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Foreign politics are so much cooler than ours

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Insanity, cold sweats, nausea... While all these may seem to be symptoms more akin to rabies than functioning democracy, all are potential results from the recent French election, perhaps to the misfortune of the country.

In France's eminently interesting presidential election on May 6, conservative Nicholas Sarkozy took on socialist Segolene Royal. The election proved to be of equal interest to the French populace as it was to me, as 85 per cent of those eligible to vote exercised their right. The result of this outstanding electoral turnout was 53 per cent in favour of Sarkozy, with the remaining 47 per cent in support of Royal.

This is where it gets ominous for me. there has been a tremendous amount written about this victory, giving Sarkozy a clear mandate to implement his program. Indeed, it has been mentioned that the electoral results imply that unions--opposed to some of Sarkozy's planned reforms--have no right to stand in his way.

This is absurd. Surely a six per cent margin is not enough to legitimize the disenfranchisement of the rest of the populace. Consider that, in reaction to his election, violent protests set off throughout the country. Paris alone was witness to a 2,000-person mob that had to be dispersed by tear gas. Further, I wonder whether the defeat of Segolene Royal may in part be due to the fact she would have been the first female president in the history of the Republic. It seems entirely conceivable this fact may be at least partly responsible for her electoral defeat. Clearly this is not a simple case of a nation rallying behind a single party or leader. Rather these election results--far from the resounding victory they have been reported by some to be--are an indication that the populace of the country is split fairly evenly. As such, compromises must be made.

The biggest problem is the positions adopted and elucidated by these two individuals are effectively irreconcilable. Perhaps the most contentious of the policies expected to be brought forth by the new president-elect is the proposed set of limitations on immigration. This issue provided the biggest spark during the campaign, so it is reasonable to expect it will generate a lot of discussion when it is implemented. Furthermore, shortly before the 2005 rioting that ravaged France, Sarkozy was criticized for describing certain segments of Parisian youth--notably of immigrant origin--as "rabble." From this point on, he has continually espoused the view that France should not be "a home for all the world's miseries." Sarkozy's stance on this issue, and the violent reaction that it has already provoked throughout France, is menacing for the solidarity of the country. It is estimated that there are between three and six million North African immigrants currently living in France, so the urgency of the issue is beyond question.

Certainly one of the most interesting of Sarkozy's proposed moves is the cancellation of taxes on overtime. By doing so, he hopes to bolster the admittedly tepid French economy. This is a significant departure from French tradition of the institutionalized 35-hour work week. In addition to this move, he has also said he will reduce taxes by 4 per cent and significantly reduce inheritance tax. It must be admitted that these reforms are probably to the benefit of France. Despite this, one must wonder if they will also prove to be quite divisive as they are in such stark contrast to the recent history of the country.

Another of his planned reforms, and certainly the scariest from my point of view, is that, along with imposing minimum sentences for repeat offenders, Sarkozy has proposed to increase the severity of punishments meted out to juveniles. Considering that it is largely the youth that have violently reacted against the president-elect, this policy is sure to encourage even more opposition.

Finally, there are also the concerns about his stated opposition to the accession of Turkey into the European Union. Without delving too deeply into such a complex issue, I feel it safe to say this will be seen as a negative initiative by the large number of immigrants in France who will almost certainly view this as a quasi-racist move designed to keep a Muslim nation out of "Christian Europe."

Whatever the reason for the French election being resolved in the manner it has, it is a clear indication of two things: first, the French people have, by turning out to the polls in droves, lent hope to the possibility of people having interest in electoral politics. Secondly, France is heading for a period which seems likely to be characterized by immense rifts dividing the populace.

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Comments

Just because you oppose a Middle Eastern nation in the EU does not make you racist.

It's not important that Turkey is Muslim, what's important is that one side of its political spectrum supports military "intervention" in politics and the other side wants religious law, that Freedom House lists Turkey as only a "semi-free" country, that Turkey is a fiercely nationalistic state that would prevent the EU from integrating, that Turkey refuses to recognize the existence of an existing member state of the EU (Cyprus), and that 15 percent of Turkish territory is really occupied Kurdish lands that face ethnic repression and are waiting to explode again after a violent civil war that only recently ended in stalemate. Sound like a country that belongs in the EU? Not really.

I am not trying to imply that Sarkozy is racist, rather I am suggesting that he may be viewed as such by segments of the populace which are already hostile to him.

Further, in order to achieve admission into the EU (which it is currently in talks to do) Turkey would need to implement a number of reforms in order to meet the requirements of the EU, therein making the country more free-so, if freedom is the goal, entry to the EU is of paramount importance.
Also, the EU is already rife with nationalist problems. In fact, France was one of the nations that rejected the proposed constitution in a national referendum in 2005. Do not forget that Greece, the nation with which Turkey is haggling over Cyprus, is also a member of the EU.
As to the Kurdish question, I am certainly not well enough informed to suggest anything, but perhaps I would direct your attention to the fact that Germany was still divided in half when West Germany was a founding member in 1957, that Spain had been under the rule of Franco until a mere eleven years before it joined in 1986, and that Ireland/UK have been switching between a condition of peace and convulsive terror since the start of their tenure in 1973.

Perhaps the EU would help both Turkey and the Kurdish people?

Cam Cotton-O'Brien makes some great points in his article, such as why the French population would not vote for Royal because she is female. That can be demonstrated by the comment from a socialist politican who run against her in the Socialist nomination race, about who would look after Ms. Royal's and Mr. Hollande's four children if she run for the presidency. Still, it's an irony how the British population voted for a reformist conservative politican who happened to be a woman, Margaret Thatcher back in the late 70s'.

But remember she committed some big errors, such as making comments about how France will support Quebec independence or saying how the Chinese justice system is "faster" than the French one. Another controversy was in December 2006, when she went on a tour of the Middle East. She met a Hezbollah politican and said she was thankful that the minister was "so frank" when he described the USA foreign policy as "unlimited American insanity" and didn't spoke out when he called Israel a "Zionist entity". These mistakes did not made it easy for the French voters to view Royal as anything but an inexperienced politican with no experience in diplomacy.

Here's more: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6310557.stm

I also want to add my two cents about Turkey. Let not forget about Turkey's denial over the Armenian genocide. Million of people died in the genocide ordered by the Young Turks all these decades ago, and yet Turkey still denies it. It is worrying enough. However, the Turkish government have a bad habit of jailing Turkish writers, artists, and historians who wrote about the Armenian genocide on the charges of "attacking Turkey". Turkey should do more on the Armenian genocide problem, such as apologizing for its role if it want to join the European Union.

One reason why Sarkozy played on his "tough on illegal immigrants" and law and order right wing stance in the elections is because he is trying to gain more votes from Jean-Marie Le Pen's party, National Front.

If Jean-Marie Le Pen won the French election instead of Sarkozy, I would say things can be more worse for the French immmigrants and minority groups. Le Pen is a controversial French nationalist who described the Holocaust as a "detail of history" and advocates "zero immigrantion".

He is popular, and he made into the final round of the presidential election on 17% against Chirac, defeating the Socialists in 2002.