What if there was an election and nobody won?

Guys, if I can briefly distract your attention from the ongoing flaming six-train pileup that is the US elections I need you to take a look at what’s happening in Ireland right now.

What’s happening in Ireland?

We had an election, and nobody won.

What? How is that even possible? Did nobody vote?

On the contrary, turnout this election was a very healthy 60%, down from 2011 but still high for a country where voting isn’t mandatory.

So what’s the problem?

Okay, a little background. Ireland elects the Dáil (our parliament) with the Proportional Representation: Single Transferable Vote. It’s the system that most accurately reflects the views of voters and using it makes the Dáil one of the most democratic legislatures in the world. Compare that to our upper house, the Seanad, which isn’t even fully elected and is probably the least democratic legislature in the developed world. Ireland: A land of contrasts. Basically in PR:STV you are allowed to not simply vote for your favourite candidate but to rank all the candidates in order of preference. This allows people to vote for smaller parties that better align with their politics without worrying that their vote will help parties they disagree with (think, being able to vote for Nader without worrying that you’re helping Bush to win).

That sounds super complicated.

It’s really not. You put a 1 by your favourite candidate, a 2 by your second and so on. Easy peasy.

No, I didn’t mean the voting, I meant the counting the vote.

That is SUPER complicated, yes. It’s a Lovecraftian, nightmare inducing madness but hey, I just vote so it’s not my problem. Although if you’re interested, this video explains the whole process better than I ever could.

So what happened?

The people cast their ballot and at the end the vote looked like this:


Holy shit that’s a lot of parties. What am I even looking at?

Okay, so the blue bar at the top is Fine Gael, currently in government in coalition with the Labour party (the lighter red bar). Second down is Fianna Fáil who’ve been the party of government for most of Ireland’s history but were banished to the land of ghosts and shadows in the 2011 election because the 2008 crash happened on their watch. They’ve bounced back in a huge way this election because apparently a quarter of the country suffered some kind of head trauma that effects medium term memory. The bright patriotic green guys three rows down are Sinn Féin who are ABSOLUTELY NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE I.R.A. IN ANY WAY AND NEVER HAVE BEEN.


And below them? That big long black 13%? The independents, just ordinary men and women without even a party who managed to collectively come in fourth over all.

In an anti-establishment mood are we?

Brother you don’t know the half of it. Then there’s Labour (centre-left), the far left People Before Profit-Anti-Austerity Alliance…

“FUCK OFF! Were the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit!”

Sorry, sorry. New centre left party the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and new centre-right party Renua.

Okay, well, Fine Gael clearly got more votes so don’t they win?

No, they just lost less than everyone else. See, in order to form a government a party has to have a majority of the 158 seats in the Dáil. As you can see, they don’t have that. They’re not even close. They’re closer than anyone else but still not close.

And this has never happened before?

Oh no, that happens all the damn time. It’s actually very rare that one party will get enough votes to form a majority and so most Irish governments have been a coalition between one of the two big Civil War parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) and a junior coalition partner (usually Labour, that tramp).

So why doesn’t Fine Gael just form a coalition government?

Good idea. One question. Who with? Fianna Fáil got the next largest tally and combining with Fine Gael would give a majority but there’s a problem.

Irreconcilable ideological differences born from deep-seated conviction and principle?

 Homer Laughing

No, they’re both middle of the road centre right parties with precious little daylight between their positions. The problem was that when I referred to them as “Civil War” parties I wasn’t being hyperbolic. These guys were literally shooting at each other ninety odd years ago. Any government they form is going to be unstable and also, super, super awkward as it would tend to be if you had to work with somebody whose grand-dad tortured yours to death in a shed in Cavan with a set of pliers.

Any other way this might shake out?

You got me. That big stack of independents is another wild card. See, unlike the other bars they don’t have a unified political position, that group includes people from Mao to Pinochet and all points on the spectrum in between. Really difficult to know just how much of that 13% percent Fine Gael might be able to peel off but even if they got the whole damn thing it wouldn’t be enough to keep their coalition with Labour intact.

What about Sinn Féin? They got 13% too…

Let me stop you right there. Not gonna happen. Neither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will go into government with Sinn Féin on principle and especially not with what’s been going on in Dublin’s gangland recently.

 Oh begorrah, a bit of a Donnybrook brewing between the clans?

If you mean a bloody and vicious spate of gang shootings, then sure. The media has been all over it and frankly Dublin for me right now is like Game of Thrones if you just tuned in halfway through; I have no idea who all these people are and why they’re killing each other. But since Dublin’s crime families are heavily intertwined with dissident Republican groups who HAVE NO CONNECTION TO SINN FÉIN AND NEVER HAVE.


It’s just not happening…


If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil aren’t able to come to an arrangement then there will have to be another election. If that happens either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil  may throw their hands up and say “Look, we know we said we’d never go into government with the Shinners but this is how you voted and someone needs to run the country so what do you want from us?”

So right now the most likely outcomes are an unstable coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that may well collapse sooner rather than later, or possibly another election with Sinn Féin actually taking power. Of course, even if FG/FF do manage to keep it together for the sake of the kids, that makes Sinn Féin the largest opposition party, which will be earth-shaking in and of itself. After all, the largest opposition party is essentially a government in waiting…

There was an election. And nobody won.



  1. I thought Irish politics were solved by getting your leprechauns drunk and making them fight each other like trained pitbulls. A lot of people have lied to me!!

      1. Seriously now, has Zootopia premiered around there yet? I realize the review will take a while, just like with Big Hero 6, probably as to better review it with a cooler mind past the initial good/bad impressions, but will we get at least a short ‘I liked/disliked it’ once you’ve first watched it?

      1. “What you call the disease/ I call the remedy/ What you’re calling the cause/ I call the cure”

        The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Another Drinkin’ Song.

  2. Yeah….Looks familiar. That is basically the reason why Germany has been governed by a grand coalition for so long. Neither SPD nor CDU are necessarily happy about it, but considering that neither of them would team up with the far left, the Greens currently don’t have enough support to prop the SPD over the CDU and would never work with the CDU, and the FDP actually managed to got voted out of the parliament because they were too busy with their infighting to pay attention to their voters – well, bottom line is that SPD and CDU don’t have any choice. They have to work together because if they don’t, the population sees them as little children who are not able to figure out how to fulfil the most basic of jobs.

    It’s one of the reasons why our government is currently so much in disarray. There are few themes in which the SPD and CDU are as far apart from each other as the asylum system.

    Good luck…might not be the worst experience, though. An instable government is risky, but sometimes the best changes come our of compromises.

  3. Your lack of election coverage has made it very hard for me to figure this whole thing out. Where have you been?

    Center-right is a generous description of Renua.

    20 candidates in my new mega-constituancy. I had to to roughly figure out the order of 19 other damn candidates in order to make sure Renua were at the bottom of my pile.

    1. Mini-Mouse has chicken pox so I’ve been occupied. Yeah, eleven candidates in my constituency. We’re spoiled for choice. Why Renua at the bottom if you don’t mind me asking? They haven’t even had a chance to fuck up yet.

      1. Oh poor mini-mouse. At least it’ll be out of the way.

        Flat tax rate shambles. Opposing abortion even when the womans life is at risk.

        I’m just a big old leftwing nutjob.

  4. G’day, Australian here.

    I just wanted to say that, it brings comfort to my soul to know that Australia’s not the only heavily stereotyped country (Didgeridoos, Dingoes, Boomerangs, Barbecues, Crikey, Steve Irwin, Crocodiles, Jellyfish, racism etc. ) to be undergoing some political turmoil right now.

    Not too long ago, Australia elected Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister. Now, for those of you who don’t live in the land of Lamingtons and Desert I’ll simplify and say that he was about as well liked as a moth up a nostril and yet was somehow elected in. He ran for short while until his own party booted out for reasons that can be summarized as “Struth, yer’ a right ol’ wanka aren’t ya!’

    Now we have someone else in, and from last I could tell, no one knows what theyr’e doing.
    Not quite as bad as having no one in charge, but still.

    1. Aw, now, don’t be so hard on the old Mad Monk. After all, *heheh*, shit happens, doesn’t it? And, ah, nobody is the, ah, suppository… of all wisdom. *lascivious wink*

  5. So… kinda like Sweden right now, ‘cept we might get the Nazi Party as their own majority if the other parties don’t get their shit together before the next election.

  6. What I’ve never understood about Irish politics is how can you sustain two main parties that are so similar. I know that Americans, including myself, complain about how similar the Democrats and republicans are but I can point to actual differences between them, even if they are not as big as I would like. I have no idea what the point of having both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is. I also can’t pronounce either of them.

    1. Congratulations! You have unlocked the super long answer! With regards to pronunciation first “Feena Fall” and “Finna Gale”. Secondly, you have to remember that Ireland is tiny and very homogeneous and that the kind of political polarisation that exists in the states just isn’t found here. The vast majority of us are on the same page on most issues (socially fairly liberal on almost every issue barring abortion, fiscally centrist with strong support for the welfare state). FF and FG don’t try to differentiate by going left or right because there simply aren’t enough voters to support them if they did. Instead, of “vote for us because we’re more liberal/conservative” the choice is always presented as “vote for us because we’re more competent/honest/their granddad tortured yours to death in a shed in Cavan with a pair of pliers.” An Irish government is like soup, and FF and FG are the water, almost totally flavourless on its own but still very necessary to make soup. The actual flavour (or Ideology) comes from the Coalition partner, the smaller party that has a specific ideology that will inform the government’s actions (environmentalism, social justice, law and order, whatever).

  7. You helped explain some points I’d missed about the election process, thank you! I didn’t have a vote this time (not a citizen still – can’t figure out the paperwork and not paying a lawyer to do it). But! I still have a vote in the US and it won’t be Trump. I’m rather feeling the Bern, but not set in stone yet.

      1. Of course – voted by post from here for Obama last two times. And I get senate votes, which are very valuable right now for the US. Just have to suffer the incredible farce that is going on over there for a while longer.

  8. Counting the votes in STV isn’t actually that complicated.

    1. Put all the ballots into piles, divided by the highest-ranked candidate.
    2. The candidate with the smallest pile is eliminated.
    3. Take the ballots from that candidate’s pile, and put each one in the pile of the highest-ranked candidate who hasn’t been eliminated. If all candidates on the ballot have been eliminated, bin it.
    4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until only one candidate is left. That’s the winner.

    1. Ah but It’s proportional representation. Which means that if a candidate goes over quota their excess votes have to be redistributed at random amongst the other candidates.

  9. We got a similar problem here in Sweden after our last election in 2014. There was even talk about a new election. But it was somehow sorted out…

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