I have been watching the progress of the Irish presidential election campaign from Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Buenos Aires is a city full of vitality and verve while the major Brazilian cities are focused on preparations for the Olympic Games and the World Cup. The population of Sao Paulo, at 20 million, is almost greater than that of Australia.
President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner holds a commanding lead of 60% as she faces a presidential election in Argentina this month.
Her former Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Ignácio Lula de Silva, left office last December but raised 30 million of his citizens from dire poverty in the seven years that he was President of Brazil.
The fact that none of the Irish candidates for President has successfully captured the public imagination to the extent that materially overshadows rivals is an indication of how utterly boring, weak and unconvincing each of the campaigns is. It is an ample demonstration of an inability to connect.
Frankly, if these candidates are as insipid at promoting their own credentials to become a global statesman of some consequence to the general public, how on earth could they possibly have any impact across the world as President and be fit-for-purpose to a public that hardly know where Ireland is?
From a candidate’s perspective, this phase of a campaign is not about being validated by those who are already convinced. It is about moving out of their comfort zone and converting the agnostics – be they ‘West-Brits, D-4 snobs, those who warmly welcomed Queen Elizabeth as well as those who did not’ etc. etc. The contest is for head of state, not head of enclave and that means reaching out to all components of society, even those who will never love or admire you.
None of them have yet demonstrated a credible understanding of the role they are seeking to occupy.
The campaign to date is based on reacting to adversarial shadows – some factually grounded, others less so. Why have none of them published sufficiently comprehensive curriculum vitae to inform strangers who they are? How many languages, for example, are each of them proficient in? What is the educational attainment of each candidate? How literate are each of them in economics? What are there hobbies and personal interests?
How can they honestly expect the electorate to become stimulated and passionate about vacuous slogans and meaningless shibboleths? The public will also quickly weary of any President whose tenure requires endless explanation of the mitigating reasons why he, or she, is the office holder.
The moral is to start showing some flair, energy, relevance and focus – even if most of them are north of 60 years of age seeking to establish stature with a nation, half of whose population is under the age of 35.
This is a presidential election campaign in a sophisticated sovereign State, not a mid-winter Grand National for paraplegic snails at Leopardstown Race Course intended to stimulate insomniacs.