Ireland′s governing Fine Gael elects Leo Varadkar as new leader | News | DW | 02.06.2017
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Ireland's governing Fine Gael elects Leo Varadkar as new leader

The 38-year-old Leo Varadkar is set to become the first openly gay prime minister of the Republic of Ireland. The son of Indian immigrants will be the youngest person ever to hold the office and the youngest EU leader.

The current prime minister or "Taoiseach," 66-year-old Enda Kenny, announced his resignation last month after six years at the head of the centrist party, setting off a battle to lead the ruling Fine Gael.

On Friday, Varadkar won the leadership contest with 60 percent of the electoral college against his only rival Simon Coveney on 40 percent, the party said on Twitter. Varadkar is set to become the youngest leader in the European Union in what is being seen as a change in political generations and social outlook in Ireland.

"If somebody of my age, of my mixed-race background and of all the things that make up my character can potentially become leader of our country, then I think that sends out a message to every child born today that there is no office in Ireland that they can't aspire to," Varadkar told Newstalk radio earlier this week.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party voted overwhelmingly - 70 percent - in favor of Varadkar while members - 65 percent - had favored Coveney. As Varadkar was backed by most lawmakers and local representatives, he gained victory under the center-right party's electoral college system.

Varadkar's position will be confirmed later this month after parliament resumes after a break. 

Youngest son of Indian immigrant

Varadkar's father, Ashok, a doctor, moved to Ireland in the 1970s and his youngest son was born in Dublin in 1979. He studied medicine at Trinity College and spent several years as a junior doctor before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010. He came to public prominence in 2015 when Ireland voted in favor of gay marriage.

Referendum über Homo-Ehe in Irland (Reuters/C. McNaughton)

In May 2015 Irish voters approved same-sex marriage in a referendum

The new party leader was first elected in local elections in 2003 and in 2007 to the lower house of Ireland's assembly, the Dail Eireann.

Varadkar is on the right wing of the centrist Fine Gael and has held three cabinet posts since 2011 - for social protection, health and transport, tourism and sport. He recently headed a publicity campaign highlighting social welfare fraud.

His most pressing first international task will be negotiating Ireland's new arrangement with the UK after it leaves the European Union. 

In a radio interview in 2015, Varadkar spoke for the first time about being gay: "It's not something that defines me. I'm not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It's just part of who I am. It doesn't define me. It is part of my character I suppose."

His partner is also a doctor, in Dublin.

jm/sms (AP, Reuters)

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