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Sarkozy’s setback in France: symbolic or seismic?

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Originally published in The Pryer: 27/09/2011


Poor Nicholas Sarkozy. He received a warmer, more enthusiastic reception in Libya than in his own country. On Sunday his conservative government lost its majority in the Senate to the left in a ‘historic defeat’ ahead of a presidential election in April next year.

Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Socialist group in theSenate, said on French television: “The results of this Senate election represent a real come uppance for the right.” UMP (Sarkozy’s party) Senate leader Gerard Larcher described it as having “seismic” consequences.

So before the lefties order champagne all round, we need to stop for a moment and pause. Is this truly a ‘Sacre Bleu!’ moment, or is it merely a symbolic setback?

One the one hand, the right still retained a majority in the National Assembly. Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said: “This is in no way a point of blockage for the government because, as you know, it’s the National Assembly that has the last word.”

For those that do not know much about French politics, the Senate vote is not thebest indicator of voter sentiment – French citizens do not directly vote for the Senate, which is elected by some 72,000 mayors, local and regional councillors and those they appoint, who vote on the basis of regional party lists. The results on Sunday reflect the increasing strength over the years of the left in local councils and elections and divisions within the right.

Further to this, though a leftist majority could complicate government legislation in the pipeline it will not be able to block it. A little bit like our House of Lords.

Still, a defeat is a defeat. Let us not forget that Sarkozy has been deeply unpopular for a while now. Not just with the people but also fellow politicians. The change of majority at the Senate may not necessarily be a victory for the left but, as Agnès Poirier wrote in the Guardian, “a sign that la maison Sarkozy is bursting at the seams. The right is now openly divided about its leader”.

However, for any constitutional changes, the President needs to win three fifths of the vote from the combined upper and lower houses of parliament. The Senate can, without a doubt, slow down Sarkozy’s plans. That is if he is re elected.

Senators can themselves now propose legislation that even if the National Assembly blocks, will be uncomfortable for the government, and they can also launch potentially devastating commissions of inquiry, for example into political corruption allegations. Given the recent “Karachi affair”, this could prove to be damaging.

The real test will come after the Presidentialel ections. It is predicted that Sarkozy will be defeated, given his unpopularity and party scandals, but the left’s victory, it should be said, is not necessarily an all out-victory. It is an indication of the tough economic times, rather than an ideological swing, and politicians as well as the people have had enough of their present government.  This is true not just for France, but for the rest of Europe too.



Written by Iram Ramzan

September 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Europe

Tagged with , ,

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