It’s official: Ireland has elected a 38-year-old gay Asian doctor as its new prime minister

Image: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne
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Update (June 14): Leo Varadkar was officially elected prime minister by the Irish parliament, by 57 votes to 50, with 47 abstentions.

Some say he’s cut from the same cloth as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Others have pegged him as a right-wing ideologue. Either way, the election of Leo Varadkar as Ireland’s next prime minister would be an historic moment for the country.

The openly gay politician and son of an Indian immigrant was 27 when he was elected to Irish parliament. Now, at 38, he’s on course to become Ireland’s next Taoiseach (prime minister) in a June 2 race. If he succeeds, he’ll be the youngest politician to hold the office and the first of ethnic minority heritage. “It’s not something that defines me. 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,” Varadkar told RTE 1.

Varadkar, normally a fiercely private politician, came out publicly in 2015, as Ireland geared up for an historic vote on legalizing same-sex marriage. The staunchly Catholic country, which only legalized homosexuality in 1993 and introduced divorce shortly thereafter, was the first country to legalize same sex marriage by popular vote, with an overwhelming majority.

Currently the minister for social protection, Varadkar announced his intention to run for PM after Enda Kenny, the current premier, said he was stepping down from the Fine Gael party leadership and the premiership. Varadkar is up against housing minister Simon Coveney, who sits more on the center-left of the same party, which has long dominated Irish politics.

Varadkar currently has a commanding lead over Coveney—ahead 46 to 20 among the 73 lawmakers in his party (lawmakers account for 65% of the selection vote).

His ascent hasn’t taken long. After working several years as a doctor before entering Irish parliament, he was quickly promoted to the front bench, first appointed as the minister for transport, tourism and sport, then tasked with leading the health ministry, then onto the ministry of social protection.

Socially liberal and economically conservative, Varadkar has irked the left in parliament by stressing personal responsibility over state intervention. Earlier this year, he launched a campaign against so-called “welfare cheats” (paywall), setting up a hotline so members of the public can report benefit fraud.