Monday, May 07, 2007


In their millions, the French went to the polls yesterday and elected their president for the next five years. M Nicolas Sarkozy, the 52-year old conservative candidate, obtained a clear mandate to carry out change – or what the French voters perceive to be change.

The French Ministry of Interior has released the final results

Registered Voters: 44,472,363
Votes cast: 37,343,469
Valid votes: 35,774,019
Participation: 83.97%
Abstention: 16.03%

M Nicolas Sarkozy / 18,983,408 votes / 53.06%
Mme Ségolène Royal / 16,790,611 / 46.94%

The first female candidate with a serious shot at obtaining France's highest elective office, Mme Royal attempted to run a campaign that would federate the Left against the Right and carry her in electoral triumph to the Elysée Palace. Some apparently minor errors were made, however, by her and by the Socialist Party backing her. Taken together, these mistakes might even have cost her thousands and thousands of votes.

The initial error was obviously an overreliance on the "vote for me, I'm a woman !" strategy. The French, forever Cartesian, saw that if such a strategy were deemed acceptable – voting for a given candidate because of her/his sex - then so was its obverse: voting against Mme Royal because of her sex. One cannot have one's cake and eat it, too, after all (On ne peut pas à la fois avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre !). At the end of the day, it turned out that more women voted for M Sarkozy than for Mme Royal, according to the polling organizations. Perhaps this wouldn't have been the case had Mme Royal not taken refuge in her je suis une femme refrain when not knowing - or when unsure of - what to say, which happened far too frequently to be an accident.

A second, more substantial mistake – at least in Amerloque's view – was Mme Royal's strategy of demonizing M Sarkozy. Instead of concentrating on picking holes in his program, she and her campaigners focused on the man himself – even on his short stature. Asserting that he would be responsible for "civil war" in the projects, that the suburbs would erupt in protest should he be elected, that there would be "violence" and civil strife in French society throughout his term: these were felt by many French people to be threats and, by some, to be even calls for such violence. As one Frenchman stated to Amerloque: "Why should I and my family be hostages to the troublemakers living in the projects ?" (Pourquoi ma famille et moi devons-nous nous sentir comme otages de ceux qui vivent dans les cités ?). How many French people voted against Mme Royal because of her fatuous predictions of violence is for the moment impossible to say, but Amerloque wouldn't be surprised to find out that her threats were received very, very badly by some voters, not all of whom were leaning toward M Sarkozy at the outset – the centrist ones, for example. To his enormous credit, M Sarkozy never responded to Mme Royal's insults and jibes, but simply wondered aloud why she found it necessary to use such language about him.

A third error was not giving the appearance of leading, but of following. Mme Royal and the press made much of her hundreds of hours of consultation with voters from all walks of life and backgrounds, and her subsequent construction of her electoral platform based on what "the people" allegedly told her. Yet even up to the bitter end she never really appeared to grasp the fact that as president she would be president of – and responsible to - all the French people and not just her voters. An example: this was particularly obvious during the single televised debate against M Sarkozy which took place several days before the second round. Her lip curled, and her disdain was plain for all to see, when she spoke of the powerful French Employers' Federation, the MEDEF. This was not lost on entrepreneurs and the members of the business community, who of course, are voters, too. Her apparent reluctance – or perhaps simple inability - to estimate the cost of her reforms and entitlements, coupled with her general and repeated fuzziness about economic matters, reinforced the appearance of her being a follower of pure vanilla Socialist doctrine, rather than being a leader who was willing to modify classic tax-and-spend remedies and try something better. The French want a leader as president, not a follower.

Now it remains to be seen whether M Sarkozy can fulfill the promises he made to the voters to "break" with the past and pushed through a reformist program to "change France". It will be tough for him, perhaps even more difficult than it appears at first glance.

Although the French president has significant powers all on his own, he needs a majority in the Assemblée Nationale to present and pass the necessary laws. Legislative elections are scheduled during the month of June. M Sarkozy and his party will be pulling out all the stops to win those elections - and so will the Socialists. Whatever centrist party M François Bayrou, the third highest vote getter in the first round of elections, manages to cobble together between now and then will be contesting seats, too. The small parties, as well as the Front National, will also be in the electoral arena, attempting to persuade voters that they are relevant to and necessary for France. So M Sarkozy's first task is to transform his presidential victory into a victory in the forthcoming legislative elections. If he doesn't, then he simply won't be able to deliver on his reforms in the short term or medium term.

Other possible roadblocks for M Sarkozy are French institutions. Some of them have been in place for over one hundred or one hundred fifty years and represent bastions of privilege, power and inertia that will be hard to change. Many institutions of the Fifth Republic, though, date from only a half-century or so and are more malleable and ripe for reform. One relatively recent institution that M Sarkozy might have trouble with is the ENA (Ecole Nationale d'Administation), the training school for highly ranked civil servants. Contrary to quite a number of movers and shakers in the top ranks of French society (including Mme Royal), he is not one of its graduates - and hence will not be bound by its old boy network. This could be a double-edged sword for him. Actually the left – and most particularly Mme Royal, given her incessant personal attacks on M Sarkozy – should be very happy indeed that there are institutions that M Sarkozy will have to work with, for they will act as natural brakes on reforms which - perhaps – might be too "violent" or "brutal" to be palatable.

The French economy is sick, although not as ill as portrayed by the proponents of déclinisme, who have a tendency to fixate on simple figures rather than on the big picture. What is blindingly clear, in any event, is that one cannot cure an illness with medication if the medication applied is not the right medication because the diagnosis of the illness is wrong. Amerloque is far from convinced that M Sarkozy – and the conservative wing in France in general – has made an accurate diagnosis of just what is wrong in France, and why. Applying a made-in-the- USA (or made-in-the-UK, or made-in-Sweden) remedy to a given problem in France just might not do the trick. Such remedies might be tried and applied, but the expected results just might not be there, because the contexts are different. M Sarkozy will probably learn this very, very quickly. (One only has to look at how educational theories imported from the USA into French schools have changed the French educational system during the past twenty-five years, for example.)

Vox populi, vox dei, as the old saying goes, and the people have spoken. Stepping back and taking a hard look today, the day after the election, what does Amerloque see ?

He sees that France's new president is a first generation Frenchman: M Sarkozy's father was an immigrant from Hungary. This appears to be lost on the inhabitants of the projects who, in many cases, are first generation French men and women themselves. What better example could there be of integration into the French mainstream ?

He sees that M Sarkozy is apparently a convinced European - and that he refuses the entry of Turkey into the European Union, because Turkey is not in Europe but in Asia Minor. He sees that M Sarkozy believes in the proverb "better a good friendship than a bad marriage", insofar as Turkey is concerned, at least. He also sees that M Sarkozy wants France to resume its "rightful place" in Europe and European affairs.

He sees that M Sarkozy might be capable of surprising quite a few people. As a matter of fact, in his first speech, President- elect Sarkozy spoke specifically of America, of the United States. He stated:

I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her …/… But I want to tell them as well that friendship is accepting that one's friends can act differently, and that a great nation like the United States has the duty to not obstruct the fight against global warming but, on the contrary, to head this struggle because what is at stake is the future of all humanity.

Amerloque sees a career politician for whom politics is the art of the possible. Hence the question is not really how much will M Sarkozy do, but how much he can do.

Bonne chance, President Sarkozy ! Vive la Republique, et vive la France !


Update on May 21, 2007: As usual in May, the quality of life in France asserts itself thanks to public holidays. From April 28th to May 31st, there are three four-day weekends and one three-day weekend ! Hence Amerloque is taking a short break. Back soon !

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