It says a lot about the state of the parties in Ireland right now that the ‘government’ candidate and Sinn Féin’s were neck-and-neck all the way. In fact as I write they’ve just been eliminated together.
A quick explanation: In the Single Transferable Vote electoral system, you number candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. Votes are initially distributed according to the first preference, after which the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and the votes that went to them are transferred to the one marked as second. This process continues until one candidate has a ‘quota’ of votes, which in a presidential election is simply 50% of the valid poll. (If someone had gotten over 50% of the first preference votes the contest would have been over then and there of course, but that rarely happens.)
This is good because it takes into account the fact that voters may not only prefer one candidate, but particularly despise another. For instance I gave Seán Gallagher my seventh preference – out of seven candidates. (I could actually have not numbered him at all, but mathematically it would have made no difference.) A simple majority system can actually help the most-despised get elected, if their opposition is split among the less objectionable candidates. A case in point is 1990, where it would have given us Brian Lenihan Snr as President.
Sinn Féin’s McGuinness and Fine Gael‘s Mitchell were eliminated simultaneously because distributing the next-preference votes of either could not have elected the other, a logically valid time-saver. It is now theoretically possible that their redistributed votes could push Seán Gallagher over the finish line ahead of Michael D. Higgins in the most astonishing electoral reversal since, well, since yesterday. But that won’t happen. Both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael voters are going to strongly prefer the official Labour candidate over the unofficial Fianna Fáil. In fact all other candidates have conceded, so the count is something of a formality at this stage.
But to get back to the original point, Michael D. was never really seen as representative of government – perhaps because he’s a socialist. Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell was taken by the electorate to be the official candidate of a government swept to power in February on a mandate for change – yet there is little between his vote and that for the man who is widely believed to have been leader of the IRA. I was surprised by this. I really thought Martin McGuinness would do better.
- One Race But Three Victors (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Michael D. Higgins Set to Be Ireland’s New President (nytimes.com)
- NI implications of McGuinness’ embarrassment in ROI election. (politics.ie)