Pressure mounts in Ireland for snap election

Four candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to replace Cowen as Fianna Fail.

Updated: Jan 23, 2011, 21:24 PM IST

Dublin: Pressure mounted in Ireland Sunday for an election to be held before the planned date of March
11, after Prime Minister Brian Cowen quit as leader of the
ruling party but vowed to stay in office.

Four candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to
replace Cowen as Fianna Fail leader in a vote Wednesday, but
opposition lawmakers condemned the situation as "complete
madness" and demanded an immediate election.

The Green party, which shares power in the Fianna
Fail-led coalition government, said it was meeting today "to
consider the situation" following Cowen`s shock resignation
yesterday.

If the Greens announce they are pulling out, Cowen
will have no choice but to call an election. If they stay in,
the government must still face a confidence vote in parliament
next week tabled by the Labour party.

Cowen had been under pressure for months over his
handling of the debt crisis that brought Ireland to its knees
and forced it to accept an international bailout in November
-- the second in the eurozone, after Greece.

He survived a leadership challenge by foreign minister
Micheal Martin last week, but an attempt to use Martin`s
subsequent resignation and five other apparently coordinated
cabinet resignations to force a reshuffle backfired.

The Green party vetoed any new reappointments and
pressured Cowen into announcing the election date of March 11.
Two days later he quit as leader of his party, which he has
led since becoming premier in May 2008.

Martin is now the front runner to take over Fianna
Fail, although he will be up against Finance Minister Brian
Lenihan, Defence Minister Eamon O Cuiv and Trade Minister Mary
Hanafin, who all declared their candidatures yesterday.

Cowen said he hoped Fianna Fail could now fight the
election "free from internal distractions". The centrist
party, which has dominated Irish politics for decades, is
currently polling at about 14 per cent.

"Taking everything into account, and having discussed
the matter with my family, I have decided on my own counsel to
step down as uachtarain (president) of Fianna Fail and leader
of Fianna Fail," Cowen told a hastily-arranged news conference
in Dublin yesterday.

He added: "I will continue in my role as Taoiseach
(prime minister) as I have before."

Cowen said he would focus on passing the Finance Bill,
which includes a series of measures crucial to securing the
67-billion-euro ( USD 90 billion) bailout from the European
Union and the International Monetary Fund.

However, opposition parties expressed their fury with
the premier.

PTI