Cowen Faces Vote to Keep Control of `Titanic' as Irish Ruling Party Splits

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen faces a vote of confidence today by his Fianna Fail party, with one of his most senior ministers seeking to topple him before a general election.

Seventy-one lawmakers will vote at a meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Dublin. Cowen, 51, called for the secret ballot on Jan. 16, saying he expects a “ringing endorsement” even after Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said he’d oppose him.

“The indications are that he will win,” Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham stockbrokers in Dublin, said in a telephone interview. “He is going to stick it out until the end. He’ll go down fighting.”

Since Cowen succeeded Bertie Ahern 2 1/2 years ago, unemployment has doubled, the financial system came close to collapse and the government sought an international bailout. Support for Fianna Fail, facing national elections within three months, has plunged to a record low, polls indicate.

“One guy said to me, why would you want to take over the helm of the Titanic as you’re heading straight for the iceberg, and no left or right,” Martin told Dublin-based broadcaster RTE yesterday. “But there you are.”

Support for the party, in power since 1997, has dropped 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. The party won 40 percent of the vote in the 2007 election.

Cowen ‘Confident’

“It isn’t surprising that people aren’t jumping for joy,” Cowen said in an interview today with RTE Radio. Cowen said he remains “confident” of winning today’s vote and that austerity measures taken by his government saved the country from an “appalling situation.”

Trade Minister Billy Kelleher said yesterday he can’t support Cowen and the majority of the party don’t back his bid to remain as leader.

“The reality is that Fianna Fail must recognize the current climate of public opinion,” said Kelleher. “The time has come for a change of leader who will put forward a positive agenda and engage with the public.”

Other ministers, led by Welfare Minister Eamon O’Cuiv and Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe, back the leader. Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, will declare his support for Cowen today, the Irish Independent newspaper said, citing unidentified sources.

Bookmaker’s Odds

Cowen is expected to win the vote, according to odds offered by Paddy Power Plc, Ireland’s largest bookmaker. Cowen is 11-4 on to win the vote, meaning an 11 euro stake would return a 4 euro profit, according to odds on the Dublin-based bookmaker’s website. Of 120 bets on the ballot, 83 went on Cowen surviving.

Thirty-five members of Cowen’s party have stated their support for the prime minister, leaving him one vote away from securing the necessary 36 votes to win, the Irish Times reported today. Twenty-two lawmakers have yet to declare their position, the newspaper said.

A victory today might only be a temporary reprieve for Cowen. Based on the polls, the party stands to lose more than half its seats in the general election. 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.

“The party looks weak,” said McQuaid at Bloxham. It’s “unlikely” Cowen will lead Fianna Fail after the elections, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Colm Heatley in Belfast at cheatley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Colin Keatinge at ckeatinge@bloomberg.net

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