When the wheels start falling off a political bandwagon they tend to all come loose together.

Such has been the experience of snake-bitten Prime Minister Brian Cowen who is facing political oblivion for himself and his party on March 11, date of the Irish election.

Indeed, Cowen's own party is so angry with him that he may not even last that long. there are already grim mutterings of a heave to replace him, despite the fact that he won a vote of confidence on Tuesday night.

But all has changed utterly since then.

Emboldened by his smashing victory, Cowen decided to box even more clever and replace ministers in his government who were retiring after the election with younger faces to give his party Fianna Fail a boost before the election.

Only problem was he neglected to inform his coalition partner that he was about to remake the front bench and bring in six newcomers.

The Green Party, not surprisingly objected and Cowen, at first, dismissed their concerns.

Perhaps it was a rush of blood to the head after his leadership victory, but he failed utterly to read the political situation right.

He did not realize that his decision to have six ministers stand down and be replaced would be widely viewed as just another cynical ploy from a government considered past masters of such tactics.

Arrogance can have that effect.

After all Fianna Fail have been in power for 22 of the last 24 years and have assumed a right to rule that is not dissimilar to the divine right of kings.

This time however, Cowen had badly miscalculated. the Green Party stood firm. Any new minister appointed without their approval would lead to an immediate general election.

At the last second Cowen blinked and backed down but the damage had been done.

His political coup of retaining his leadership vanished like April snow.

In its place was a fury and anger from his own party members who found themselves bounced into an election they wanted to postpone for as long as possible.

Journalists covering the Irish parliament yesterday said they had never seen anything like it. His own party was in open revolt, openly plotting to replace him.

Cowen had to concede a date for the election and share out the portfolios of the six resigned ministers among existing ministers.

The government faces an election with only nine ministers in office instead of 15.

It was the kind of power overreach that brought down Cowen's mentor in 1994 when Albert Reynolds fell over his inability to communicate with his minority partner.

Now Fianna Fail are facing into an election where they seem bereft of policy or leadership.

Europe's most successful party is in danger of total implosion and they only have themselves to blame.

The electorate will have its say on March 11 and the message for Fianna Fail will not be pretty.

Brian Cowen has a hard won reputation as an honest and decent sort who was unfortunate that the economy collapsed soon after he took office.

But his mishandling of the current crisis has left even staunch allies dismayed.

Which goes to show that even a few days is a very long time in politics.

On Tuesday night they had been singing his praises, now they want to bury him.

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