It seems hard to believe that, back in 2004, we didn’t even bother to hold an election for Ireland’s president. There was no campaign and no election that year because our elected politicians prevented ANY opposition candidates from being nominated (not providing their support to Dana, who looks set to be frozen out again in 2011). This meant we faced an ‘ incumbent-only’ ticket – and hence held no election. We are happy to criticise such travesties when they take place in, say, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Sepp Blatter’s FIFA – but, as I recall, there wasn’t much of an uproar in Ireland at the time.
This time around, with the incumbent stepping down, an election is inevitable. This hasn’t stopped our elected politicians seeking to use their nomination powers strategically to benefit their party’s popularity, rather than focusing on putting forward candidates who could win broad support across the country. Even with this narrow objective in mind, spectacular incompetence has been demonstrated. Looking at how atrociously the nomination process has been managed by Ireland’s political elite, it’s hardly surprising that the exchequer is in the state it’s in. FF have particularly shown a lack of respect for the office of President and considerable political clumsiness. Having botched their effort to endorse a celebrity candidate – FF party policy is now to block the nomination of all aspirant candidates. I’m not clear on the logic behind this churlish decision – however their deputies and senators look set to show their usual deference to the party whip on this matter.
Nominating presidential candidates should be a simple process – Michael Gallahger’s recent post outlined many straightforward improvements that should be made to the way this is done. However, there are few sets of rules that could compensate for the partisan use of supposedly ‘above political’ nomination power by our parties and individual representatives. Our political culture facilitates and encourages nakedly partisan behaviour among our elites – even when it produces results that are sub-optimal for the public at large. As long as we vote for people who act in this way in Ireland, changing the rules can only help so much.
Several highly popular potential candidates have not been nominated (many people I talked to would have loved to see Fergus Finlay in the race, for example) and one of the principal frontrunners is struggling desperately for inclusion (D. Norris is on 18 Oireachtas votes at the time of writing).
In the meantime, of course, Ireland remains in an unsustainable fiscal position – and ultimately the presidential campaign is little more than a distraction from our deeper problems. Our political elite have demonstrated their inability to manage a transparent and nationally-focused candidate nomination process – which doesn’t exactly inspire hope in their capacity to forge a solution to our economic woes. On the plus side, at least we’ll have an elected (not appointed) president after October 27th.