by Frank Schnittger
Sat Oct 29th, 2011 at 02:49:15 PM EST
Michael D. Higgins celebrates victory with his family
Michael D. Higgins, Labour candidate and long time civil rights advocate has won the Irish Presidential election by a wide margin. Opinion polls, up to last Sunday, were showing Sean Gallagher, former Fianna Failer, reality TV star and dodgy businessman with a strong lead. Public perceptions changed dramatically following a Presidential debate on Monday where Gallagher was exposed as a "bagman" or senior fundraiser for Fianna Fail and also raised questions about his business ethics which were never satisfactorally answered. The worry is he came within a week of being elected - the power of positive re-branding and the desperation of the electorate for a new face almost led to the election of someone with a very shallow CV.
The table below shows the dramatic swing in public voting intentions in the last few days of the campaign by comparing opinion poll results with the actual outcome:
Basically there was a swing of 10-15% from Gallagher to Higgins in the last week. Details of who switched to who are contained in an RTE exit poll here. The other candidates performed more or less as expected based on poll predictions. Martin McGuinness finished third and consolidated Sinn Fein´s attempt to displace Fianna Fail as the third largest party. Gay Mitchell obtained a disastrous 6% considering his party, Fine Gael, is still registering 35% support in the polls. David Norris received a creditable 6% to finish fifth and the first of the genuine independents. Mary Davis and Dana Rosemary Scallon were more or less humiliated on 3%.
Turnout was a respectable 56%, and Michael D. Higgins ended up winning by a very wide margin of 57% to 35% for Gallagher when all the other candidates has been eliminated and their votes redistributed based on their voter´s next preference vote. For details of how lower preference votes were redistributed, see here.
Labour had an exceptionally good day in that their candidate, Patrick Nulty, also won the bye election in Dublin West for the seat left vacant by the death from cancer of former Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan. This is the first time since 1982 that a governing party has won a bye election and means that Fianna Fail now has no sitting members of Parliament in the whole of the Dublin area. See detailed count results here. The Fianna Fail and Independent Socialist Party candidates were tied for second place which indicates just how much Dublin has moved to the left.
A referendum to change the constitution to allow Judges pay to be reduced in line with civil servants pay was passed by a 79% to 21% margin despite claims from some lawyers that this could interfere with judicial independence. Irish judges are amongst the highest paid in the world but the constituion, up until now, did not allow their pay to be reduced.
A second referendum, to allow the Houses of parliament to conduct investigations and make findings of fact against individuals was defeated by 53% to 47%. Despite the fact that many judicial investigations have proved to be hugely expensive, many voters were concerned that transfering the power of investigation to elected politicians was not consistent with maintaining their civil rights.
So what effect, if any, will the election of Michael D. Higgins to a largely ceremonial office have on Irish politics? The following are some suggestions taken from my comment below.
1.An emphasis on human rights abroad and inclusiveness at home.
2.A broadly pro-EU attitude (in contrast to Dana) and a social democratic political ethos with state intervention still seen as essential to moderate the effects of neo-liberalism and the markets.
3.A continued rejection of crypto Fianna Fail style "entrepreneurship" and gaming the industrial support policies of the state.
4.A defeat of any attempt to panic the polity into a fascistic or demagogic reaction to the economic crisis.
5.A movement away from old style civil war politics (a la Gay Mitchell). Fine Gael is on notice that its mandate is to fix the economy, not to engage in old style Tit4tat with Fianna Fail.
6.A continued rejection of the legitamacy of the physical force traditions of republicanism (a la McGuinness).
7.The mainstreaming of LGTB issues with Norris getting a decent level of support despite a disastrous campaign.
8.The mainstreaming of Labour in the West - Labour has traditionally not done well in the west and north west
9.A reaffirmation of the role of trade unions and a less confrontational style of politics between the publc and private sectors
10.A rejection of shallow reality TV style personality politics in favour of a track record of consistency and achievement over along period.
In other words a relatively mature demos in a still functioning democracy...