Monday, May 07, 2007

French Elections, Aftermath

The conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, right wing UMP party candidate, won yesterday's runoff of the French presidential elections with a clear 53,06% against 46,94% for Ségolène Royal, the left wing Socialist candidate.

What next?

The Right

For the right wing UMP party it is now imperative to gain the majority in the next June's legislative elections. Before that, soon after May 16, the day of the power change at Elysée, a new government will be appointed. Mr. Sarkozy established a 100 days deadline to pass the laws needed to put in practice the major measures of his program. The expectations of the population are indeed huge if we look at the impressive 84% turnout in the runoff, so the hardest part begins only now for Mr. Sarkozy. A change in how politics has been done in France for the last twelve years of Jacques Chirac reign cumulated with the fourteen years of François Mitterand before him. Then Mr. Sarkozy is expected to tackle France's general malaise about high unemployment rate, low economic growth and a the highly sensitive and un-dealt-with immigration and social integration issues. Whether he will live up to the task is uncertain, but for now he managed to convince a large majority that he's the right person for the job.

Mr. Sarkozy's election is also a huge victory for his party, UMP, largely defeated in last year's regional elections. His victory gave the image of a new French center-right which doesn't avoid issues like immigration, authority of the state and national identity, which are the traditional themes of the far right National Front (FN) party. And yesterday's vote proved that people want this issues to be discussed openly in French politics and, most important of all that, solutions are expected.

The Left

Ségolène Royal losing the elections speaks for itself about the critical situation of the French Socialist Party (PS), this begin the third consecutive presidential election they loose since 1995. Mme. Royal's defeat is due to two factors. First of all she didn't have the full support of the big central personalities of the PS, heavily polarized between those wanting to reform the party, like Dominique Strauss-Khan, and those old-school socialists like Laurent Fabius who want to take it even more to the left. It is also her fault because she imposed herself as a reformist leader against the traditional socialist leaders, the elephants as they are called, therefore becoming completely isolated. The second reason is the lack of a program. Mme. Royal proposed the French voters a "presidential pact" of 100 points many of which were classic left wing proposals of increased spending without concentrating on the financing nor the benefits.

So the wind of change is again blowing on the left, and I hope that this time it's for good. Because the French left still impregnated with Marxist ideals is a left which no longer talks to the people, "the working class". French left needs its own Bad Godesberg, reforming into a modern left, a Social Democrat one, which must understand that wealth redistribution goes hand in hand with economic growth. But this time the surprise might come from the centrist François Bayrou and the new party he will announce on Thursday, Mouvement Démocratique, which he seriously intends to place in the opposition in the future parliament. And if he becomes the carrier of the new Social Democrat change he will badly damage the socialists.

The People

What struck me the most yesterday night was the impressive sympathy Mr. Sarkozy has created, 30.000 people were present at the party/concert organized at Paris in Place de la Concorde where he appeared around 11PM for a short but electric and emotional speech. In the meantime, in Place de la Bastille there were only 300 people giving some serious headaches to the riot police, the numbers being approximately the same in other cities, Marseille or Toulouse. Police reports say they were anarchists and far left activists.

But I saw also sad and revolting things, like young socialist supporters in front of the PS headquarters in Paris having written "Ashamed to be French" on their forehead or the aforementioned rioters burning French national flags in Toulouse.