Irish voters look likely to dump Prime Minister Leo Varadkar from power in an election on Saturday amid a surge by Sinn Fein that could alter the political landscape, even though the nationalist party is unlikely to win a place in government this time.
Opinion polls in recent days have pointed to the main opposition Fianna Fail winning the most seats and forming a multi-party coalition or minority government, with policies on the economy and post-Brexit broadly similar to those of Varadkar and his centre-right Fine Gael. However the left-wing Sinn Fein could win the popular vote if the vote reflects recent polls. On Monday, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was polling at 25%, ahead of Fianna Fail on 23% and Fine Gael on 20%.
Sinn Fein has put forward too few candidates to capitalise, as the groundswell of support caught the party itself off guard after it sunk to 9% at local elections last year. Analysts say it may only be able to gain a few seats and retain its position as the third largest party in parliament. Yet while both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael insist they will not govern with Sinn Fein, citing its IRA past and differing economic polices, such an outcome would demonstrate an appetite for change in decades-long centrist Ireland. The IRA fought against British rule in Northern Ireland in a 30-year conflict in which some 3,600 people were killed before a 1998 peace deal. Sinn Fein’s ultimate aim is to unify Ireland and British-run Northern Ireland, where it shares power.
Polls close at 2200 GMT on Saturday and will be followed immediately by an exit poll giving the first indication of the outcome. Counting begins on Sunday afternoon.