Continuing our roundup of political events in Sarkoland (aka France under president Nicolas Sarkozy). We left off just before the second round of local elections and a look at role of the National Front (FN) in current politics. These elections were above all marked by a 55% rate of abstention, very high indeed although it must be said that these elections are a kind of stop-gap before the whole system changes in 2014: the current local councillors will disappear and be replaced by (much fewer) territorial councillors. One should thus not take this high abstention rate as a strong indication of voter disinterest of politics in general.
As things stand, the socialists (PS) won the overall election with over 35% of the vote, followed by the UMP (the presidential party) with 20% and the FN with just over 11%. There was no FN breakthrough in terms of seats, but they came close in a number of places. The Greens took just over 8%. Sarkozy’s attempt to raise his standing by playing tough guy against Libya didn’t work. As expected and as usual this war is getting nowhere fast and any political bonus gained by the hawks will soon be lost, if not lost already.
On the home front, the nuclear-friendly UMP is having an uphill battle in the energy debate following the Fukushima disaster, with the Greens pushing their advantage and trying to get the PS to adopt a clear anti-nuclear policy, right at the time when the PS is publishing it’s political programme in view of the 2012 presidential election.
More worrying for Sarkozy is the recent defection of ex-minister Jean-Louis Borloo and his Radical Party from the UMP. Borloo thus follows in the de Villepin’s footsteps, this other ex-minister having created his République Solidaire party as a launchpad for the 2012 campaign. That means Sarkozy will be facing two heavyweights from the center-right in addition to Bayrou’s MoDem party. Basically the “right” is back where it was in 1988 when fairly evenly split between Chirac (19%), Barre (16%) and le Pen (14%). This mirrors the possible respective weights of Sarkozy, Borloo and Le Pen today. In 1988, this split in the right had permitted Mitterand to win the presidential election, so thereafter the UMP was created by Chirac as a unified election-wining conservative party, which was effectively taken over by Sarkozy.
This all sounds like good news for the French left, but there is the evident danger (from the PS point of view) of Borloo draining center-left votes from the PS. Indeed last night Borloo spoke of the “humanism” that will be a hallmark of his independent party, a word attractive to the left. A statement that also implies the UMP was devoid of “humanism”, having been coxed into a far-right corner with the FN under the “guidance” of hardliners Jean-François Copé and Claude Guéant. The recent “debate” about laicity and the place of Islam organised by the UMP was a non-event and a thorn in the UMP’s side, as the concept of laicity is enshrined in the French constitution and there really isn’t anything to add to it. One either follows the rule or not, and the UMPs attempt to not follow the rule under the disguise of “debate” isn’t fooling anyone.
So Sarkozy is in a real quagmire: his UMP is splitting up and his race to the bottom against the FN is going nowhere. The FN itself is claiming loudly that it’s not a “far-rigth” party in the “nazi” sense but a nationalist party with a strong social line. Marine Le Pen is clearly trying to get rid of her father’s somewhat neonazi-leaning heritage. And finally, a BVA poll yesterday showed that the socialist PS’s new programme was coming down very well with 70% of the public, and 58% would vote for the PS today. The heat is on in Sarkoland.