Sunday, May 25, 2014

Irish Elections Surprises


Friday’s Local Government and European Parliament Elections in Ireland are producing interesting results as counting began today. In Party terms the two parties in the Government coalition, Fine Gael and Labour suffered significant losses, especially the Labour Party which, perhaps unfairly, bore the brunt of the public anger against the austerity policies imposed on Ireland following the 2008 banking melt-down and subsequent worst economic recession in the history of the State. In Opposition, Sinn Féin, has dramatically increased its vote share, will be the largest party on Dublin City Council; will gain European Parliament seats in Dublin (heading the poll in the Capital) and South (Munster and South Leinster) and is in contention for a third seat in Midlands-Northwest (Connacht and North Leinster). The Party is also gaining seats in local cities and counties across the country. In Northern Ireland, which also held elections Friday, Sinn Féin will win four of the 11 new local government areas and at least one of the European seats allocated to Northern Ireland and will be the largest party on Belfast City Council.

The Irish Labour Party is likely to suffer catastrophic losses in local Government, losing their majority on Dublin City Council (with the current Lord Mayor losing his seat) and their representation in the European Parliament.

The voting system in Ireland is Proportional Representation with Single Transferable Vote (PRSTV). Constituencies have not less than three seats and not more than five based on population roughly representing 20,000 voters per seat. Voters can vote for every candidate in preferential order or just one or two candidates if they wish. Each constituency has an electoral “quota” which is the total electorate of registered voters for that constituency divided by the number of seats plus 1. The Returning Officers declare this quota at the beginning of the count after the election before the ballot boxes are opened. The total of valid votes is counted first. Then, the first preference votes (“Number 1’s”) for each candidate is counted. If any candidate reaches the quota on the first count, he or she is declared elected. If an elected candidate exceeds the quota, that candidate’s papers second preferences are counted and the surplus is transferred to the other candidates on the list in proportion to their number of second preferences received. 

The candidate or candidates on the bottom of the list not likely to reach the quota are then eliminated successively and their papers’ second preferences allocated to the remaining candidates until all the seats are filled. It sounds complicated but, Irish voters are well used to it and quite clever in distributing their preferences in strategic ways to favour the candidates they want to see elected even between candidates of the same party. Thus, the electors have much greater choice in the composition of the parliament, Dáil Éireann and the local authorities.

The biggest change in the political scene is the rejection by large numbers of voters of the established parties, FG, FF and Labour for a motley collection of independents from across the political spectrum (which has implications for stability of Government after the next General Election due in 2016), a trend which is also apparent across Europe in the elections for the European Parliament. The growing distrust of the EU is accompanied by a dramatic increase in the percentage of citizens for whom the EU elicits a negative impression, which doubled from 15% to 28%, while the proportion of those with a positive impression declined sharply, falling from 52% to 31%. Meanwhile, the portion of the population declaring itself optimistic about future developments in the EU declined from two-thirds to half of the total, while the portion declaring pessimism climbed to two-thirds of the total in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Details of results will be posted on Blagaroon 2 as the counts are completed.

See here the results of the exit polls for RTÉ:

Glossary: Some parties use Gaelic names in their titles as follows: Fine Gael (FG) (=Irish Nation), Fianna Fáil (=Soldiers of Destiny) (FF), Sinn Féin (=We Ourselves) (SF)

Other organisations with Gaelic titles: Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland), Irish lower House of Parliament. Seanad Éireann (Senate of Ireland), Upper House; Oireachtas (Legislature- both Houses). Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland). Garda Síochána (Guardians of the Peace) – Irish national police force. Raidio-Teilifís Éireann (Radio-Television Ireland -RTÉ) Irish national public television.

TD= Teachta Dála
(Dáil Deputy, Member of Parliament)

Ministerial titles: An Taoiseach (Chief or Prime Minister); An Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister).

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