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Exit polls: McAleese next Irish president

McAleese

Would be first leader from Northern Ireland

October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 8:29 p.m. EST (0129 GMT)

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- Mary McAleese, a lawyer and professor from Belfast, will be the next president of Ireland, according to exit polls conducted during Thursday's vote.

Irish television projected that McAleese, backed by Ireland's largest political party, Fianna Fail, will take 46 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Mary Banotti, a member of the European parliament and Fine Gael, the nation's second-largest party.

Three other candidates trailed in single digits. Actual counting of the ballots won't begin until Friday morning.

If McAleese wins, as expected, she will be the first Irish president from Northern Ireland.

vxtreme CNN's Richard Blystone reviews the campaign and the candidates.

Though Northern Ireland is British territory and not under control of the Irish republic, the Irish constitution allows people who hail from the north to claim citizenship and run in Irish elections. However, residents of Northern Ireland were not allowed to vote Thursday.

Four women in the race

McAleese also would be the second woman in a row to capture the presidency in this traditional Roman Catholic society. Mary Robinson broke the gender barrier in 1990, becoming the country's first female president.

This time around, four of the five candidates in the race for the largely ceremonial post were women.

Joining McAleese and Banotti in the field was Rosemary Scallon, better known as the noted Irish singer Dana, who is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives in the U.S. state of Alabama. She stressed traditional Catholic values in her campaign but pulled only 9 percent of the vote, according to exit polls. Also running was anti-nuclear campaigner Adi Roche.



A L S O :

Detailed map of Dublin


Derek Nally, the only man in the race, rounded out the ballot.

voting

About 2.7 million voters were eligible to go to the polls. Projections of turnout showed it at just 40 percent, which would be the lowest ever recorded.

On election day, voters in the capital, Dublin, faced the added complication of snarled traffic from a taxi strike.

Under the complicated Irish election system, voters pick both a top choice and a second choice for president. Trailing candidates in the first count are then eliminated, and the second choices are distributed to pick a winner.

Pre-election surveys suggested that McAleese would pick up crucial support as weaker candidates were eliminated.

Robinson gave post new influence

Filling a position a little like a monarch -- albeit with respectability instead of splendor -- Robinson gave the post newfound influence, personifying Irish values and aspirations and projecting them abroad. She stepped down as president to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Robinson

Since the last time a male won the Irish presidency, the country has changed profoundly. An economic boom has created a cosmopolitan, sophisticated Ireland, diverse and Europe-oriented. A country whose people often emigrated abroad to escape poverty now welcomes back 15,000 expatriates a year.

"It's only in recent years that we've had economic success, social success, success in the arts, success in sporting achievements. And all of this has contributed to a huge psychological renaissance," said Gerard Hogan of Trinity College.

"A dynamic and exciting campaign reflects the fact that there is a lot going on in a very diverse and complicated and emerging society."

The sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland emerged as a hot issue late in the race.

McAleese was accused of being a tacit supporter of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army -- a charge she denied.

"I don't believe that anything that has happened on this island politically justifies the spilling of one drop of blood," she said.

Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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