Leo Varadkar’s upcoming election as Ireland’s next Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) marks a huge shift in the previously devout Catholic nation’s politics.
At age 38, Varadkar is setting a milestone as the country’s youngest and first openly gay leader. The candidate, whose father was born in Mumbai in India, will also be Ireland’s first premiere of Asian immigrant descent.
Ahead of the contest to be decided next week, Varadkar, the recently appointed Minister for Social Protection, has already gained a significant lead over Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on the road to becoming the leader of the governing Fine Gael and prime minister. He is set to succeed Enda Kenny for the nation’s top post.
Varadkar, a trained doctor like his father, has been compared by his supporters to prominent world leaders Justin Trudeau of Canada and the recently elected Emmanuel Macron of France.
Supporters are reportedly anchoring hopes of political change with the new leader, following a decade of economic decline from the previous administration.
“We have come a long way and the fact that someone like Leo Varadkar, who is an openly gay man, living with his partner, can actually put himself forward for Taoiseach and nobody is batting an eyelid is wonderful and I think it’s a great day for Ireland that we can do that,” said former Fine Gael deputy leader Nora Owen as quoted by Reuters.
Observers believe that Ireland, which has been long considered one of the most socially conservative nations in Western Europe, is exhibiting its progressive new side with Varadkar’s impending win.
“He represents a party in transition in an Ireland in transition,” he was quoted by Politico as saying. “As one generation leaves the stage, a younger one is taking over.”
After Varadkar confirmed in January 2015 that he is gay via a radio program, he became the flag-bearer for a successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in May that year, which earned the country support from the international community.