Leo Varadkar, the son of a Mumbai-born doctor and Ireland’s first openly gay minister, was on Friday elected the leader of the ruling Fine Gael party, giving the Catholic nation its first prime minister-elect of Asian descent.
The 38-year-old Varadkar will become the youngest prime minister in Ireland’s history when he is confirmed in the country’s parliament later this month. He will also be one of the world’s youngest prime ministers.
The new Fine Gael leader will have to be endorsed by the independent members of the minority coalition government before he becomes the PM (Taoiseach).
Varadkar is the youngest child of Ashok Varadkar, who met his future wife Miriam, a nurse, while working in Britain’s National Health Service in the 1960s.
Varadkar came to personify the liberalisation of Ireland, which was long considered one of the most socially conservative nations. ((Twitter))
He was a practising doctor before joining politics and being elected in 2007. He made news in 2015 when he came out as gay, an announcement that was initially met with some shock by his father but who, he said later, was “very supportive”.
Outgoing PM Enda Kenny stepped down this week as leader of the Fine Gael party after six years as the prime minister. Varadkar is reported to enjoy much support in the party and from ministers.
Varadkar was elected leader of the ruling Fine Gael party even though a majority of its grassroots members voted for his rival Simon Coveney.
The final count, including all three electoral colleges, saw Varadkar win with 60% to housing minister Coveney’s 40% votes, news agency PTI reported.
His rise is remarkable in a conservative country that decriminalised homosexuality only in 1993 and did not allow divorce until 1996.
Ireland allowed gay marriage by a popular vote in 2015 but still has Europe’s toughest laws against abortion and Varadkar has campaigned for liberalising them.
Varadkar is in a relationship with Matthew Barrett, also a doctor.