The Labour candidate Michael D. Higgins has comprehensively won the Presidency of the Republic of Ireland. His rivals conceded defeat when it became clear that he had gained 40 per cent of the vote in the first round of the alternative-vote electoral system; and the final count gave the winner nearly 57 per cent on a voter turnout of 56 per cent. Mr. Higgins, known in his country as Michael D., had stayed out of several ugly controversies during the campaign. The key episode occurred when the Sinn Féin candidate, Martin McGuinness, a former Provisional IRA leader and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister who has disowned the violence of the past, accused the front-runner, independent candidate Seán Gallagher, of financial irregularities during the latter's time in the Fianna Fáil party. Mr. Gallagher's failure to rebut the charges decisively caused his support to plummet. The electorate then swung towards Mr. Higgins, who has been a Labour member of the Irish lower house, the Dáil Éireann, since 1981, and a former university lecturer. Among other things, he has strengthened Irish-language broadcasting and done much to promote a proud nation's arts and culture.
The Irish presidency is a non-executive office, but the election result has broad socio-political implications. For most of the campaign, Mr. Gallagher's business acumen as a millionaire from a modest early background resonated with the voters, as the economy is struggling despite a 2010 international bailout of €85 billion; but what cost him the public's trust was the link with his troubled former party. Secondly, broad Labour support held up. The party won the simultaneously held Dublin West parliamentary by-election even though its larger partner in the governing coalition, Fine Gael, crashed, coming fourth in both the by-election and the presidential election. That the voters rejected both Fine Gael and Mr. Gallagher is a development consistent with rising support for the centre-left in many regions of the world, from Latin America to continental Western Europe and now the United States, where the Occupy Wall Street movement is gaining ground. Mr. Higgins, for his part, has a strong commitment to human rights, and openly criticised many U.S. policies during Ronald Reagan's two White House terms. He will have a seven-year tenure as head of state. His predecessor, Mary McAleese, courageously strengthened links with Protestant leaders in Northern Ireland, and her predecessor, Mary Robinson, went on to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Higgins should prove a worthy successor.
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