Dublin: Prime Minister Brian Cowen today announced that he has resigned as leader of Ireland's dominant Fianna Fail party but intends to keep leading the government through the March 11 election. Opposition chiefs demanded his immediate ouster as premier.
Cowen's surprise move capped a week of political crises that brought his coalition government to the brink of collapse.
Never before in Irish history has a politician sought to remain prime minister without being leader of the main government party. Cowen pledged that the short-term split in power would not "in any way affect our ability to do our business."
Opposition leaders announced they would seek to oust Cowen as prime minister in a no-confidence vote next week in parliament.
Enda Kenny, leader of the main opposition Fine Gael party, said Cowen's "attempt to remain as head of government despite losing the confidence of his own party is another sad example of Fianna Fail putting their own survival ahead of the country's survival."
Kenny said the prime minister must resign from Cabinet immediately and permit a national election sooner than March 11.
"If he refuses to do so, Fine Gael will move a motion of no confidence in Brian Cowen as Taoiseach (prime minister) in the Dail (parliament) on Tuesday," Kenny said.
Cowen said he was confident of winning that vote despite his narrow and fluctuating parliamentary majority.
Since Thursday, Fianna Fail lawmakers had been demanding Cowen's resignation as party chief after he bungled an attempted pre-election Cabinet reshuffle. He accepted five rapid-fire Cabinet resignations in a precalculated move to promote fresh faces into Cabinet and boost their pre-election profiles.