Sarkozy's party vows quick reforms despite election setback

19th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 18, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party vowed to press ahead with his radical reform programme Monday, despite a worse than expected showing in parliamentary elections.

PARIS, June 18, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party vowed to press ahead with his radical reform programme Monday, despite a worse than expected showing in parliamentary elections.

Just a month after Sarkozy took office, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) secured a clear majority in the National Assembly in Sunday's vote -- but its number of deputies was down by more than 40 and the opposition Socialists made surprise gains.

In a major blow to the government, the powerful environment minister Alain Juppe failed to secure a seat in parliament and was therefore obliged to tender his resignation.

The mood in the UMP was subdued Monday, even though senior members could argue it was the first time since 1978 that a ruling party has retained its majority in the Assembly.

"The French say: 'yes, but'" to reforms, the pro-government Le Figaro newspaper headlined Monday, while the left-wing Liberation said: "The right-wing takes a left hook."

Despite the disappointment, Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted that that the election had delivered a "majority for action... What we have said, we will now do, because pledges made to the voter form the basis of national trust."

The prime minister met Sarkozy Monday to present his government's resignation -- a formality after legislative elections. He was to announce a new list of cabinet members Tuesday, with a replacement for Juppe and the addition of several junior ministers.

A special session of the Assembly is to be convened from later this month to push through a first round of reforms -- including changes to the tax system which are supposed to jump-start the economy and bring down 8.2 percent unemployment.

Delighted to have avoided the electoral trashing that had been predicted, the Socialists were also digesting the news that their defeated presidential candidate Segolene Royal has split from her long-time partner and the father of her four children, party leader Francois Hollande.

In a carefully timed revelation shortly after voting ended Sunday, Royal allowed an interview in a forthcoming book to be made public in which she accuses Hollande of having an affair.

"I have asked Francois Hollande to leave our home, to pursue his love interest ... and I wish him happiness," she said.

The pair's marital problems have long been an open secret, but their privacy has been protected by France's strict media laws and a journalistic culture that steers clear of politicians' personal lives.

Royal's announcement was widely seen as an opening gambit in her bid to take over the party leadership in the long period of internal ructions likely to follow the two election defeats.

"Obviously Segolene Royal was waiting till the end of the second round of the legislatives to make the separation official. It allows her to make an open bid to take over the party from Hollande," said Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin, author of a recent book on the couple.

"This is the story both of a conjugal rift and of a political competition, in which Segolene Royal wants to emerge the winner," she said.

Analysts said the Socialists' strong performance in the election showed that voters heeded their warnings of an over-concentration of powers for Sarkozy. The government's announcement that it is studying increases in valued added tax also gave the Socialist Party an effective rallying-cry.

"The French are clearly hungry for reforms. But the results of this election show that if people feel they are having reforms thrust on them without proper debate, they will hit back," said the financial daily Les Echos.

Final results gave the UMP 318 seats in the 577 member Assembly and its ally the New Centre 21. The Socialist Party has 190 seats, and the Communists 17. The MoDem party of third-placed presidential candidate Francois Bayrou did better than expected with five seats.

The election failed to provide the hoped-for boost in the number of black and Arab lawmakers, with voters returning just one minority candidate on the mainland. George Paul Langevin, from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, was elected in eastern Paris on a Socialist ticket.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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