Sunday, May 6, 2007

A new page opens in France

An encouraging aspect of the final round of the French presidential elections was the massive turnout of voters (in a nation where voting is not compulsory): some 84% of eligible citizens. Clearly, few people heeded the instructions of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme rightwing ex-candidate who had asked his followers to abstain from voting.

The left, behind Ségolène Royal, was soundly thrashed. Most people who voted for François Bayrou in the first round did not choose the Socialist candidate in the second round. Will the left succeed in getting its act together before the parliamentary elections in five weeks' time? This is not at all obvious, because many Socialists will be tempted to blame Ségolène Royal for the present defeat, and this will tend to destabilize the left during the forthcoming campaign.

As for Sarkozy, he'll be literally going out of circulation from now until his investiture on 16 May. His speech this evening, after the announcement of his victory, was forceful and relatively reassuring, in that he underlined the need for national reconciliation and union. In words addressed to the USA, he insisted upon the fact that humanity's major challenge is the planetary combat against global warming. He also referred to the interesting theme of a Mediterranean Union, which would be a link between Europe and Africa.

In 1983, at the age of 28, Sarkozy became the mayor of Neuilly, an upper-class residential suburb to the west of Paris. Ten years later, by which time he had become an elected parliamentarian, Sarkozy broke into the news for his courageous role in handling negotiations with a crazy armed guy, calling himself Human Bomb, who had entered a kindergarten in Neuilly and taken 21 kids as hostages. I remember listening to news on this dramatic affair on my car radio as I crossed France in the summer of 1993, to start work in Grenoble. Finally, the elite police force known as the RAID [Recherche Assistance Intervention Dissuasion] burst into the kindergarten while Human Bomb was dozing, and filled his skull with lead. I've always imagined that this affair symbolized the start of Sarkozy's ascension in the world of politics and police.

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