02 April 2004

Sonia as PM? Many countries had foreign-born at the top

2 April 2004
The Times of India

Many had foreigners at the top


NEW DELHI: Sonia Gandhi is not the first foreign-born spouse of an ethnic Indian head of government to aspire for the top post after her husband's death. In 1997, Janet Jagan, the US-born widow of legendary Guyanese leader Cheddi Jagan, was elected president of Guyana and ran the Souh American country till 1999.

But unlike Sonia, Janet Jagan — born Janet Rosalie Rosenberg in Chicago in 1920 — was a political veteran by the time she became President. She came to British Guiana to work as a nurse in 1943, a year after her marriage to Cheddi, whom she met in the US. In 1950, she and Cheddi founded the People's Progressive Party and remained political activists for the rest of their lives.

Like the BJP, Desmond Hoyte — Janet's rival in 1997 — tried to raise the 'foreign born' issue. But Guyana's voters didn't agree.

A random survey of recent heads of government internationally suggests it is not all that uncommon for foreign-born citizens to get elected to top political posts.

France: Valery Giscard d'Estaing, President from 1974 to 1981 was born in Koblenz, Germany in 1926. Edouard Balladur, French PM in the 1990s, was born in Turkey.

Canada: John Turner, Canadian PM in 1984, was born in Richmond, England.

Ireland: Eamon de Valera, the three-time PM who retired as president before he died, was born in New York city in 1882.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, recently prime minister of Belgium, was born in Montpelier, France.

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