Hig­gins is a pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent but the peo­ple de­serve a say on sec­ond term

The Kerryman (South Kerry Edition) - - OPINION -

WITH the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion due to take place in a lit­tle over a year’s time, at­ten­tion is start­ing to turn to who, if any­one, will suc­ceed Michael D Hig­gins. Per­haps be­cause of the largely cer­e­mo­nial role filled by our Pres­i­dent, the search for Áras an Uachtaráin’s next res­i­dent hasn’t, thus far, cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion.

Sim­i­larly, the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties – prob­a­bly with an eye on their Gen­eral Elec­tion war-chests – also ap­pear less than en­thused about the con­test.

Such is the lack of in­ter­est that many in po­lit­i­cal and me­dia cir­cles are sug­gest­ing that Pres­i­dent Hig­gins should be ‘re-elected’ un­op­posed and au­to­mat­i­cally re­turned for an­other term.

To back up their ar­gu­ment, those call­ing for Pres­i­dent Hig­gins’ un­con­tested ‘elec­tion’ point to re­cent polls which sug­gest that a ma­jor­ity of Ir­ish vot­ers want to see him re­turned for a sec­ond term. How­ever, as is the case in all polls, the devil is in the de­tail. An Ire­land Thinks poll car­ried out in late Septem­ber claimed that 75 per cent of vot­ers want to see Pres­i­dent Hig­gins serve an­other seven years.

The re­sults of that poll are in­ter­est­ing but its find­ings, as pre­sented, were vague. Last week­end’s Ip­sos MRBI poll on the same is­sue pro­vides much more de­tail.

That poll also re­veals sig­nif­i­cant back­ing for Pres­i­dent Hig­gins, with 64 per cent back­ing him for a sec­ond term.

How­ever, of those who would like to see Pres­i­dent Hig­gins back in of­fice, just two thirds said they wanted to see him re­turned au­to­mat­i­cally.

That equates to just 41 per cent of those polled, mean­ing a clear ma­jor­ity want, at the very least, to see an elec­tion.

This is only right and fair. Though Hig­gins is gen­er­ally per­ceived to have per­formed well since tak­ing of­fice, he is far from uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar.

In par­tic­u­lar, Pres­i­dent Hig­gins’ ill-judged com­ments laud­ing Cuban Dic­ta­tor Fidel Cas­tro – a vi­cious tyrant adored by many on the left de­spite the fact that he ab­horred democ­racy – in­fu­ri­ated many, in­clud­ing plenty of Hig­gins’ own sup­port­ers.

In ad­di­tion, it should be noted that Pres­i­dent Hig­gins re­ceived only 39.6 per cent of the first pref­er­ence vote in 2011, far from an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity. Oth­ers op­posed to an­other Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion point to the po­ten­tial cost of a vote.

Given that Ire­land is due to hold a num­ber of ref­er­en­dums in Oc­to­ber 2018 that is a moot point. It would be rel­a­tively easy to hold the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion on the same day and by do­ing so it might help boost turnout for each vote.

It is easy to ar­gue that, given Hig­gins’ pop­u­lar­ity and the per­ceived unim­por­tance of his of­fice, that we don’t need an elec­tion.

The no­tion that we would have an un­elected Head of State goes against the most ba­sic tenets of democ­racy.

The peo­ple de­serve to have their say. Let Pres­i­dent Hig­gins’ pop­u­lar­ity be tested at the bal­lot box. If he wins a sec­ond term so be it, but let it be after a fair and open con­test.

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