H Prime Minister Brian Cowen looks set to see off opposition from party rebels, barring an unlikely cabinet revolt, and lead his Fianna Fail party into an election drubbing that could halve its parliamentary presence.
Cowen, whose popularity has plunged into the single digits since his debt-stricken government had to request an EU/IMF bailout, has promised to call an election once legislation underpinning Tuesday’s austerity budget passes early next year.
After parliament passed a first budget resolution, vital to receive the first international loans, Cowen came out fighting yesterday, saying he would still be in charge by then.
Finance minister Brian Lenihan, foreign minister Micheal Martin and arts minister Mary Hanafin have said they would be interested in the top job if it became free but one of them would have to challenge Cowen to prompt a pre-election vacancy.
Rumours have been swirling that Lenihan may make a move but party sources say the demand by the Greens, junior partners in the coalition, for an early election has shortened the timeframe so any challenge would have to happen before Christmas.