Three-Party System

10 February 2020

 

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Sinn Fein Makes Irish Electoral Break-Through

 

Since independence, Ireland has had a two-party system. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have passed the governing baton back and forth for decades, both parties of the center right. Their differences have been more historical than ideological. Indeed, the out-going government was a minority Fine Gael cabinet kept in power with support from Fianna Fail on a confidence and supply basis. That collaboration appears to have finally caught up to them both. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, appears to have broken through to take as much support from voters as the older parties. This means Ireland is entering new territory, and the future is a more dangerous place now.

The Irish Republic elects its Dail in multi-member constituencies (39 for the entire nation) using the Single Transferrable Vote. Voters put a "1" next to their favorite candidate, a "2" next to her second choice, and so on until either the voter gets tired or until all the candidates have been ranked. Then, the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated, his votes redistributed based on second preferences, and so on until all the seats in the constituency are filled.

This is the most effective and efficient way of choosing a legislature, and this journal supports this approach globally. In the case of the 2020 Irish election, it means the exact numbers for each party will not be known for another day or two. However, based on first preferences, the Irish electorate has done severe damage to the old duopoly. An exit poll from RTE and TG4 (the two national broadcasters) as well as the Irish Times and University College Dublin shows the first preference breakdown as: Fine Gael 22.4%, Sinn Fein 22.3%, Fianna Fail 22.2%, Greens 7.9%, Labout 4.6%, Social Democrats 3.4%, Solidarity- People before Profit 2.8%. Independent candidates scored 11.2% first preferences.

In theory, this would put the two traditional parties and Sinn Fein more or less level in the number of seats each wins. There are 160 seats in the Dail, and because the Speaker does not usually vote, 80 is a majority. However, Sinn Fein ran only 42 candidates, so it can't possibly win any more than that. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail ran more than twice that many.

So how did Sinn Fein do it? One believes the electorate was sick to death of housing and health issues and the two main parties were collaborating. Sinn Fein's leftist approach resonated, especially among younger Irish voters. For them, The Troubles are not some historical period of civil unrest so much as they are related to paying the bills and getting a house. Sinn Fein got a little lucky, but mainly it scored with a message that it was the agent of change. Voters under 25 gave the party 31.8% of their first preferences.

What it didn't score heavily with was Brexit and a united Ireland (which is why the IRA took up guns and bombs and Sinn Fein fronted for it). That will come when Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to put a border in place somewhere between the UK and EU, of which Ireland is a member.

The exit poll also projects the final seat count: Fianna Fail gets 45, Sinn Fein gets 37, Fine Gale 36, Green 10, Labour 6, Solidarity PbP 5, Social Democrats 5, and independents and other small parties 16. In short, it's a mess. The two traditional parties could form a government, but on what terms? And if they do, Sinn Fein as the main opposition party will be well-positioned for the next election. All of the smaller parties could put Fianna Fail in office, but perhaps not Sinn Fein or Fine Gael.

An Irish Machiavelli in charge of one of the traditional parties might offer Sinn Fein a coalition hoping to do what the British Tories did to the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 election. The smaller party could not water down the hard-to-swallow policies of the bigger party and got tarred with the same brush. The next election saw the LibDems take huge losses. The same could be done with Sinn Fein; bring them into government and make them unpopular. However, Sinn Fein might smell the trap.

This means uncertainty and instability at a time when Ireland could do without both. The border with the UK is going to create issues that a strong government would have difficulty facing. Ireland won't have a strong government. The Troubles 2.0 may lie ahead. One would love to be wrong about that.


© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.


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