Irish Taosiech (prime minister) Brian Cowen resigned as leader of the government Fianna Fail party on January 22.
The move came in the midst of a political crisis caused by the Cowen government accepting an 85 billion euro bailout package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
The package will be accompanied by savage spending cuts that will drastically deepen the austerity imposed on the Irish people in response to the financial crisis that hit the southern Irish state in 2008.
The bailout and austerity has caused huge anger among Irish people. More than 100,000 people marched in Dublin in a protest organised by the Irish Trade Union Congress on November 27.
A November 29 Sunday Independent poll found 57% of Irish people supported a debt default as an alternative to the bailout and about two thirds opposed the proposed spending cuts.
General elections will be held on February 25.
Polls indicate that the likely result will be a coalition of the opposition party Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Both parties are committed to implementing austerity measures.
In response to the crisis, left-wing forces stand to make significant electoral ground.
Irish republican party Sinn Fein has put forward a platform opposing the bailout and austerity measures. Instead, SF proposes to respond to the economic crisis by shifting the tax burden onto the rich, cutting the perks of top public servants and politicians and using public investment to create jobs.
SF has five members in the Dail (Irish parliament), but is expecting to significantly increase that number. It won the November 25 Donnegal by-election, with SF candidate Pearse Doherty winning almost 40% of the vote.
The BelfastTelegraph.co.uk said on February 2 that, with support for SF at 13% in the polls, the party was on track to win 22 seats.
Meanwhile, forces further to the left came together to form the United Left Alliance in November. ULA is made up of a range of left parties, groups and individuals — including some who have recently left Labour in protest at its support for austerity.
The groups involved include the Socialist Party, the People Before Profits Alliance and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group. The ULA favours “democratic and public control over resources so that social need is prioritised over profit”.
It says it aims to create an “alternative to the establishment parties as well as Labour and Sinn Fein”.
Its platform includes: ending the bailout of banks and developers; higher taxes for the rich and an end to taxes targeting the poor; a publicly funded social development program to create hundreds of thousands of jobs; reversing the spending cuts; an end to all forms of discrimination; and environmental protection.
A post by Irishpollingreport.wordpress.com on January 8 indicated the ULA could win five seats.