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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sarkozy en force mais pas encore élu

by Grégory Marin

French Presidential Election: Suspense before the Second Round

Translated Tuesday 1 May 2007, by Isabelle Métral

Sarkozy’s easy first place in the first round is no guarantee of victory. The presence of the governing right-wing party’s candidate in the run-off is proof that his campaign has been most efficient. Despite this a severe handicap might lose him the election. There is more than one hurdle on his way to the Elysée. The contest is far from over.

On 22 April, Nicolas Sarkozy won the biggest share of the vote ever won by a right-wing candidate in the first round of a presidential election since the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Undeniably, the strength of the candidate lies in the impressive machinery that his party, the UMP, has put in his service. Set up by Jacques Chirac for the benefit of Alain Juppé and the 2002 presidential election (an avatar of the former leading right-wing party), it was taken over by Nicolas Sarkozy in November 2004. Since then the party has been organized like an army. For four years Sarkozy has been visiting every corner of the country, assisted by 300,000 active party members and the State’s logistic support which his official functions as Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Interior Minister afforded him. Right from the beginning of this campaign, his lieutenants have held up to 26 public meetings a day (the highest figure was reached during the week before the first round). The strike force has been drumming in the boss’s message. The team was all the more zealous as Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear he would appoint only fifteen ministers, to be chosen among the most efficient of his devotees, should he make it to the Elysée.

His aim now is to persuade right-wing voters and charm those in the centre.

His most startling asset is the fact that even his fiercest critics work for him. For if the “anti-Sarko” networks annoy him, his opponents’ favourite motto “Anything But Sarko” (Tout Sauf Sarko) keeps up the famous “Media Sound Units” so dear to his spin doctors: at the end of the day they are very good for his image. For the last four years debates on social issues have been full of his favourite themes, proof that he has succeeded in imposing them: merit, hard work, security, national identity, the items on his platform spell his “values”. He flirts with the far-right, but he wins politicians round to his own ideological turf, away from French people’s concerns. And it pays. To white-collar and blue-collar workers, to the working poor and middle class he serves his sham recipe: “Work longer hours and earn more!” In the industrial bastions his pragmatic approach goes down well enough and surreptitiously spreads the right-wing ideology for which it serves as a cloak. His steamroller rhetoric and tactics have filled the candidate’s bag with votes, winning over traditionally left-wing regions and departments like Lorraine and Pas-de-Calais. It won’t be long before his recipe shows its limits though, as it leaves out the question of wages…

For all his assets, energy and determination, which have recently rallied Eric Besson (who was formerly in charge of the socialist party’s economic platform and had just turned his back on his friends out of spite), Nicolas Sarkozy labours under a severe handicap as he gets himself into position for the second round. For one thing, the contradiction between his far-right positions (meant to seduce the Le Pen vote) and his social gesturing (meant to seduce the Bayrou UDF centre-right vote) might destabilise his supporters. Then his appeal to the far-right has been so successful that it leaves him with few voters to court in the second round on that side of the spectrum. Le Pen’s National Front (FN) got 10.5% of the vote, but can he urge his voters to pitch a Sarkozy ballot paper into the box, when just before the first round he called the candidate “a scheming rascal”? No doubt he then climbed down somewhat, saying he had no bone to pick with him personally and “a rapprochement” was not to be ruled out “provided Sarkozy himself was so inclined.” But Le Pen’s disappointing share in the first round may incline him to change his tactics: the party’s general secretary, Louis Aliot, said Le Pen might ask his voters to stay away from the polls.

Bayrou’s UDF party arbitrates while Sarkozy’s UMP threatens

Sarkozy just cannot retain the right-wing vote and charm UDF voters at one and the same time. Waiting for him to speak out, his lieutenants have gone into action. His right-hand man Brice Hortefeux first feigned indifference – “Nicolas Sarkozy does not believe in negotiations at the top level” as if Sarkozy’s party could ignore Bayrou’s seven million voters. He then proceeded to make some adjustments: “It stands to reason that François Bayrou embodies the values Nicolas Sarkozy promotes far more convincingly than Ségolène Royal can ever defend them.” UDF leaders are delighted. “François Bayrou will deliver a statement to Le Parisien (a Paris daily) this week”, his campaign manager Marielle de Sarnez promised. “But one thing is clear: we are not for sale!” Maybe not. Jean-Louis Borloo, Sarkozy’s “social” second self, dangled the bait: “Should Nicolas Sarkozy be elected President, I would personally find the massive collaboration of UDF Cabinet ministers absolutely necessary, indispensable, and profitable.” While Brice Hortefeux brandished a cudgel: “We know the UDF Members of Parliament of course. Most were elected with the support of UMP voters. UMP and UDF Members work together. UDF Members voted in favour of most bills, especially Nicolas Sarkozy’s, so I believe we can all rally together.” The threat is thinly veiled. It simply confirms a well-established fact. Even before the approaching general election (to be held in June - after the presidential election), a number of UDF Members who depend on UMP local support for the implementation of joint policies, have already rallied round Sarkozy. Is François Bayrou himself really going to stick to his plans for a strong, independent centre party or will he eventually take the easy way as the UDF has so far done?

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