- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

DUBLIN (Agence France-Presse) | Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s party suffered a vote collapse in two parliamentary by-elections and faces heavy losses in local councils, exit polls and first results showed Saturday.

Mr. Cowen’s centrist Fianna Fail party had not been expected to win either of the by-elections in the capital, Dublin, but the scale of the drubbing was unexpected.

His popularity has plummeted since Ireland’s once-vaunted “Celtic Tiger” economy sank into recession and the government responded by upping taxes and cutting services.

An exit poll for public broadcaster RTE and the Sunday Independent newspaper suggested that Fianna Fail was also set to suffer a backlash from angry voters in the battle for over 1,600 local council seats.

Friday’s elections, in which voters also chose 12 members of the European Parliament, were Mr. Cowen’s first electoral test since lawmakers voted 88-76 for him to succeed veteran Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in May 2008.

Mr. Cowen described the results as “disappointing” but said his two-party coalition would serve out its five-year term.

“Obviously the tide of public opinion is against us at the moment,” he said, “but we have to continue with the work that we have set out, and that is to fix this recession and put this country back on the road and to use the mandate we have until 2012 to do so.”

RTE said the exit poll indicated a local election “bloodbath” for Mr. Cowen, with the Lansdowne Marketing Research company finding Fianna Fail had received 24 percent support, down eight points from its 2004 performance.

The main opposition centrist Fine Gael won 34 percent, up 6.5 points, while the left-of-center Labor party achieved 17 percent, up 5.5 points. The Green party, junior partner in the ruling coalition, will receive 3 percent.

In the Dublin South by-election, sparked by the death of Fianna Fail Sports Minister Seamus Brennan, former journalist and Fine Gael candidate George Lee stormed home in the first count with 53 percent.

Mr. Brennan’s son Shay trailed in third place with less than 18 percent.

Fianna Fail suffered another severe setback in Dublin Central, Mr. Ahern’s power base. The former prime minister’s older brother, Maurice Ahern, 72, trailed in fifth place with just 12 percent of the vote in the first count.

Counting in the European Parliament elections were to begin Sunday, with the results being closely watched for an indication of how Ireland will vote in a second referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty expected later this year.

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