Monday, May 07, 2007

yup-- Sarko wins it

With about 85% participation in the vote, a most uncynical French populace went to the booths and voted in conservative Nicolas Sarkozy by a fairly narrow margin of 53% to 47%.

What I hope to do for you later today is translate a longish French article that supposedly describes the "real" Sarkozy. The article was written alongside another one about Sarko's rival, socialist contender Ségolène Royal. I won't be translating the Royal article mainly because, well, she lost, but the Sarko article is relevant and I want to do my part to provide the anglophone readership with a French-style glimpse of who the new president is.

My own take is pretty much what I had said before: Sarko is a conservative, so you can expect him to continue to some degree in the footsteps of Chirac. My hope is that he will (1) tighten immigration controls, (2) partially unplug the power of French unions, (3) continue to promote the idea that "more work merits greater pay," (4) listen to social critique from the Left regarding pressing problems in the banlieue and elsewhere, especially in the area of race relations and education. The French can be fantastically open-minded, but as a people, they also have a mean streak when it comes to matters of race and culture. Not to say that the US comes off as pure, but on this particular question I think the US has been more open about dialogue and has been better about consciousness-raising.

Sarko is ostensibly pro-American, but this notion needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Most of the recent presidential debate focused on domestic, not international, issues, and France is likely to spend a lot of time addressing its own struggles even as it keeps up a brave face for the world stage. It will, as should be expected, put its own interests first, just as we do. And Sarko is only one man; he will have to bow more than once to the French version of special interests, including interests inimical to his own agenda. Fundamental changes in French society have to occur, but they won't occur overnight. Sarko won't be throwing out the entrenched socialism anytime soon, for example; pundits who expect otherwise will be in for a disappointment. In other words, given the problems and concerns Sarko is inheriting, the label "pro-American" needs clarification. We'll have a better idea a year or so into his term as to what the nature of his pro-Americanism is.

As more enlightened commentators have noted, France was presented (or, we might say, France presented itself) with two starkly contrasting options in Sarkozy and Royal. While it's easy, as an American, to laugh this off as "typically French," I would invite people to look more deeply into why, exactly, the French feel so troubled about their own country, and therefore so motivated to turn out in droves to vote. I'm still exploring the issues myself (remember that I spent most of my time in Switzerland, not France), so we'll be learning a lot together.

So! Watch this blog for a large translation later. A link to the French original will be provided. As always... any errors in translation will be my responsibility.


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