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A finely balanced battle for power

So, at last we have a contest, and if today's Sunday Independent poll is anything to go by, a finely balanced one at that. The most critical election campaign in the history of the State only really began last Wednesday but suddenly Irish politics is experiencing a belated left/right political divide.

And whilst much of the subsequent alarums were mere sham fights, at least a real debate about how we might stop mourning the past and begin to build a future has begun.

Next Friday, as part of this process, you will hold the future of the country, your children, your grand-children and your fellow citizens in the hand that marks the ballot paper. The right to vote may, during the Celtic Tiger era, have been exercised in a frivolous manner but in this election the voters appear to have realised there is no such thing as a consequence-free vote. Instead, today's Millward Brown poll suggests Labour, in particular, have found out the hard way that every vote has to be earned.

Political parties in election campaigns often resemble a tramp trying to leap on to a fast-moving train and, on this occasion, Labour are the ones who have fallen under the wheels. Everything they now do is wrong. Mr Gilmore's attempt to turn the election into a Rose of Tralee beauty contest is a busted flush whilst Labour's attacks on FG only strengthen the case for a single-party government.

The only thing that may yet save Labour's blushes is the immolation of a FF party which is so unloved some electors are refusing to vote lest anyone seeing their names on the register might think they voted for FF. As citizens queue outside garda stations to secure their place on the register it is equally heartening that when it comes to the SF siren, a cautious electorate are ignoring the temptation to vote irresponsibly.

The undoubted story of the campaign has been the achievement of the FG party in robbing the FF template for electoral success. This has not been entirely good, for something of the 'too cute for our own good' style politics of Bertie Ahern surrounds the fiscal footwork of Mr Noonan. Mr Kenny has, however, run a surefooted campaign, for when it comes to the battle of ideas, FG's may not be right but they are at least clear and they have a plan.

Indeed, even in these cynical times, the party's innovative Roosevelt-style proposal for a pro-jobs budget 100 days after they take office is encouraging. Somebody, at last, is doing more than simply running up the white flag before the gods of Brussels. And whilst not even his own would claim Mr Kenny is a new Roosevelt, if he was even a latter day Louis XIV whose greatness lay in his capacity to choose good advisors, that would suffice.

Three weeks ago, this paper suggested the dominant theme of this election would be the desire for political stability. Today's stark opinion poll findings reveal our people's spirit is as crushed as that of France in 1942. But whilst this means it is understandable the voters yearn for the certainty of having one captain, this will not be of much use if he steers the ship on to another set of rocks.

It is, however, now clear the defining question of the last week of Election 2011 will be single party or coalition government. It's your choice. Be careful out there on Friday.

Sunday Independent