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Irish PM survives confidence vote
Brian Cowen survives challenge to his leadership over an EU-IMF bailout ahead of parliamentary elections in March.
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2011 01:05 GMT
The government's handling of the economy has drawn widespread criticism from citizens [EPA]

The Irish prime minister has survived a leadership challenge from withing his party, allowing him to lead the Fianna Fail party into elections expected in March.

A majority of the 71 legislators from the ruling party chose on Tuesday to back Brian Cowen in the tense secret ballot, which was called in the wake of the country's decision to opt for an EU-IMF financial bailout.

"The Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party has voted confidence in the leadership of An Taoiseach [prime minister] Brian Cowen," the party said in a brief statement on its website.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Dublin, said that the voting figures would not be made public. 

"But it is my understanding that he won by somewhere in the region of 20-odd votes," he said.

The result followed a three-hour party meeting which included speeches from Cowen and his challenger, Micheal Martin, the foreign minister.

'Full support'

Cowen has now accepted Martin's resignation. Martin has said that the prime minister has his "full support as head of government".

The foreign minister had earlier challenged Cowen and called for a new party leader saying he could not support the premier because of his handling of the bailout.

Ireland became the second eurozone country after Greece to require assistance after it was forced to accept a package to which the IMF and the EU will contribute 67 billion euros ($90 billion).

Martin had dubbed Cowen's handling of the issue a "watershed moment", saying that the way the decision had been managed had convinced him to challenge Cowen for the party leadership.

Cowen has also been criticised for being too close to the disgraced boss of the Anglo Irish Bank. Anglo Irish had to be nationalised to prevent its collapse, and has become a symbol of the bad debts amassed by Irish banks.

Fianna Fail has dominated Irish politics for decades but faces the prospect of being removed from power at the election by a coalition of the Labour and Fine Gael parties.

Martin had termed his leadership challenge a matter of "survival" for the party.

"Fighting for survival'

Cowen called the no-confidence vote himself in an attempt to draw a line under the criticism of his leadership and said afterwards that he was pleased with the result.

He insisted the government had been doing "what's necessary for the country" to steer it through the economic crisis.

"We have been fighting for this country, for its very survival, for its sustainability against one of the greatest economic and finance crises we have seen in over 80 years."

Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, had pledged his support for the prime minister before the vote because while he has "had his difficulties", he remained the best person to lead the party into the election.

He said Cowen "has been totally supportive of me in cabinet on the financial programme that I have proposed to the government and that's the central core issue for this country".

Cowen, whose government term does not expire until mid-2012, was forced to concede the need for an early election in November when the smaller party propping up Fianna Fail in government, the environmentalist Green Party, announced its intention to quit the coalition.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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