fastidious french voters

Posted on June 17, 2007

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In typical French fashion, voters have resurrected their complex contrarian characteristic and rejected the talk that France would face a tidal “blue wave”.

True to form, they struck a blow, though not mortal, to their newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy, by denying his party, the Union for a Popular Movement, the commanding landslide that has been predicted for weeks. Its bitter rival, the Socialist party, managed to stage a stunning comeback after its recent defeat in the presidential elections, winning 25 per cent more seats than in the previous parliamentary election.

More embarassingly, one of Mr Sarkozy’s most important ministers, Alain Juppe, was unceremoniously dumped by voters in Bordeaux. Juppe had been appointed to a powerful superministry that oversees the environment, transport and sustainable development. He has resigned from Sarkozy’s cabinet.

Though humbled at the polls, Sarkozy could take comfort in the fact that the UMP still holds a parliamentary majority, which would allow the reforms he has promised to be pushed through this summer, such as moving away from the 35-hour work week, guaranteeing minimum service during public transport strikes and clamping down on lawbreakers and illegal immigration. A cunning move, indeed, as most of the country is likely to be too busy holidaying during summer to rally in the streets against the reforms.

Whilst the celebration for UMP might be muted as it lost seats this time round, it should celebrate the fact that not only does it have a clear majority (350 out of 577 seats, with its allies ), it has also achieved the tough feat of becoming the first ruling party in thirty years to be returned to power.

Sarkozy should also be relieved that the French electorate has not subjected him to the kind of “cohabitation” that his predecessor Jacque Chirac had been forced to put up with – when they elected a Socialist parliament after the right-wing Chirac captured the presidency.

The Socialist Party had cleverly harped on fears during their campaign that François Fillon, the Prime Minister, was going to raise value added tax by two percentage points. The tax is seen as being favorable to businesses and high-income earners and could have been a strong factor that swung voters towards the Socialists at the last minute.

But while the Socialists celebrate their unexpected victory and make claims of having resurrected itself, it remains an opposition party with slim chances of challenging the government effectively. It remains divided as its leader Francois Hollande carried on a very public spat with its most popular figure and presidential candidate, Segolene Royal. Reports say that not only is she trying to take control of the party, they have both also announced their separation. Hollande and Royal have been a couple for decades and have four children together, although they have never married.

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