Leo Varadkar, the son of a Mumbai-born doctor and Ireland’s first openly gay minister, is widely tipped to become the country’s new prime minister on Friday, giving the Catholic nation its first leader of Asian descent.
If elected by the ruling Fine Gael party, 38-year-old Varadkar will become the youngest person to hold the office and also one of the world’s youngest prime ministers. Varadkar has already built a formidable lead over housing minister Simon Coveney to succeed Enda Kenny, the current Taoiseach (prime minister).
It's been a great campaign. I want to say thanks to all the volunteers, members & Cllrs I met over #FGLE17 for the warm welcome. Thank you
— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) June 1, 2017
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.
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”.
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.
The contest for the next prime minister will be decided on Friday and the result is expected by 10 pm Indian time.
Varadkar’s 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.
Talking about the top job, a cautious Varadkar told Sky News: “I’m not counting my chickens. I’m really humbled at the level of support I have received from my colleagues and I am really looking forward to the hustings and the debates.”