french pride

Posted on May 7, 2007

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A remarkable thing happened in France today.

The French elected the son of a Hungarian immigrant to its highest office, the Presidency, allowing Nicolas Sarkozy to occupy the Elysée Palace on May 16. He beat his opponent Socialist party candidate – and a woman no less – Ségolène Royal, taking 53 per cent of the total vote.

The French ought to be proud. The French ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité seem more than just rhetoric.

It was brave enough to put two outsiders into the final round of the presidential election. For years, the top echelons of French business and politics have been occupied by a select few groomed for those positions from elite schools and universities. Not only is Mr Sarkozy an immigrant’s son, he went to public schools and a state university. Ms Royal was not born of the manor either, being the daughter of an army officer.

Also impressive was the turn out at the polls. That 85 per cent of the 44.5 million registered voters showed up is a clear sign of the electorate’s wish to make a difference, and of France’s vibrant democracy. Notwithstanding the fact that the French love a good debate and politics, interest in this election was noticeably high, as new voter registration grew and people debated in cafes across the country.

Not surprisingly, 20 million people tuned in to watch the final TV showdown between Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal last week. A two and a half hour debate, at that. That’s a third of the country’s population of 64 million, or about 50 per cent of the voting population.

It’s noteworthy that the French have the maturity to understand they are voting for Mr Sarkozy, and not his spouse. A good thing, as Mrs Sarkozy has been conspicuously absent from his side as he campaigned. That she had a affair with another man a few years ago and told the French media she sees herself jogging in New York’s Central Park in 10 years’ time, did nothing to dent Mr Sarkozy’s standings in the polls. Can you imagine a US presidential candidate getting that kind of support if his spouse behaved the same way?

Imagine too, if a US politician was quoted calling young rioters “scum”. In the political correctness gone wrong atmosphere of the US, the politician would have been strung out to dry, inundated with calls to resign and his political career over. Not for Mr Sarkozy, as French voters thankfully supported his policy of zero tolerance towards violence.

No doubt the pockets of violence and rioting in parts of France after the results show that it’s not all rosy in France. Mr Sarkozy is detested by a large swarth of the population, especially those of immigrant origin. France still has serious problems, ranging from a weak economy, high unemployment to an inability to integrate immigrants, particularly Muslims ones, well. But the French have opted for change by voting in Mr Sarkozy, known for getting things done, his energy and dynamism. There’s hope for France yet.

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