Sarkozyism is dead. French voters made it very clear this Sunday that any affinity they may once have had with their President is over. He has not made them richer, and he has not made them feel better about their country. With his abrasive personality and divisive insistence on a ‘National Identity Debate’, French voters were seeking someone they could feel less bullied by.
Furthermore, Sarkozy’s arch rival within his own party, Dominique de Villepin, has announced that he is breaking away from the UMP and will lead his own ‘movement’ from June onwards. All the supermodel wives in the world can’t make Sarko look good right now.
As a result of the elections, the Socialists now control 21 out of 22 of France’s departments, having taken Corsica away from Sarkozy’s UMP. However, they didn’t win this campaign through any solid policies or clear-sighted ideological progression. They won because no one can stand the short man in the Elysée Palace. This is clear from the rate of abstention, which stood at 53.6% in the first round and almost 50% in the second. Although stay-at-home voters hit the right harder, the overall disgust with politicians of all stripes in France is all too apparent in this figure.
That said, in politics a victory is a victory, however it is won. The Socialists are now well-placed to establish themselves as a national and international force for the presidential election in 2012. It must be remembered that the Socialists already controlled 20 out of 22 départements before the regional elections, so this result boosts them on a local level while giving them the image of a set of real leaders in advance of 2012.
However, as Laurent Joffrin, journalist for the leftist Liberation newspaper points out, “Everything remains to be done”. The question of leadership remains a gross problem, as Ségolène Royale and Martine Aubry battle to be seen as leader-in-waiting, with Dominique Strauss-Kahn also watching quietly from the wings. Aubry was seen as the most effective player in the regional elections, working in a coalition with green parties such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s Europe-Ecologie to maximise votes in some regions, and calling on Sarkozy for a “change of politics”.
The other problem in French politics was the “belle montée” of the Front National. In its heartland, such as the Provence-Alpes-Côte Azur region, the FN polled 23% of the vote. In one town, Orange, parties of the extreme right polled 47% of votes in the first round, of which 36% were for non-FN parties and 11% were for the FN. That may be an exception, but the fascists have been galvanised by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie, who has injected vigour and a mainstream feel into the FN’s style of politics.
The Socialists will celebrate their success this week, but the combined forces of Villepin, voter apathy, and the FN’s exploitation of white working class problems should not be underestimated as they look ahead to 2012.
You can also read this post on Liberal Conspiracy here.