Sarkozy Slap Down: Round One of France’s Regional Elections

Sarkozy Slap Down: Round One of France

Not to anyone’s great surprise, the first round of yesterday’s Regional elections in France, confirmed the Regions’ swing since 2004 to the rose [Socialist] – green [Green Party] banner, a movement accentuated by the government’s unpopularity, the “tradition” of punishing presidential midterm votes, and the popularity of certain outgoing Regional presidents, such as Ségolène Royal. However, the most significant fact is that the Socialist Party – European Environment Party duo has become an efficient war machine. Regional problems, but also European ones (the duo did even better in the European elections) have boosted the emergence of the Greens, the only party to think differently, to get beyond French national limits in their political thought. On the other hand, the Front National [far right, nationalist party] shows that the lion still roars locally, especially in the Midi, the multiculturalism of which all the scapegoat seekers hound and harry. But also in the North, where Marine Le Pen, a color copy of her father, plays Joan of Arc in a suit, defying the entire political establishment. As for the flop of the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement, the center-right party of President Sarkozy], already described as historic, it conveys the dramatic isolation of the majority (at a national level) party, deprived of virtually any reserves for the second round. More generally, while the Regions have continued to enlarge their role, the vertiginous drop in turnout reflects the skepticism of what is now a majority of French citizens. A disenchantment, also with the enormous decentralization project, undertaken several decades ago in order to offset an omniscient central government. Now, the “hyper-president’s” arrival on the scene nearly three years ago has once again reinforced the idea that everything is ultimately decided in Paris. If one adds in the growing decision-making power of the European Union to the mix, the Regions seem caught in a vise, along with their voters. As François Bayrou, leader of the poor-showing MoDem Party, said last night: “The state of the country has gone beyond the danger zone …”

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.

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The First Round, a Bad Turn
Erik Izraelewicz, La Tribune
Monday 15 March 2010

A record abstention (for regional elections), a thundering return of the Front National; those were the two most salient aspects of this first round of the “midterm” election. Certainly, we’ll have to wait for the outcome of the second round next Sunday to draw all the political conclusions. Nonetheless, the force with which these two facts have imposed themselves authorizes us as of this morning to talk about a true punishing vote against the executive – most especially against the president of the Republic.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s great victory in 2007 – as he never failed to emphasize – was to have recreated a connection of trust between the French and politicians, to have succeeded also in diminishing – in making disappear, even – the extremes., At the time, the French mobilized en masse, a sign of this rediscovered interest in politics; the level of voter participation reached record levels; the Front National was marginalized. Nicolas Sarkozy was supposed to rehabilitate the politician’s word. In order to do that, he was going to show that they’re able to keep their promises, get results, in short, have an impact on the course of events.

These regional elections were certainly not easy for the government – midterm elections never are. Local elections are always a cost-free opportunity for public opinion to express its discontent. Beyond that, the crisis is not over. Anxiety persists in the country. Yesterday’s results show that it’s divorce again between the French and their leaders. The Socialist Party delights, perhaps, in having overtaken the UMP at the national level. The elevated abstention level and strength of alternatives on the left is, however, also a rejection with respect to them – it represented the “outgoing government” in 20 of the country’s 22 regions. With no trust any more in their government parties, the French have turned to abstention or extremes. A return to pre-2007! If the second round confirms the first, it will be a bad turn for our democracy.

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.