12:30 AM in Paris June 12, 2007
A low-key legislative campaign following on the heels of a high octane presidential race has, nonetheless, articulated its own logic. Something more telling, more precise than a simple UMP landslide is taking place…something that looks like a Royal curse and a Sarkozy good luck charm.
Candidates closely associated with Royal’s campaign-J.L. Bianco, Julian Dray, Arnaud Montebourg, etc.–were either eliminated on the first round or are facing a tough fight on the second. Royal’s Little Lord Fontleroy spokesman, Arnaud Montebourg, who has been a deputy since 1997, says he will bow out of politics if he doesn’t win next week. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, one of the most widely respected members of the Socialist Old Guard, is struggling to hang onto his seat.
Malek Boutih, former president of SOS Racisme, brought into the Socialist party by Hollande himself, was eliminated. Green Party bigwig Yves Cochet, running for re-election in the 11th circumscription of Paris, has a narrow 700-vote lead over UMP candidate Nicole Guedj after elimination of Marielle de Sarnez who came in a weak third. Arno Klarsfeld, the lawyer son of Nazi-hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld has a good lead in the 8th circumscription.
There are endless examples of comfortably seated deputies who are being tossed out with the old newspapers. Eurodeputy Sami Na√Ør, co-author with Edgar Morin and Dani√®lle Sallenave of a despicable Le Monde article, “Israel-Palestine, the cancer,” was eliminated with a measly 13% of the vote. A record-breaking 110 candidates, 109 of them UMP, won on the first round, including seven of the 11 cabinet members, and deputies associated with Nicolas Sarkozy, like Claude Goasguen and Pierre Lellouche. UMP candidates are going into the second round with 10 to 20 point leads over the nearest rival.
Despite the muted enthusiasm and low turnout, the message is clear and coherent. Voters want president Sarkozy to implement his program. First, they resisted a heavy-handed smear campaign and chose the candidate who spoke to their needs and expectations. Then they ignored a scare campaign and gave him an unambiguous legislative majority. The losers–Left, extreme Left, extreme Right, and soft Center-are still moaning today. It’s all the fault of the electoral system, the calendar, the media, and the president himself. And they think this will mobilize voters to come out and boost them next Sunday?
Allons citoyens, do you want a legislature without Communists? Without Front National crypto-confusionists? Well, yes, as a matter of fact we do! Hear ye hear ye, how will we get ecology without a solid clump of Green party deputies in the hemicycle? President Sarkozy has already given something more than lip service to the question. Is he going to pocket this comfortable majority and slide through the first year of his presidency, just for fun? Of course not, and the people who voted for him know that.
Today he met with the teacher’s unions, offered them concessions on certain issues while asking for their cooperation on other, far more difficult ones. He intends to overcome ingrained habits of systematic obstructionism by showing sincere respect for others and making clear demands for flexibility and performance. And he has the democratic mandate to do it! Don’t forget, the French who must collaborate in the transformation of their society are the French who voted for Nicolas Sarkozy. A heft majority. They refused the Marxist ideology that is responsible for the decline of the Socialists and the demise of the Communists. Neighboring Belgium just followed suit.
As I predicted, the Hollande-Royal political split is up front and sending out sparks. She announces to the media that she left a message for Fran√ßois Bayrou telling him how much she appreciates everything he stands for. Hollande retorts that he’d be pleased to collect stray MoDem votes for Socialist candidates but has no intention of making deals with Bayrou. Meanwhile Bayrou, who is the only MoDem candidate with a healthy lead, is thinking things over…maybe he’ll talk to the Socialists, maybe not, it depends, but anyway he’s not going to do them any favors. Keep your eye on Bayrou, because he’s heading for early retirement after a few more years as a nondescript deputy. The so-called candidates he ran in this election will fade back into anonymity, and the so-called MoDem party won’t be around in 2012.
I have no way of confirming persistent rumors that Fran√ßois Hollande has a romantic liaison with Anne Hidalgo, deputy mayor of Paris; perhaps they only collaborate professionally, and the media are as jealous as a vain woman. But I can say that the charming graceful Se√±ora Hidalgo, who participated in the election night debate on France 3, is much more attractive than S√©gol√®ne Royal; she has a genuine smile and a mellifluous voice. Commenting on the Socialist defeat, Emmanuel Wals, one of the party’s most personable deputies, said he is tired of seeing the fate of his Party revolve around the life of the Hollande-Royal couple.
And what about the banlieue? The UMP candidate has a strong lead over his Socialist rival in Argenteuil, scene of the famous “racaille” exchange. Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, visited the projects after a boy was killed in a crossfire. A Maghrebi woman leaned out her window and asked the Minister to get rid of the racaille that is poisoning their lives. Sarkozy, echoing that citizen’s plaint, replied: “Yes, I will get rid of the racaille.” This was thrown in his face during the presidential campaign; he was accused of creating dissension, displaying contempt for “diversity,” and triggering the autumn 2005 riots. Where are the racailles today? They haven’t disappeared from their hangouts but they are not being courted by the media these days.
Fatiah B., the irate mother/drug addict who stabbed a judge for keeping her child in the protective arms of his paternal grandparents, is in jail awaiting trial. The judges of Metz demonstrated today, though their demand for increased protection has already been met by Justice Minister Rachida Datti. We can’t help being amused, though there’s nothing funny about judges getting stabbed. It’s just that, when citizens ask for greater protection from criminals, there’s always a judge to remind us that prevention is better than punishment.
And when Nicolas Sarkozy keeps his campaign promises, there’s always a grouchy Leftist to berate him. Why is he forging ahead with his program instead of lolling into the summer doldrums? Aha! It’s because he wants voters to give him a legislative majority. What will he do with that majority? Implement his programs, of course. Isn’t that tricky? Today a Sociologist or think-tanker or maybe it was a politician–I caught the program in the middle-was badmouthing the new juvenile prison that just opened. He, too, believes that prevention is better than punishment, jail should be a last resort and, what’s more, there are more cells than needed. French prisons are so over crowded it would shock Amnesty International if they weren’t glued to Gitmo. But this gentleman explained that the excess jail cells would stimulate crime. You know, the way a chimney fans a fire.
The UMP has taken the first round victory in its stride, and not for granted. Candidates are stumping again. Though an upset is highly unlikely, there will be no celebration until the votes are counted on the 17th of June. I’ll be covering that one from Jerusalem.