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