Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The first post in a few days on the French elections. Since the first round, the French media, split on left-right lines, have been agonising over the possibilities of an unexpected Sarkozy defeat; the right-wing Le Point asks on its front cover 'Can he lose?' while the similarly-inclined L'Express wonders 'can he be beaten?'. The leftist Nouvel observateur has a picture of Ségo on the cover with the legend 'can she beat Sarkozy?' This is why I am sceptical about the 84% turnout in the first round: the election has been turned into a referendum on Sarkozy's popularity, and that renders France in as bad a democratic state as when, five years ago, Chirac was re-elected with 82% of the vote because it was either him or Le Pen. Few observers in France have remarked on this, an exception being economist André Grjebine, who in Libération two weeks ago bemoaned this dominance of the cult of personality in the election race. Though Grjebine is himself not too fond of Sarkozy he sees the demonisation of the UMP candidate as a symptom of the 'lepenisation' of French politics, and it is hard to disagree with him. An open letter from prominent leftist intellectuals (some of them are actors, which apparently constitutes an 'intellectual' in France) in yesterday's Libé calls for a vote for Royal and against Sarkozy. Nothing more concrete than that. Is this what has come to pass?
Of course there should be no sympathy for Sarkozy here as he has brought it all on himself. It was he that inflamed the already fraught situations in the banlieues and he has also stated that there are 'two Frances, the sort that gets up early and lazes all day in bed'. That sounds like somebody spoiling for a fight. It is therefore difficult to credit the self-pity he has displayed in the past week, telling Libé that he has 'scars all over' from his past battles, and asking at a rally in Dijon why there is such hatred directed at him - something he repeated no less than forty-five times at the same meeting. It didn't come out of nowhere.
An American/Colombian couple I know have accurately compared Sarkozy to Richard Nixon and Sarkozy has a similar line in ruthlessness, brilliant political machinations, a similar lack of charm and a penchant for playing the victim. He is even small and ugly in the same way as Tricky Dicky, as if to flesh the comparison out in crude signification. Sarkozy's comments in the past week have been like the Checkers speech and Nixon's famous parting shot 'you won't have Nixon to kick around any more' rolled into one. Even the London Independent's Paris correspondent John Litchfield, who, I have it on good authority, is an admirer of Sarko, has adopted a withering view of Sarkozy's persecution complex.
I won't repeat my views on Sarkozy and my reasons for thinking he would be a social disaster as President. But it still looks likely that he will carry the election on Sunday even if there are still a lot of Bayrou's votes up for grabs and the defeated UDF candidate has been far more critical of Sarkozy than Royal. Royal has in turn said that she is open to naming Bayrou Prime Minister should she be elected, which has sent many on the left into spasms. The televised debate takes place tomorrow, clashing, alas, with Manchester United v Milan, and a lot may ride on it. I am not terribly faithful in Royal's ability to sway the electorate in it, judging by the transcription of her debate with Bayrou, which was published in yesterday's Libé. There were far too many rhetorical fudgings and simple innacuracies for comfort.