The verdict is historic: Sinn Fein, a supporter of the reunification of Ireland, has become the second force in the Irish Parliament after winning the popular vote in the legislative elections on Saturday, according to the final results of the legislative elections published on Monday night February 10 to Tuesday February 11.
This leftist party, long regarded as the political branch of the IRA, now has 37 of the 160 seats in Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. Fianna Fail, a center-right party, has one more seat (38). As for Fine Gael, the other big center-right party, there are only 35, which could weaken outgoing Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is a member.
Negotiations have already started, with Sinn Fein building on his victory in the popular vote: after the first round of counting started on Sunday, he was placed at the top of the list by 24.5% of voters, ahead of Fianna Fail (22.2%) and Fine Gael (20.9%). This advance did not quite translate into terms of seats, as Sinn Fein presented only 42 candidates, about half as many as the two major centrist parties.
Voters do not vote for an established list, but build their own list by ranking the candidates in order of preference. The long delay in publishing the results in terms of seats in Parliament is due to the complex voting system.
“Sinn Fein won the elections! We won the popular vote, it's a historic victory ", rejoiced, ecstatic, Mary Lou McDonald, the president of Sinn Fein and star of the poll, during a walk in the center of Dublin on Monday. "I may well be the next Taoiseach (head of government in Gaelic) ! ", she said to her cheering supporters, posing with a baby or juggling fruit for the photographers.
Prime Minister's losing strategy
The Sinn Fein, a left-wing party campaigning for the reunification of the British province of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, has long been considered a pariah because of its links with the IRA, a paramilitary organization opposed to the presence British in Northern Ireland, of which he was the political showcase. But 50-year-old Mary Lou McDonald managed to demonize him, waging a hard-hitting campaign by tapping into government loopholes in housing and health.
Two things are already certain: it will be difficult to ignore Sinn Fein in coalition calculations, and the big loser is the Prime Minister’s Fine Gael, a victim of attrition after three years in power. A week after the UK’s exit from the European Union, he focused his campaign on Brexit, with Ireland and its 4.9 million people on the front line.
Leo Varadkar highlighted his role in developing a solution to avoid the return to a physical border between the two Ireland. But his strategy failed, housing and health having been given high priority by voters, according to a poll.
Sinn Fein must therefore seek to form alliances if it is to be able to form a coalition government. "The people who voted Sinn Fein voted for Sinn Fein to be in government, so we opened discussions and contacted the leaders" small left parties like the Greens or the Social Democrats, said Mary Lou McDonald on Monday.
"This is a very clear message to the two traditional parties of the establishment, their domination is over, people want another policy", she launched, combative. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have so far ruled out forming a coalition with Sinn Fein because of its ties to the IRA.
Leo Varadkar reaffirmed his position, but Fianna Fail chief Micheal Martin seemed to soften his. While emphasizing that there was a "Incompatibility" political on certain subjects with Sinn Fein, he refused before the press to repeat his opposition to an alliance. Both were re-elected on Sunday, but not in the first round of counting, unlike Mary Lou McDonald.
Negotiations to form a coalition government could take weeks, if not months. After the last election in 2016, it took more than two months for a government to be formed.