The voting centers in Ireland opened today for a general election in which the Prime Minister, the Democrat Leo Varadkar, does not start as a favorite, despite the good progress of the economy and his successful management of Brexit.
The election day started at 07.00 GMT so that the electorate, of just over three million, choose between 516 candidates for the 160 deputies who will form the Lower House (Dáil) during the next five years.
The polls during the campaign put at the head – practically tied – the centrist Fianna Fáil (FF), led by Micheál Martin, and the leftist Sinn Féin, former political arm of the already inactive Irish Republican Army (IRA), although none would get the absolute majority.
A short distance away is the Fine Gael of Varakar, whose party has been in power for nine years, although he took the reins of the Dublin Executive three years ago, becoming the first openly gay head of government.
Since the 2016 general elections, the Democrats have ruled in a minority with a group of independent deputies, after the FF then committed itself to supporting the successive general budgets and refraining from key votes, such as motions of censure against the Government.
Martin, as leader of the opposition, offered help to his main rival, a party with which the centrists have divided power for decades, so that Varadkar could deal with stability with the challenges that Brexit presents for this country.
The leader of the FF has now said that, if he wins these elections without a majority, he would accept the same type of support from the FG and even contemplate the possibility of forming a great coalition with the Democrats, with him as “taoiseach” (first Minister).
Despite these calls for understanding, both politicians have been severely attacked during the campaign.
Varadkar recalled that the FF was responsible for the serious economic crisis of 2010, when Ireland was forced to request a ransom from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The “taoiseach” has insisted that his party was in charge of applying the hard adjustment plan of the “troika”, but, a decade later, the economy registered the highest growth rate in the EU and is approaching full employment.
Varadkar also chests for his role in the negotiations on the United Kingdom’s exit from the community bloc, after obtaining guarantees from London and Brussels to cushion the impact this divorce will have on Ireland.
Martin, on the other hand, has warned about the inequalities that Irish rapid economic growth is creating and, in fact, the problems affecting public health or housing have overshadowed during the campaign the achievements of the Government.
Varadkar and Martin do agree that they will not form a coalition with Sinn Féin, which they still relate to the terrorist campaign developed by their former armed arm, the IRA, during the last Northern Irish conflict.
They also consider their policies populist and could harm the economy, but the anti-austerity message of their leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has penetrated a good part of Irish society.
In addition, McDonald is more attractive to the electorate than its predecessor in office, the historic leader Gerry Adams, as it represents a new generation of nationalists with no ties to the IRA.
The voting centers will close at 10 p.m. GMT, but the recount of the votes from the 40 Irish constituencies will not begin until Sunday morning at 09.00 a.m.
The first provisional results could be known in the middle of the afternoon, although the final ones could be delayed for days, given the complexity of the Irish electoral system, of vote transfer.