Ireland's main opposition party, the centre-right Fine Gael, called on Prime Minister Brian Cowen to dissolve parliament no later than the end of January for an election to take place.
Cowen, the most unpopular premier in recent Irish history, is widely expected to lose the election over his handling of a financial crisis that has forced Ireland to seek an 85 billion euro ($113.1 billion) EU/IMF bailout.
Opinion polls show support for Cowen and his Fianna Fail party at record lows, while Fine Gael is the most popular party. It is expected to lead a coalition government along with the centre-left Labour party after the election.
"To end the uncertainty and to give assurances to the general public, he (Cowen) should also announce that the Dail (parliament) will definitively be dissolved no later than the end of January and a general election take place," Fine Gael said in a statement on Saturday.
Cowen has promised to call an early election after parliament passes the 2011 budget, which calls for 6 billion euros in spending cuts and tax rises that were a prerequisite to accessing external funds to shore up the banks -- which Dublin has pledged to overhaul -- and fund its deficit.
Parliament has passed three of four bills underpinning the budget, with a final one on taxation measures expected to be voted on in January.
The 2011 budget is the toughest in a four-year austerity plan that aims to ultimately save 15 billion euros -- about 10 percent of annual economic output -- and get the worst deficit in the region back within EU limits by 2015 at the latest.
That, however, has not been enough to stop ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's slashing their ratings for the former "Celtic Tiger". Moody's on Friday cut Dublin's credit rating five notches to Baa1 from Aa1, with negative outlook.
IMF forecasts also show Ireland may miss a target set by the EU of cutting the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2015.
Should they win power as expected next year, the opposition will have to oversee the budget cuts. They have both said they want to renegotiate the terms of the bailout, but in practice have little room for manoeuvre.
"No credible apology has been offered for the catastrophic economic and banking failures for which the present Fianna Fail-led government and its predecessor are responsible," Fine Gael spokesman Alan Shatter was quoted as saying in the statement.
Labour MP Brendan Howlin said the opposition had made it clear they would want changes, including a renegotiation on the bailout interest rate. The IMF on Friday said the next government would not be able to amend the IMF interest rate or force senior bank bondholders to shoulder losses.
"There is an understanding that we will reopen negotiations," Howlin told state broadcaster RTE. Ireland's debt management agency has said the average interest rate on the rescue funds is 5.82 percent.
An opinion poll on Saturday showed just over 50 percent of Irish voters supported the bailout but said Ireland had lost its sovereignty by accepting the external funding.
Shatter also criticised the retirement of some Fianna Fail lawmakers in the run-up to the election, saying they did not want to be judged by the electorate.
"It is very much a spectacle of the Fianna Fail failers abandoning the sinking Fianna Fail ship," he said.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said on Friday he would not seek a nomination in the next election. Several Fianna Fail lawmakers have said they would not seek re-election, prompting criticism about their retirement and pension sums.
ReutersLast Mod: 18 Aralık 2010, 17:45