Sarkozy completes political takeover in France

17th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 17, 2007 (AFP) - His parliamentary majority may not be as big as he hoped for, but over two elections President Nicolas Sarkozy has still redrawn France's political map and laid the ground for the most radical reforms in more than 25 years.

PARIS, June 17, 2007 (AFP) - His parliamentary majority may not be as big as he hoped for, but over two elections President Nicolas Sarkozy has still redrawn France's political map and laid the ground for the most radical reforms in more than 25 years.

Six months ago the 52-year-old right-winger had yet to be designated as the candidate of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and was still fighting off a fierce behind-the-scenes challenge from supporters of Jacques Chirac.

On the left the rising star Segolene Royal was favourite to win the presidential race, appearing to represent a new brand of socialism that answered more closely the public's needs.

But after Sunday's legislative elections delivered the UMP a clear majority in the National Assembly, Sarkozy has completed a double victory and now has an unparalleled chance to put through his programme of change.

"It's been exciting and it's been exhausting. There's been tension and suspense. It's been a time of upheaval -- almost of a new French revolution. And now it is obvious we have entered a new political epoch," said Christophe Barbier, editor of L'Express news magazine.

The new epoch will be dominated by three themes: a rearrangement of constitutional powers with a greatly enhanced presidency; unprecedented -- and potentially divisive -- economic reforms; and a left-wing opposition struggling to define its future identity.

The results of the National Assembly election -- virtually eliminating the smaller parties of the extremes and centre -- have confirmed the left-right "bipolarisation" of French politics along US or British lines.

Despite a better than expected showing for the Socialists, for the next five years the dominant force in parliament will be Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), unconstrained by the need for alliances and a willing agent of the president's word.

With a strong majority in the two houses of parliament -- the Senate is also on the right -- and reinforced by a popular mandate at his own election in May, Sarkozy has more freedom than any leader since the Socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1981 to enact his manifesto.

Furthermore Sarkozy has also indicated he intends to take a closer personal hand in government than his predecessors, introducing a new "culture of results".

"One of Sarkozy's changes will be to increase the responsibility of the head of state. He's going to be on the line on every front: international, European and domestic," said Dominique Reynie of the School of Political Sciences in Paris.

"If things go as he hopes and there are positive effects for society and the economy, he will emerge with a very, very strong bond with the French. But if there are difficulties, he will be personally exposed to the consequences," he said.

The challenge is unlikely to come immediately. Sarkozy is enjoying a honeymoon period, and a first raft of reforms -- including tax cuts -- should be on the statute book before the summer break.

But a second wave will cover more controversial campaign pledges like steep cuts in civil service recruitment, overhaul of the public administration, an end to state sector pension privileges, and employment liberalisation.

How a French president with a mandate for change copes with the likely opposition on the street will be a major test of the country's democratic institutions.

Sarkozy's freedom of action will be increased if the opposition Socialist Party is distracted by a long period of internal ructions.

This was made less likely by the party's respectable showing in the elections -- increasing its share of seats from 149 to around 20O. But consigned to another five years of oppositon, the party is still deeply divided over its direction and leadership.

Defeated presidential candidate Segolene Royal is positioning herself to take over as First Secretary from her own partner Francois Hollande, who has been widely blamed for the party's electoral defeats. But she is not a unanimous choice.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article