Nicolas Sarkozy swept to victory yesterday in an election that saw 85% of eligible French voters turn out. He's the first mainstream candidate to run openly as a conservative in France in generations and his election signals a deep discontent with the political and social status quo in that nation. The Washington Post says that Sarkozy in his victory speech proclaimed that:
An unabashed admirer of America, Sarkozy, 52, had a special message for the United States, which has had troubled relations with France under President Jacques Chirac, who led international opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq.
"I'd like to appeal to our American friends to say that they can count on our friendship," he said. "But I would also like to say that friendship means accepting that your friends don't necessarily see eye to eye with you."
France's economy is troubled due largely to a 35 hour work week, the inability to fire slackers, and an onerous welfare system. According to the Post:
[Sarkozy's] election signals a shift to the right in French politics and could herald a major transition for French society. Sarkozy has promised to boost economic growth and employment by cutting taxes, reducing deficits, shrinking government and loosening labor laws -- the kind of free-market policies embraced by the United States and Britain, but long eschewed by French leaders.
In selecting the passionate, pragmatic and pugnacious Sarkozy, who is a lawyer by training, voters rejected Royal's prescription of continuing big spending programs to protect and expand France's vast social welfare state.
Another festering problem in Franmce is immigration and the emergence of a highly alienated underclass of North African Muslims among whom joblessness and poverty are commonplace.
Sarkozy, who takes office May 16, has promised tough law-and-order measures and tighter immigration controls that many opponents fear could alienate the country's underclasses and fuel social tensions. Opinion polls throughout the election showed that large numbers of voters were concerned that Sarkozy had an authoritarian streak that could fracture French society.
So, for some voters the choice was between solving very serious problems at the risk of stirring up popular discontent or maintaining social order and allowing the problems to fester and worsen. Most French voters, to their credit, apparently opted for the first course.RLC