DUBLIN – Michael D. Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist, was declared the winner Saturday of Ireland’s presidential election with nearly 57 percent of votes, and pledged to lift the spirits of a struggling nation.

Higgins said he wanted to help revive the public’s faith in politicians at a time when Ireland faces record debts, a property market collapse, 15 percent unemployment and a fourth straight year of severe spending cuts.

The diminutive Higgins, 70, beamed with pride as he received congratulations inside Dublin Castle from government leaders and rival candidates.

He announced he would resign immediately as president and member of the Labour Party, the junior member of Ireland’s coalition government, because his new role as ceremonial head of state meant he must be “a president for all the people.”

Higgins received more than 1 million votes of the nearly 1.8 million cast in Thursday’s election.

Once Higgins is inaugurated as president Nov. 11, he becomes Ireland’s senior ambassador, tasked with building confidence at home and goodwill abroad.

The Irish president wields no government power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to Ireland’s Supreme Court.

But the presidency enjoys considerable freedom to shape Ireland’s rapidly secularizing society by bringing different groups together at his Phoenix Park residence and traveling the world expressing his vision of what it should mean to be Irish in the 21st century.

Higgins is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing human rights causes worldwide.

He also is one of Ireland’s most instantly recognized politicians, in part, because of his 5-foot-4 stature and much-imitated high voice. Local satirists sometimes depict him as an elf, hobbit or leprechaun talking in riddles and verse.