Sunday 31 May 2009

Irish voting already started on Friday, and some political ponderings

Some Irish voters have already voted in the European and local elections. Normally some of the islands vote before the mainland, but this time the voting was officially started by patients in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. It seems that there's been a 60% turnout there, though naturally there will probably be a much lower turnout by the general public on June 5th.

The European elections may have the effect of - or be proof of - shifting the national politics into a more traditional European direction. It may also be the point where national politics became more integrationist (in a society sense), with EU immigration starting to have an impact on the political parties.

First of all, Irish politics may finally be moving towards a left-right contest, as the conservative Fianna Fáil party is stuck on 20% popularity - and this is the political party that has dominated Irish politics since the 1930s. The European elections have become a contest between Fine Gael and Labour in a sense, though the media doesn't make it out to be quite so adversarial as it would if it was a government-opposition set up.

However, if the shift is taking place, it will be a long road. The STV system of voting means that candidates are important, and despite FF's vast unpopularity, one of its candidates, Brian Crowley in the Ireland South constituency, will probably be the candidate to attract the most votes in the country (he's at 30%, well over the 25% quota to get elected). For a number of reasons, Ireland is likely to return pretty much the same MEPs as in the last election.

Still, it's FG vs Labour in Ireland East, with Labour on course to win a seat at the expense of FG who had unexpectedly won two seats in the 3 seat constituency in 2004. If Labour becomes the second party in the next general election, they will need to fight the temptation to go into government with FG (the temptation will be very strong since the leadership is aging) and force them into a coalition with civil war enemies FF. (Interestingly, however, there have been reports that up to one third of the Irish electorate could be floating voters, which is more than previously thought).

[See Frank Schnittger's Th!nk About It article on the European elections in Ireland here].

In terms of the political balance of the EP, these elections are unlikely to change much given the stability of the MEP delegation. The PES may gain 1 or even 2 seats (though an extra second seat is becoming less likely as Kathy Sinnot (InDem group) experiences a surge in the last two weeks. Still, a second seat is not beyond the realms of possibility. The EPP will lose one seat. Though FF could lose a seat in Dublin, if it does it can't really be considered an ELDR loss, as the FF MEPs won't join them until the next EP assembles, so ELDR will gain at least 3 seats in Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, there's an outside possibility that SDLP candidate, Alban Maginness, could win the third seat if the unionist vote is split. So the PES could be in for a 1-3 seat increase from the island as a whole, but it would be a big upset for this to happen. I've written a basic overview of the election in NI here.

Another factor which could emerge from this election is the participation of non-Irish EU citizens. I briefly pondered about this a good while back, and it has been good to see that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have polish versions of their websites (I didn't include a link for FF because it doesn't seem to be working at the moment). Of course, there are immigrants from other big bang member states, especially from the Baltic states, as well as immigrants from Africa (mostly Nigeria), so hopefully there is a drive for inclusion there too.

This Irish Times has an article on immigrants and political party partcipation (link here). Will more partcipation and the experience of availing of the free movement of workers lead to a good turnout? Or will the registration system and lack of information put people off?

I really liked the article's fantastic English-Polish Irish political phrasebook:

"We are where we are - Jestesmy, gdzie jestesmy.

I have a deep passion for pot- hole-related issues - Mam glebokie zainteresowanie dla problemów zwiazanych z dziurami w drogach.

Poles before politics - Polacy przed polityka.

This is a damning indictment/ appalling vista - To jest potepiajace oskarzenie/ przerazajaca perspektywa.

We cannot let this country go backwards, going forward - Nie mozemy pozwolic, aby ten kraj sie cofnal, idac naprzód.

The money was just resting in my account - Pieniadze tylko spoczywaly na moim koncie. [My favourite]

I’m glad you asked me that question, but if I could just return to an earlier point - Ciesze sie ze Pan mnie o to zapytal, ale czy móglbym powrócic do wczesniejszego punktu."

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