Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen refused to resign Thursday despite mounting anger within his own party over his management of Ireland's European-record deficit and its international bailout.
Cowen successfully appealed to lawmakers planning a no-confidence motion to hold fire for a few more weeks. Crucially, his perceived chief rival for the party leadership, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, declined to declare his interest in ousting Cowen as many lawmakers expected.
The premier stressed he must be permitted to stay in power long enough for his government to pass emergency deficit-slashing legislation in coming weeks. Then he would call a spring election — a vote his Fianna Fail party is forecast to lose amid record unpopularity.
"There's very few people who feel he'll be (prime minister) after the general election. So Fianna Fail face a strategic decision whether they'll do any better or worse without him as leader for that election campaign. Either way he's already a caretaker leader," said Kevin Rafter, a political analyst at Dublin City University.
He said it was "quite obvious" that Thursday's swirling rumors among lawmakers of an imminent push to oust Cowen came from supporters of Martin.
Cowen's survival leaves Ireland's parliament on course to debate and pass the Finance Bill 2011, a measure that will raise income taxes as part of a wider plan to slash 6 billion euros ($8 billion) from this year's deficit, which has reached 32 percent of gross domestic product last year, a postwar European record, because of mammoth bank-bailout costs.
Unable to keep paying those bills, Ireland in November negotiated a 67.5 billion euro ($90 billion) loan agreement with European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund experts.
Cowen was finance minister during the final years of Ireland's 1994-2007 Celtic Tiger boom, which was driven in its later years by tax incentives that fueled a runaway property market. He became prime minister in 2008 right at the moment the boom started to go bust amid fears that Dublin banks had become critically overexposed to souring property loans.
Determined to stop an outflow of cash from Dublin banks, Cowen insured their global creditors. That gesture didn't prove sufficient. Five banks had to be rescued anyway in a bailout and nationalization program expected to cost taxpayers at least 50 billion euros ($65 billion) — a bill Ireland found impossible to finance on its own.
Pressure within Fianna Fail for Cowen's removal has been growing since his U-turn on taking the EU-IMF bailout, a rescue that Cowen had long insisted Ireland would never need.
Criticism has risen this week after a new book disclosed Cowen's previously secret meetings with former leaders of Anglo Irish Bank, the most reckless of the Dublin lenders responsible for most of Ireland's losses.
He told lawmakers Wednesday that he did have two dinners and played golf with Anglo directors in the weeks before introducing the state insurance for bank debts — but insisted they had only been "shooting the breeze" and never discussed Anglo's funding crisis.
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