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Compared To U.S. Election Campaigns, Ireland's Are Much Shorter


The U.S. Constitution dictates that presidential elections be held every four years. But we know that the campaign before the vote seems endless. Ireland is much different. Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called a general election for next month. That means a campaign of just a couple weeks, which is enough says Irish Times journalist Hugh Linehan.

HUGH LINEHAN: About the time a campaign season should be without people getting bored, I think.

KING: So I asked him if all Irish campaigns are that short.

LINEHAN: Yes, they are. We have - I mean, I know it's probably too early in the day for a civics lesson, but because we have a parliamentary system and, you know, we don't elect our executive directly the way you guys elect your president, you know, we have a parliamentary election, and then a majority in the Parliament decides who's going to run the country for the next few years. And one of the things about that is that is then the person who usually decides when the next election should take place. Sometimes, Parliament falls apart for them, and they lose their majority and they're forced to go to the country, but usually they have some power over it themselves. So it's not allowed to be more than five years between elections, but it's only four years since the last one.

KING: In Ireland - I know it's a fairly small country. Do the candidates go around and visit specific cities and, like, give their pitch, grip and grin and all of that?

LINEHAN: You're quite right. It is a small country of about 4.8 million people, so it's about the population of Alabama. And it's a very kind of a gregarious, you know, intimate kind of a country. We don't have six degrees of separation. You'd be lucky to get two degrees of separation. You know, a very common opening line in a conversation is, oh, I used to know your mother, you know? So everybody knows their politicians very often. You know, I've met all my local politicians and not just because I'm a journalist. Everybody's kind of had a personal contact with people. So the doorstep - showing up on the doorstep and saying hello to people is important. Every day this week when I'm cooking the dinner, my doorbell has rung and there's been a politician on the doorstep asking for my vote.

KING: You say it's a virtue to get this done quickly. Why exactly?

LINEHAN: Well, in comparison with you guys - I watch you guys very carefully. I love the NPR Politics Podcast, for example. I listen to it all the time. And I listen to them agonizing at great length and very eloquently over Warren is up two points and Buttigieg is down five points and all these kinds of things. And I ask myself, how is this contributing to a better democracy? The quality of the debate that's going on - I'm sorry. I don't mean to be disrespectful.

KING: No, please.

LINEHAN: But the quality of the debate that's going on seems to just come down to a sort of, you know, a kind of an "American Idol" kind of a beauty contest a lot of the time rather than a really serious discussion of the issues. And, of course, there are serious issues. We've got exactly the same kind of problems that you guys have in many ways.

KING: Like what?

LINEHAN: Health care is a huge issue for us. Access to health care at an affordable price is a big, big issue for us. We have very similar divides between urban Ireland and rural Ireland as you have in the United States with people in rural areas feeling left behind, people in the cities feeling under pressure because they can't afford to find places to live - very, very similar kinds of questions.

KING: Why did the prime minister call this election?

LINEHAN: His position was becoming increasingly tenuous in part because he had lost some of his own party supporters, which can happen sometimes. So his majority or at least his control had decreased but also I think very importantly because that arrangement was largely contingent on a sort of unified national effort here in Ireland to get the best possible deal that we could get from an Irish perspective on Brexit. And as you probably know, the United Kingdom is now finally going to leave the European Union next Friday. So that particular project is over, and I think that's really what's driving the fact that this election is happening now.

KING: That was Hugh Linehan of the Irish Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.