Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Nations.

Even now, and despite his overwhelming victory, some people find new president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy too divisive for the country. His victory has been greeted by a few riots on the night of the elections and last night.
The unrest has been small-scale, that’s true, but it has sent a message nonetheless: Sarkozy may have won the presidency, but he hasn't won over some French who are dead set against him.

Here's a telling anecdote: the other day, just before the elections, a woman was handing out anti-Sarkozy leaflets in Paris, and she told us “If we don’t win in the polls, we’ll win in the streets”. (By the way, that woman was a teacher which makes you wonder what democratic values she may be teaching!!). Not everyone seems ready to accept the result of the polls. The rationale for that woman was that “Hitler too was legally elected”. Some comparison!

Yet one cannot deny the potential for problems:

Given Mr. Sarkozy’s lack of popularity among the country’s youth, any mass demonstration against his policies would be likely to draw young people into the streets, creating the conditions for even more violent clashes. (NYTimes)

But it would be unfair to say that all this is the fault of one man, he be as controversial as Sarkozy. This divisiveness is much deeper and it is the sign of a very polarized nation, almost as much as the U.S.

The tenet of the Sarkozy vote seems to be twofold: a conservative vote (leaning towards nationalistic values) promoting law and order, and an economic vote, of those supporting radical economic reforms.

When you analyze the details of the election results, you do see two different nations. Reality is always a bit more complex of course, but basically, you have a split between old and young, working and not working (students, and unemployed), urban and rural areas, private and public sectors.

And then there is also a cultural war at the core of which is the battle for the French identity. Unlike in the U.S., this war is not about abortion, gay rights, religion and evolution. Tellingly, it is about history. As recently as last week, Sarkozy attacked the heritage of 1968 which he considers responsible for the breakdown of authority.

He has also constantly dismissed the apologetic vision of France’s darker past, including colonialism

This he hinted at in his acceptance speech:

"The French people (...) have chosen to break with the ideas and habits of the past. I will thus rehabilitate work, authority, morality, respect, merit. I will restore honor to the nation and national identity. I will bring French pride back to the French people, I will end the penitence that is a form of self hatred, and the competition over memory which feeds a hatred of others.”

This may not make Sarkozy popular in French speaking countries, but he probably does not care: they don’t vote for him anyway.

What is most interesting is that Sarkozy’s victory is actually the illustration of a deep rift within the nation.

More pragmatically, Sarkozy’s victory is also Ségolène Royal’s failure. She clearly didn’t win the middle-class. Besides, her electorate voted more against Sarkozy than they voted for her – she failed to convince. The socialists did not lose because they reformed too much but because they did too little, too late. If the socialist party does not reform, like the Labour party did more than 10 years ago, they are unlikely to win any time soon

The parliamentary elections next month will also be quite “interesting”, although most pundits expect the U.M.P. (Nicolas Sarkozy's part) to have a majority of seats. The question is mostly really about how much the opposition gets.


At 06:27, Blogger On en parle said...

A slight wind of change ? Sarkozi will start as President next Thursday. However 2 men who have a clean record got this week a 4 months mandotary sentence for demonstrating after the elections ! So wait and see...


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