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Leo Varadkar To Become Ireland's Next Prime Minister

| by Erik Kindel

Ireland is one step closer to having a new prime minister, as Leo Varadkar, a doctor and Ireland's current Minister for Social Protection, was named the new leader of Ireland's ruling Fine Gael party on June 2. Varadkar would be the Ireland's first openly gay prime minister, the first of Indian descent, and the country's youngest prime minister ever.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Varadkar was selected to replace current Prime Minister Enda Kenny, set to leave office after announcing that she would step down in May. Varadkar was projected to win over rival candidate Simon Coveney, Ireland's Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

The BBC reports that Varadkar beat Coveney with 60 percent of the votes. In his acceptance speech, Varadkar said he was "honored" and ready to take on the "enormous challenge" of being Ireland's next prime minister: 

If my election shows anything it's that prejudice has no hold in this Republic.... When my father traveled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed his son would grow up to be its leader.

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Any child growing up in Ireland now, I hope, looks at me and my unlikely story and my background, and everything about me, and perhaps says to themselves, that there is no office in this state that I can't aspire to, nothing that they can't do if they believe in themselves … But our job as a party is to make sure that every person in our country actually has those opportunities, because we don't have equality of opportunity in this country, there is great inequality of opportunity in this country, but as a party I want to dedicate ourselves to building a republic of opportunity.

Mr. Varadkar publicly came out as gay in the run up to Ireland's 2015 same-sex marriage referendum. Because of his background, many feel Varadkar has become the personification of the liberalization of a once socially conservative nation. However, despite his heritage, Varadkar has nevertheless come under fire for conservative economic comments.

Fine Gael is a center-right Christian Democratic party. The race between Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant father and an Irish mother, and his political rival, Coveny, a member of an important political family, is seen as emblematic of Europe's changing demographics and social morays.

But the Los Angeles Times reports that ultimately, it was Varadkar's charismatic and intelligent use of media to appeal to both urban and rural voters that led to his win.

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"It's not something that defines me," said Varadkar to an Irish radio station in 2015 during Ireland's same-sex referendum. "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."

Sources: Los Angeles Times, BBC / Photo credit: World Travel & Tourism Council/Flickr

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