland is being deemed as a seismic election, primarily because it has reshaped the traditional electoral landscape, with the left-wing nationalist party Sinn Féin surging into first place ahead of the traditionally dominant Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the first time in the history of the republic.
“The two-party system in this country is now broken, it has been sent to the history books,” said Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald as she arrived at a Dublin count center and as quoted by POLITICO.
The POLITICO report refers to five elements worth noting.
- The left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin is likely to form part of the next government for the first time.
- Incumbent Prime Minister Leo Varadkar may have a reputation abroad as a modern and polished statesman, but his domestic image differs from this substantially. In fact defeated Fine Gael candidates question Varadkar’s leadership.
- Coalition-building won’t be easy. In fact Sinn Féin leader McDonald said she has already reached out to leaders of small left-wing parties to explore coalition options.
- Varadkar hoped to benefit from widespread public approval of his defense of Ireland’s interests in the Brexit negotiations, and put the issue front and center in the campaign, however Brexit was a no-issue.
- There was a well-organized attempt during the campaign to establish anti-immigration, nativist politics in Ireland, which has so far not experienced the radical right surge seen around the world. However, just 1 percent of voters felt immigration was an important factor in their vote, according to the exit poll.
Time said that Ireland’s Feb. 7 election has delivered a shock result, with Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin winning the most first-preference votes and beating out two center-right parties that have governed for almost a century.
But Sinn Féin’s victory is complicated by the party’s decision to field about half as many parliamentary candidates as the two establishment parties.
Financial Times reports that the historic achievement of Sinn Féin in Ireland’s election carries echoes of political upheavals elsewhere in Europe, where many mainstream centrist parties are failing to persuade voters they are still fit for purpose, and where insurgents on the right and left fringes find favour with populist promises of change. But the contrasts are important too: Ireland’s leftwing nationalists are no opportunistic upstarts, but as much part of the fabric of Irish history as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two traditional centre-right ruling parties.
That history includes Sinn Féin’s links to nationalist terrorism in the North; the party was long not much more than a mouthpiece for the Irish Republican Army. This has led other parties to rule out forming a coalition with it. It is time to move forward. Provided Sinn Féin can credibly establish its break with violence and demonstrate that the IRA no longer holds any sway over its policymakers, there should be no cordon sanitaire excluding it from trying to agree a basis for government with other parties.
For Sinn Féin to enter government would be a seismic event: for the first time the same pro-unity party would be in power north and south of the border. But while a quarter of voters put Sinn Féin as their first preference, its push for a referendum on Irish unity, opposed by rivals, was not a big campaign issue. (More surprisingly, nor was Brexit — which indicates Leo Varadkar, the Fine Gael Taoiseach, became a victim of his own success in handling Britain’s departure from the EU.)
Meanwhile, the foreign media on Monday, reported the Irish election results as follows:
The party’s victory is covered on the front page of the Financial Times with the headline “Irish election – Historic result for Sinn Féin”.
The Daily Telegraph also covers the election as part of its front page offerings with the headline “Sinn Féin delivers Irish election shock”.
The Guardian writes that Sinn Féin owes its relative success more to a groundswell of young voters’ impatience on domestic economic and welfare issues rather than to a resurgence of old-style republicanism.
The New York Times’ news report headlined, “Sinn Féin on Threshold: Party With Old IRA Ties Soars in Irish Election” writes how the vote “loosened a 90-year stranglehold on power by two center-right parties”.
The BBC has also been covering the election and reports that analysts suggest the Sinn Féin surge is because the party “managed to successfully tap into the public anger felt in the Republic of Ireland over issues that have dogged centre-right Fine Gael for a number of years – a shortage of housing, rocketing rents and homelessness.”