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Ireland’s ruling Fine Gael party picks Indian-origin Leo Varadkar to be PM

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2017 AFP

Dublin: Leo Varadkar of the governing centre-right Fine Gael party is set to become Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister after winning a party leadership election on Friday, Fine Gael said on Twitter.

Varadkar, who at 38 will also be Ireland’s youngest-ever prime minister, won the contest with 60% against his rival, Simon Coveney, on 40%.

Varadkar’s pick represents a break with tradition also because he is the son of an Indian doctor father—an unusual heritage for an Irish politician.

While the overall result including the votes of party members, local representatives and parliamentarians went in his favour, Varadkar actually lost the popular vote to Coveney by 35% to 65%.

The Irish parliament is now set to confirm his nomination when it reconvenes on 12 June.

In his acceptance speech, Varadkar said he was honoured to be elected leader of Fine Gael and he was “ready for the challenges ahead”.

“As the torch of leadership and responsibility passes to a new generation of Irish men and Irish women, we reaffirm our commitment to govern for all generations and all people,” he said.

Varadkar succeeds Enda Kenny, who was party leader for 15 years and who will stand down as prime minister when parliament is expected to ratify Varadkar.

Under the party’s electoral college system, parliamentary party members account for 65% of the overall vote; councillors 10%; and ordinary members 25%.

Varadkar made all the running in the race to become next party leader, attracting many early public endorsements from high-profile members of his party.

In the end he attracted 51 of 73 parliamentary party members against 22 for his only rival, housing minister Coveney.

But there will be concern that the grassroots appear to consider him second best.

Flanked by Varadkar after the result was announced Coveney described the campaign as “sparky but dignified” and pledged to work with his rival.

Opposition MPs were quick to denounce Varadkar’s election, with his constituency rival Ruth Coppinger of the left-wing Solidarity party claiming that his campaign had given people a glimpse of the kind of divisive policies Fine Gael would like to pursue.

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