Irish premier Brian Cowen will get a major boost today when his finance minister Brian Lenihan backs him in Fianna Fail's leadership battle.
Rebel minister Micheal Martin yesterday said he still wants to |be leader in the future — even if he fails to oust Mr Cowen tonight.
But the Taoiseach said last night he wants to stay on as party leader until after the general election “for however long as the party wishes to have me”.
Mr Cowen still appears to be favourite to win ahead of |a secret ballot to be held in Dublin’s Leinster House. He claimed he can survive today’s challenge when 71 TDs will decide his political fate at the crucial parliamentary party meeting.
“I remain confident, obviously, of the outcome,” Mr Cowen said.
“I think my decision to have a confidence vote will enable us to put this matter to rest once and for all for the foreseeable future.
“From my point of view, it is clearly the case that the settled view of the party is that I should lead Fianna Fail.”
His support is due to get a |potentially decisive boost later today, with sources indicating |Mr Lenihan is expected to row in behind him.
Mr Lenihan is widely seen as |a leading contender for the leadership, with Mr Martin and tourism minister Mary Hanafin in a battle for the position if Mr Cowen is deposed.
The finance minister said he would make his views known ahead of the meeting, scheduled to start at 5.30pm. But sources close to the minister said he |would throw his weight behind Mr Cowen.
“He has reached a conclusion. It's likely he will come out in favour of the confidence motion.
“There is important business to be carried out. There is a programme that has to be got through, especially the Finance Bill,” the source said.
But the vote is expected to be tight with a number of TDs declaring against Mr Cowen, including Willie O'Dea, who said the party faced an “unacceptably high risk of electoral annihilation”.
Mr Cowen's supporters were concerned about the large number of TDs who were not declaring their intentions publicly — and |if those who did were telling the truth. The latest tally shows some 31 TDs have vowed to support Mr Cowen at tonight's parliamentary party meeting.
Only nine Fianna Fail TDs |publicly pledged to vote against the Taoiseach in the motion |of confidence.
But the remainder of the 71 TDs were either refusing to state their position or not answering phone calls for the second day in a row.
A supporter of Mr Martin's believed from his own private tally that there would be a narrow majority against the Taoiseach.
Mr Martin said that even if Mr Cowen holds on, he still has ambitions to become leader after the next general election. He said the issue will be parked until after polling day.
“I'm running in the election campaign. I've been in various ministries and so on and senior positions in the party and, of course, I would be interested in the future if a vacancy arose.
“But I would accept that any decision tomorrow would be a resolution of the issue for the election and, indeed, beyond. I wouldn't be, in other words, leading anything in the immediate aftermath of the election,” he said.