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A potentially lethal blow to France's rigid socialists - Daily News Egypt

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A potentially lethal blow to France's rigid socialists

France has chosen – and it has chosen decisively. The new French president is Nicolas Sarkozy, elected with 53.1 percent of the popular vote, with a turnout, at 84.8 percent, the highest since 1981. This election is particularly rich in lessons. France was said to be to be a country mired in apathy and increasingly …


France has chosen – and it has chosen decisively. The new French president is Nicolas Sarkozy, elected with 53.1 percent of the popular vote, with a turnout, at 84.8 percent, the highest since 1981. This election is particularly rich in lessons. France was said to be to be a country mired in apathy and increasingly uninterested in politics. For the last 20 years, the number of citizens who registered to vote had been declining and the number of registered voters who stayed home had been increasing. Among those who voted, the number who cast their votes for the parties of the extreme right or the extreme left – that is, parties unsuited for government – were steadily rising. All this changed in the two rounds of this year’s election. The first lesson, then, is that France is re-politicizing. With voter turnout beating all European records, France’s new president will have unusually strong legitimacy. Second, and equally important, the extremist vote is weakening. Support for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s quasi-fascist National Front fell from 18 percent in 2002 to 10 percent this time around, representing an important gain in democratic stabilization. Likewise, the extreme left, which together put up six presidential candidates, was politically annihilated. Only the Trotskyite candidate received more than 4 percent of the vote, while the rest – including the French Communist Party, which for more than 30 years received a stable 20 percent of the vote – gained less than 2 percent. It is the end of an adventure that was not at all good for France. The third key feature of the election was the emergence of a centrist constituency seeking to distinguish – indeed, separate – itself from the right. This is a critical development in France. The brave candidate of the new center, François Bayrou, managed to triple his support relative to 2002, gaining 17 percent of the vote, although this was not enough to place him in the second round. It was still too early in terms of the development of French political culture for the formation of an alliance between Bayrou and the Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal – a proposal that I made before the elections. The absence of an agreement between Royal and Bayrou to back the first-round winner in the run-off with Sarkozy largely explains the ultimate defeat of both. But this is understandable. Historically, the Socialist Party has no tradition of coalition governments, much less of looking for coalition partners to its right. That day will come, but is arrival will require more time. The fourth lesson follows from Sarkozy’s stance as a classical ultra-liberal. While he is very French in his upbringing and education – he does not speak English! – he is nevertheless neither a Jacobin nor a Gaullist. Indeed, the Gaullist tradition ends with him. Sarkozy made public his disagreement with outgoing President Jacques Chirac about the French position against the American-led war in Iraq. President George W. Bush, who was the first to congratulate Sarkozy, has a new ally in Europe. Sarkozy believes in the efficiency of markets and will shy away from state intervention in the economy. He will thus contribute to a reconciliation of the hitherto nationalist French right and modern conservatism as it is practiced elsewhere. The fifth lesson may be the most serious. The French left, represented by the Socialists, has suffered its third consecutive defeat in a presidential election. Given the erosion of the right’s power and Sarkozy’s not very attractive personality, the road was wide open for the Socialists to win. The disastrous failure of the left has many causes. But the most important one, in my view, was the absence of a clear strategy on the part of the Socialists, who consistently refuse to make the choices that have gradually been accepted by international social democracy, embodied today in the Party of European Socialists. The international left has opted for a reformist course, including, where necessary, coalition governments with centrist partners. The reformist option fully accepts the internationalization of today’s market economy. The French Socialist Party’s lingering statism, ethnocentrism, and reluctance to accept coalitions with movements to its right reflects its violent and troubled history and the long intellectual domination of the French Communists. But these features constitute an obstacle to the Socialists’ becoming the party of government, and were reflected in their electoral program, which was full of uncertainty and indifferent with respect to Europe and the broader international context. The voters did not find it credible. This lesson is so evident that the French Socialist Party now faces a clear choice. Either it modernizes its program to come closer to international social democracy, or it enters a period of slow and prolonged decline. The Socialists now have no choice but to engage in a debate that is certain to be loud and contentious. But the outcome is far less clear. Michel Rocard, a former prime minister of France and leader of the Socialist Party, is a member of the European Parliament. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2007/05/10/a-potentially-lethal-blow-to-frances-rigid-socialists/
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