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Charles Haughey has richly earned his nickname "The Great Survivor" -- he has shrugged off scandals and leadership challenges that would have toppled most other politicians.

The flamboyant millionaire with his own private island off western Ireland is also known as "The Boss" and "Ireland's Houdini" because of his determination to keep a grip on power and his ability to escape from tight corners time and again.

After just two years in power at the head of a minority government, Haughey has called for a general election June 15, convinced that he can secure the majority in Parliament that has escaped him thus far.

Haughey, 63, his popularity rating at an all-time high because of his get-tough approach to Ireland's debt-ridden economy, revels in campaigning. Supporters applaud him as a populist with a roguish image of a street-wise man of the people. Critics call the former accountant a ruthless autocrat with a lust for power and a will to survive at all costs.

A die-hard nationalist who has branded the British province of Northern Ireland unviable, he almost had his career destroyed by the sectarian and political conflict there. In 1970, he was charged with conspiring to smuggle arms to nationalist guerrillas. Although acquitted, he was pressured to resign as finance minister.

Clawing his way back to power, he became prime minister in 1979 when Jack Lynch resigned, but lasted just 17 months in the first of three stints in the job. He returned at the head of a minority government in 1982,but mutinous dissidents in his Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny) party tried three times to topple him. Scandals abounded,with a man wanted for murder being found in the attorney general's apartment, Haughey's campaign manager being accused of voting twice and two journalists having their telephones tapped.

After yet another spell in opposition, Haughey returned true to form as prime minister in March 1987 -- he scraped back into office thanks to the vote of the parliamentary speaker.

Since then, he has embarked on the harshest cost-cutting program in Ireland's history in a bid to balance the books and revive a battered economy. His single-minded approach has given him his highest-ever popularity ratings.

As justice minister, Haughey was tough on the Irish Republican Army. But he, like the outlawed guerrilla group, thinks that British withdrawal from Northern Ireland would fulfill their shared ultimate dream -- the predominantly Catholic south uniting with the mainly Protestant north.

While in power, Haughey has stuck firmly by the 1985 Anglo-Irish accord that gave Dublin a consultative voice in the daily running of the north. Reviewing the accord's third anniversary this week, he reaffirmed his total commitment to the landmark agreement. Scandals apart, he has survived a car crash, the sinking of his yacht and a serious fall from a horse.

He now is convinced that at the fifth time of asking, he can count on the voters -- who either love or despise him but never are indifferent -- to give him the majority he craves.

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