The Conservative Lessons of Sarkozy’s Victory

One adult French citizen out of two bothered to take part in the counties' elections last month. This turnout is well under the 70% or 80% who vote in the presidential election, or even the 65% or so who vote in the legislative election. However, it is higher than the European election average, which lags at barely 40%.

The rationale behind such figures is that the more the French understand about an election, the more prepared they are to take part in it. They do understand that their national president and parliament matter, and they understand how they are selected. However, they suspect the European Parliament to be an empty shell, and the real European powers to lie with the unelected European Commission.

As for their counties, they are of two minds: they agree that local powers are important, but they are not sure whether their present 101 counties (départements) are still relevant. Since WWII, counties have been superseded in many ways by the larger regions. New reforms are under way which may lead both to the abolition of counties and to the creation of just a few super-regions.

Moreover, a bizarre electoral law was introduced this year for the counties' ballots. It provides for parité, the arithmetic equal representation of women and men.

Citizens don’t vote for one representative, but for a man/woman "binome."

Strangely enough, nobody questioned the constitutionality of such a provision, which clearly turns biology into a discriminating factor in French politics and could be construed as a precedent for very ominous moves in the future. What actually confused many voters was that this law represents a new layer of electoral complexity, The French don’t have unified laws for all elections. They switch constantly from one set of laws to the other, from the first-past-the-post system to proportional representation, according to each particular case.

The beauty of democracy, however, is that it works even under strained or improbable circumstances.

The French made good use of an ill-defined and ill-shaped election to express their views about their future. They rejected the present socialist administration of François Hollande, which proved to be both unreliable and inefficient. Even more importantly, they preferred former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s classic Right to Marine Le Pen’s "populism," a strange blend of far-Right and far-Left views.