In order to pass the bold reforms that would “make a break with the ideas, the customs and the behavior of the past,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy first needed his political party to win a majority parliament. After the first round of voting on Sunday, he appears well on his way toward achieving that, with pollsters predicting that the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) could take between 383 and 470 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly. His UMP won 40 percent of the vote, while the Socialist Party struggled, winning only 25 percent. The run-off is on Sunday.
The Socialist Party appears to be as much in disarray now as when Mr. Sarkozy handily defeated its presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, in May. After her party’s poor showing in the first round on Sunday, Miss Royal started reaching out to many smaller parties to patch together some sort of opposition to challenge Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP. France’s unusual parliamentary election process — the first-round vote is followed a week later with a runoff that includes only those candidates who won more than 12.5 percent — encourages this kind of political horse trading. Miss Royal approached centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, for instance. The head of the Socialist Party, however, disapproved publicly of Miss Royal’s dealings.
The larger picture is not one of Socialist Party disorganization but of the support for Mr. Sarkozy. All parties on the left combined captured only 40 percent of the first-round vote, the worst showing in four decades. The once-influential Communist Party managed only about 4 percent. While this should be taken in context of the record-low turnout rate — a sharp contrast to the presidential election that may have reflected the sense that the election result was a foregone conclusion — Mr. Sarkozy has clearly maintained momentum.
Mr. Sarkozy won a strong mandate for change last month with a six-point victory over Miss Royal. His willingness to tackle the failing economic policies that left France with the second-lowest economic growth rate in the European Union in 2006, as well as tough questions of immigration and national identity, was embraced by French voters.
Showing sagacity, Mr. Sarkozy reached across the political divide to bring the popular Bernard Kouchner, founder of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, into his government as foreign minister. Mr. Sarkozy selected three other center-left politicians to join his cabinet of 15, showing the kind of bipartisanship and political inclusiveness that his opponents claimed he would spurn. His opponents still tried to warn against the lack of balance should the UMP control a large parliamentary majority; voters clearly did not find the idea objectionable. Mr. Sarkozy’s toughest battles are still ahead, when opponents of his plans for economic liberalization are sure to take to the streets, but he is seemingly setting a solid foundation for reform.
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