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The New or the Old France?

Who Wants Sarko?

by DIANA JOHNSTONE

The Anglo-American media view Sarkozy’s showing(over 31 per cent of the vote, compared to slightly under 26 per cent for Ségolène Royal in the April 22 first round) as evidence that a new France may finally be seeing the light and turning away from the stultifying "French model" to the freedom-loving example embodied by Britain and the United States. The final round is on May 6.

An examination of exit polls showing social composition and motives of the April 22 electorate suggests a very different interpretation. The pro-Sarko electorate is not the new, dynamic freedom-loving France. That France voted mostly for Ségolène Royal. The Sarko France is aging and scared.

Among voters aged 18 to 24, 34 per cent voted for the Socialist woman candidate. Twenty percent voted for centrist François Bayrou and only 19 per cent voted for Sarkozy (who is not, as English-language reports persist in calling him, a "Gaullist" ; "Bushist" would be more accurate.
Sarkozy’s largest block of voters were retired people. He won 44 per cent of the electorate over 65.

Asked which issue was paramount in their choice, 46 per cent of Ségolène’s voters express their concern for "social inequalities", and 66 per cent want to live in a society "with more personal freedom". Sarko voters are indifferent to those themes, but give first place to "the fight against insecurity"; 88 per cent demand a society "with more order and authority". And 26 per cent of Sarkozy voters favor "the struggle against immigration", compared to only 5 per cent of Royal voters.

These figures suggest a Sarkozyan France trembling at its shadow, easily taken in by the fake "authority" of a hyper-ambitious fast talker whose reign as Minister of the Interior has actually seen a rise in incidents of acts of violence against persons, but who juggles statistics and strikes poses to convey the notion that he is a nemesis of crime.

Another conceit of the international media is to congratulate Sarkozy for reducing the vote of Le Pen. This is like congratulating the wooden horse for keeping the Greeks out of Troy. A million Le Pen voters–the most reactionary in particular, those on the Riviera and in Alsace–quite reasonably switched to Sarkozy as the candidate who could actually get into office and carry out his reactionary promises–something Le Pen could never do.

Ségolène got slighter fewer women’s votes than Sarkozy, but this is easily explained by demographics. Women make up a majority of the over-65 electorate, which is particularly large in France–which enjoys the world’s longest life expectancy, especially for women.

After the aged, Sarkozy did best among artisans and business people, followed by management and the top professions : categories traditionally on the right, in hope of lowering taxes. But Ségolène led Sarkozy among intermediary professions and white collar workers, as well as blue collar workers–but in the last category, Le Pen came in first with 26 per cent — by far his highest score in any category (Le Pen got 10.5 per cent of the national vote).

By beating off a strong challenge from the centrist candidate François Bayrou, who won 18.5 per cent, Ségolène Royal did better than her disgruntled Socialist rivals expected, and especially better than the 2002 Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin, whose miserable showing was responsible for the fluke of Le Pen coming in second for the runoff. Her score was roughly equal to that of François Mitterrand in the first round in 1981, on his way to victory. But in 1981, Mitterrand could count on a large reserve of left-wing second round votes, notably from the Communist Party.

This time, the far left vote collapsed. Its electorate, frightened by the 2002 precedent, chose the "useful" vote for Ségolène in the first round. So although all the little left candidates have endorsed Ségo–including the veteran Trotskyist Arlette Laguiller, who in the past always refused to choose between "blanc bonnet et bonnet blanc" (Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee)–their votes add up to only about 11 more percentage points for the Socialist candidate.

Obviously, both candidates will now try to woo Bayrou’s voters. Polls indicate Sarkozy has the advantage. After running the final days of the first half of his campaign far to the right, to win National Front votes, he has instantly shifted his line to the left to fish in Bayrou’s waters. Sarko’s election night speech sounded as if his speech-writers had written it for Ségolène–all full of concern for people, whoever they might be.

Today, the unsurprising news arrived that Sergio Berlusconi endorses Sarkozy. Eric Besson, a Socialist turncoat who abandoned Ségolène in mid-campaign to go over to Sarko, complete with a book blasting Mme Royal, is now spokeman for his "left wing". He led off the second round campaign with a speech in which he exclaimed "Forza Sarko !"
The notion of France with its very own Berlusconi is, for many, a ghastly prospect indeed.

Anyway, Boris Yeltsin has not lived to add his voice to the French campaign for "shock treatment reform".

[Next: Sarkozy's false "security".]

DIANA JOHNSTONE can be reached at dianajohnstone@compuserve.com