Dublin (Agencies): Ireland's government will hold a general election on February 25, expected to see it become the first administration ousted as a result of the eurozone debt crisis.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen and President Mary McAleese signed the declaration dissolving Parliament, and the election was called to take place two weeks earlier than initially planned.

Cowen will away from the campaign, having announced he is bowing out of politics after a bruising term as Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, in which a debt crisis brought down Ireland's one-time "Celtic Tiger" economy.

In November, Dublin was forced to agree an USD 117-billion bailout with the European Union and International Monetary Fund, in spite of Cowen insisting days before the deal that no emergency help was needed.

Ireland became the second member of the eurozone after Greece to seek a bailout, and the government has rushed through a package of austerity steps as a pre-condition to receiving the loans.

Opinion polls show that Cowen's Fianna Fail party, which has dominated Irish politics for decades, is moving ahead for its worst-ever electoral defeat as voters look set to punish it for the handling of the economic crisis.

The Prime Ministerdefended his record and insisted that the exceptional circumstances had forced him to take unpopular but essential decisions for the good of the country.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore stated that Cowen's coalition government had "brought down our country" and "tied our state to the sinking and stinking misfortunes of the banks and sold us out in the deal to the EU and the IMF".

"We are determined to lead a new wave of change, to fix a broken system, a system that has failed the Irish people," Gilmore expressed.