The Irish Times view on presidential election: No foregone conclusion

Higgins’s advantages of incumbency do not mean the contest is over before it begins

The biggest danger to the return of Michael D Higgins for a second term as president could be the candidate himself – if he does not engage fully with the issues that arise during the campaign. File photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest danger to the return of Michael D Higgins for a second term as president could be the candidate himself – if he does not engage fully with the issues that arise during the campaign. File photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The proliferation of presidential hopefuls for the election which has been set for October 26th has raised the prospect of an interesting, acrimonious and potentially quite bizarre campaign over the next two months.

While the field will be whittled down to those who can muster the required support from Oireachtas members or local authorities, it now looks certain that there will be a number of candidates. The incumbent Michael D Higgins starts off as the overwhelming favourite. He has a clear head start over his potential rivals given his generally impressive record in office and his vast political experience.

Even with the low quality of the field so far, the advantages of incumbency do not mean that the contest is over before it begins. The biggest danger to the return of Higgins for a second term could be the candidate himself if he does not engage fully with the issues that arise during the campaign. The president has already shown some impatience with the media for raising legitimate questions about the expenses he has incurred in office and if he carries that approach into the campaign it could backfire.

Seán Gallagher during his campaign for the presidency in 2011 .Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Seán Gallagher during his campaign for the presidency of Ireland in 2011. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Higgins’s opponents will inevitably focus on the fact that he has gone back on the commitment he gave during the 2011 election that he would only serve one term. He will need to show some patience and humility in explaining why he has changed his mind. Neither can he afford to stand aloof from the campaign on the basis of the continuing duties of his office but will need to come forward with a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in his second term.

At this stage his main challenger would appear to be businessman Seán Gallagher, who came so close to winning the office on the last occasion

By the same token his rivals will have an even bigger task on their hands in explaining to the public why they should be elected in place of a man who has carried out the duties of office in a conscientious manner and has clearly won the confidence of the public.

At this stage his main challenger would appear to be businessman Seán Gallagher who came so close to winning the office on the last occasion. It will take more than sympathy for what happened seven years ago, when a fake tweet contributed – albeit in a relatively minor way – to his collapse, to persuade people that he has the qualities required for the office. Bizarrely, with the entry into the contest of Peter Casey, there are now three former Dragon’s Den contestants seeking the office.

Some of the presidential hopefuls clearly don’t understand the role they aspire to and have betrayed a woeful ignorance of what the holder of the office can and cannot do. Only when nominations are closed will it be possible to make a considered assessment of the merits of the candidates but it would be foolish to conclude at this stage that the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

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