A reputation for irascibility didn’t diminish the decisive victory (ElectionGuide.org) of Nicolas Sarkozy, who won the French presidency with 53 percent of the popular vote, just as polls had predicted. Nor, apparently, did it hurt him Sunday as Sarkozy’s party won a striking victory over its Socialist rivals (BBC) in the first round of French parliamentary elections.
If early vote counts hold, Sarkozy's conservative supporters will hold the vast majorty of seats in the National Assembly. As CFR’s Célia Belin said in a podcast, “The French people will want to give the president the capacity to govern.”
Following their defeat in the presidential election, Socialist party members portrayed themselves as a parliamentary counterweight to the new president’s power. Sarkozy, however, wrong-footed them by nominating ministers from across political divides, seven of whom are women. Among them is Rachida Dati (BBC) the new minister of justice, whose North African origins (Times of London) are a first for the French cabinet. Bernard Kouchner, a socialist who founded Doctors Without Borders, will take up the foreign affairs portfolio. As the Economist points out, “Mr. Sarkozy has stunned those who expected an ideological president. He has put merit before loyalty.” Some 69 percent of the governed say they like his choices (Angus Reid). And the Socialist Party’s chairman, François Hollande, has been left publicly fuming at Kouchner.
The Socialists, clearly, are in disarray. Three consecutive presidential defeats and negative predictions for upcoming parliamentary elections have convinced many that the party needs to modernize or perish (Reuters). Hollande, companion of failed Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, will step down as the party leader. Royal will not run for reelection for the parliamentary seat she has held for nineteen years, but has pledged to remain active in politics and may succeed Hollande as party chief.
Will the Socialists reform or form barricades? Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair advises the party to ditch its dogma and embrace a social-democratic future (AFP). As for this election, Henri Rey, an analyst at the Center for French Political Life, tells the Associated Press, “It's pretty unlikely they will return to power,” and should hope instead for a “new honorable defeat” this month.