International reaction to Higgins win

Sun, Oct 30, 2011, 01:00

With such a diverse cast of characters vying to succeed Mary McAleese as President of Ireland, the election campaign received wide coverage across the globe.

The electoral success of Michael D Higgins was well received, even if it did give some media organisations a golden opportunity to hark back to stereotypes about leprechauns.

Much of the commentary focused on Mr Higgins' humble background, his poetry and his intellect but there were also plenty of references to his short stature too.

Referring to "the little man who resembles a bard or a leprechaun, depending on your point of view", the Spectator said he was "the least unprepossessing" of the seven candidates. "And for those who prefer age and experience to the alternative, he’s undeniably got both," it said. "You could say it’s a victory for non-partisan, non-party politics."

The Washington Post noted that "local satirists sometimes depict him (Higgins) as an elf, hobbit or leprechaun talking in riddles and verse".

The Chinese news agency Xinhua noted that as a published poet, Mr Higgins' adeptness at language was an asset to him as a candidate. "Some voters said they were initially sceptical of Higgins' short stature, which had been the butt of many jokes," it said. adding that his "long career in politics ultimately worked in his favour".

The Guardian said elevation of Mr Higgins' to the highest spot in the land would "delight the arts and sports communities" in Ireland. "The Irish Labour party candidate, who projected himself as a grandfather figure rising above all the controversies of the presidential campaign, will be an eclectic titular leader of his country, it said.

The London Independent said that Mr Higgins is regarded as a "fairly unconventional politician," who was "noticeably to the left" in Irish terms. "He is something of an iconoclast, has a pronounced independent streak and is by no means a creature of the establishment," it said.

"The new president has the advantage of being personally popular both with the public and the political classes, where he is regarded as an individualist. While he is viewed as possessing gravitas, he is often satirised for his short stature and high-pitched voice which, together with his commitment to the arts, have brought him the nickname of Michael Twee."

Referring to the President-elect as "Mr Safe Hands," the BBC News website said Mr Higgins "oozes trust, authority and dignity".

It added: "It is what the Irish people wanted after three years of political upheaval and economic turmoil. Few in Ireland are better equipped for that part of the presidency."

The Daily Mail praised Mr Higgins for running a campaign with an air of restraint and caution. "The Galway politician stuck to his tried and trusted canvassing techniques - pressing the flesh and posing for pictures - and evaded the mudslinging that engulfed much of the campaign for the other candidates. Even when it seemed it was in the 70-year-old's best interest to launch an attack on frontrunner Mr Gallagher, who had surpassed him the polls, the soft-spoken socialist refused to engage," it said.

The Scotsman said that during an often bad-tempered campaign, Higgins "stayed above the fray and his record on human rights, in particular, won plenty of admirers".

The New Zealand Herald said the victory represented "a remarkable turnaround for Higgins," while the Oman Observer added that while he had been "dismissed by others as long-winded and pretentious, he kept a relatively low profile during a long stream of debates, leaving his rivals to attack each other".

The Times of Malta said "short in stature, with a bald pate and wispy white hair, Mr Higgins is an amiable figure who came through the election campaign by keeping himself above the mudslinging and muck-raking of some of the debates".