In October of this year, we will get to exercise that rarest of Irish electoral experiences, voting in a Presidential Election. It has been so long since we last did this, there are some who have forgotten how we choose our President. 14 years is indeed a long time between elections. Simply put, we get a ballot paper, like in a General Election and we number our preferences, just as in a General Election.
The only difference, is the level of difficulty in getting one’s name onto the ballot paper. In a General Election, one can be nominated by a political party, one can pay a several hundred euro deposit or one can get 30 fellow constituents to nominate you.
To gain a place on the Presidential ballot paper however, one must either be nominated by 20 sitting members of the Oireachtas, gain the support of four of the 34 Local Authorities or self-nominate, if one is the current President or is a former President, who has only served one term.
This October, we will be choosing the ninth person, since 1938, to be the President of Ireland and this person will be the first President elected, while Fine Gael are the largest political party in the country. This new President might also be the first ever Fine Gael President. How it must have rankled with the rank and file of Fine Gael, to have watched Fianna Fáil, all but monopolise this position for the last 70 years. Now however, they will get their opportunity to own the prestige of Presidency.
I for one would not begrudge them it. A few short months ago, almost 4 out of every 10 people who voted, put their trust in Fine Gael to sort out the incredible and disgusting mess left by Fianna Fáil. That’s nearly as many that once voted for Bertie Ahern. Fine Gael have become the largest Political Party, both locally and nationally, the Presidency is surely now their’s to lose?
Unfortunately, Fine Gael appears intent on winning the Presidency at all costs. It appears that they see the Presidency as a bauble for them to claim, another prerogative of the largest party. I thought Fianna Fáil were humiliated at the last General Election because of such presumption. I thought the electorate finally saw that Fianna Fáil had run this country for the benefit of Fianna Fáil. That in treating this country, its offices, resources and people as possessions, Fianna Fáil eventually ran this country off a cliff.
Did not nearly 40% of those who chose to cast a vote, not turn to Fine Gael for relief from this habitual and inveterate contempt. Did we not see in Fine Gael, men and women who were Irish and more, Irish democrats? Men and women who would attempt to save this Republic from the depredations of a felonious and fallacious Fianna Fáil?
Were we naive, we 25% of the electorate, who in voting for Fine Gael thought that they might hold to the high regard in which they were viewed? Or is this merely Fine Gael’s turn in the sun? Do they want the prestige, no matter who they walk over to get it?
As I write this, Fine Gael are bringing all their new found power to bear, to stop Independents running against them in October. Fine Gael control all but 13 of the Local Authorities and the Party has instructed its underlings to vote against all nominations for alternative candidates.
Are Fine Gael wrong to do this? If I was in Fine Gael I’d argue no. The more important question however is, are Fine Gael right to do this? Are Fine Gael right to exercise their legal right to crush opposition before it can even stand against them?
To answer, one should look to Australia. That country, has as its Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II. Are Australians monarchists? Far from it, they are quite republican. The only reason they continue to retain something as ridiculous as a Queen, is that the people of Australia cannot agree on how to choose a democratically appointed Head of State. In short, they don’t trust their politicians to not sully the process.
The alternative is the German method. Does anyone even now who the German Head of State is? I had to look it up, his name is Christian Wulff. There is no popular vote, he is chosen by politicians and by politicians alone.
So the Head of State can be a prize of birth, it can be the gift of politicians or it can be the democratic choice of the entire electorate. Ireland, in our wisdom, prefers to choose. Unfortunately we did not have the cynicism of Australians, to instinctively distrust the machinations of politicians. Thus our system allows politicians to subvert the spirit of our Presidency. They are busy trying to diminish democratic choice. They are busy converting The Presidency from the jewel in Fianna Fáil ascendancy to a Fine Gael trinket.
In October there is a chance that we will have but two candidates, both firmly representative of our politicians and the politician’s world. I cannot be anything but dismayed at this prospect. When I go into that voting booth, I want to be faced with many and difficult choices. I want to have an active part in choosing the face of Ireland, the pinnacle of democrat representation, the symbolic leader of this Nation. I do not want and I hope many others do not want, to merely be expected to endorse the choices of our petty politicians.
Please join me in urging our politicians to allow us, as wide and as varied a choice as possible.