Cowen Calls Irish Party Leadership Vote, Says He Is `Confident' of Victory

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he’s “confident” he will retain the leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party in a ballot tomorrow and lead it into the next general election.

Fianna Fail parliamentary members will decide by a secret vote whether Cowen remains party leader, he told a press conference in Dublin late yesterday. Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, among the favorites to succeed Cowen, plans to oppose him in the ballot.

“I’m confident of the outcome” of the ballot, “and I intend contesting the elections as leader,” Cowen said.

The prime minister made his announcement after two days of consultation with colleagues following criticism of his links with Sean Fitzpatrick, the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Corp., which was nationalized in 2009. Martin said last night on national broadcaster RTE he will oppose Cowen and that he has the support of a “significant number” of lawmakers, who are “genuinely afraid about the future of the party” in the forthcoming general election.

John Curran, a government spokesman, said in an interview with RTE radio today he expects Cowen to win the vote on his leadership. Curran said he hadn’t heard of any other government ministers offering support for Martin. Cowen said that he had the backing of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

‘Ringing Endorsement’

“Brian Lenihan has been totally supportive,” Cowen said in an interview with RTE, adding that he expects to win a “ringing endorsement” of his leadership from the party.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin wants Cowen to go before the national elections, the Sunday Business Post reported yesterday, without citing anyone. Martin said at a press conference yesterday he offered his resignation to Cowen, and that the prime minister “has indicated that he believes such a course of action is not necessary.”

Martin said his action followed a “continuing decline” in the party’s popularity “post Christmas,” and the fact that there is no organization in the party for the coming election. He said he would be interested in the leadership and that he has the experience to lead the party.

Martin is favorite to succeed Cowen as Fianna Fail leader, according to odds offered by Paddy Power Plc, Ireland’s largest bookmaker. Martin is 1-4, meaning a 4-euro stake would return a 1-euro profit, while Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is 4-1, which would mean a 4-euro profit on a 1-euro wager. The bookmaker also says it is more likely that Cowen will win tomorrow’s vote of confidence, according to odds on its website.

Party Slump

Environment Minister John Gormley of the Green Party, the junior partner in Cowen’s coalition government, has said March 25 would be a reasonable date for election. In an interview with Dublin-based RTE radio on Jan. 4, he said the final decision on the election date rests with Cowen.

Support for Fianna Fail, in power since 1997, has plunged to 14 percent, according to a poll carried out this month. The largest opposition party, Fine Gael, has 35 percent support, according to the poll, carried out by Red C for Paddy Power Plc.

Under Cowen’s leadership, unemployment has doubled, and the government was forced to seek an international bailout as the nation’s banks came close to collapse.

“My total focus must remain with discharging my duties to the people,” Cowen said yesterday. “For Fianna Fail, the party is important, but the interests of the country are paramount.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Dara Doyle in Dublin at ddoyle1@bloomberg.net; Finbarr Flynn at fflynn3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Harrison at mharrison5@bloomberg.net

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