Contrary to 2007 I am late in writing about French elections even though this time around my vote has been decided long ago: I will vote for Sarkozy this time, having overcome my misgivings on the man. In 2007 I went for Segolène Royal. Flip flopping? No, I vote for the candidate more than for the political affiliation of that one; and for the record, were I to be allowed to vote in the US in November Obama is my current choice.
I have chosen Sarkozy for several reasons but the main one because I think he has gotten an unfair bad rap. Even Moises Naim whose analytic acumen I appreciate compared him in El Pais to Berlusconi and South American re-electionists that shall remain nameless when in reality Sarkozy pushed for a constitutional amendment to limit French presidential mandates to ONLY two consecutive terms. That is right, Sarkozy was elected in a Constitution that allowed him to run as often as he wanted and the amendment he managed to pass limited him to one single, immediate, reelection. No Cleveland for him. As he probably will be losing the second round ballot in two weeks we are likely watching his very last weeks in office.
The problem of Sarkozy is his abrasive personality. Maybe I am nonplussed because having been subjected to 13 years of chavista abuse I find Sarkozy antics rather quaint, though irritating. Still, the fact of the matter is that Sarkozy seems to be paying today the price for his earlier behavioral mistakes, so to speak.
Considering that he had to face earlier in his term a relentless crisis he could not proceed to the necessary reforms that France needs. One of the few he managed to pass through, pushing back retirement age by two years, was by itself such a painful process that it made it basically impossible to push other much needed reforms such as reverting the 35 hours week and making employment more flexible in a country where too many people still hold the same job for life, only beaten by Japanese tradition if any. But the crisis is not a full excuse for him: in the first year of his term he wavered too much in pushing important reforms thinking he had 5 years ahead. And down went the financial system, and the possibility of reform.
French people are very conservative in nature even if they are lifelong members of the socialist party. The admirable French welfare state cannot be afforded anymore. That is what is ailing Sarkozy badly, making people forget or overlook some of his other real success as battling the economic crisis to try not to make it worse. History will judge whether his efforts associated to those of Merkel were the right ones. But within France I never heard of any other serious counter proposal. In fact those of Hollande, which he will not be able to fulfill unless he is willing to jeopardize the European Union future, are a mere promise of a return to an unreachable halcyon past. The markets are already serving notice.
Sarkozy has moved his butt on the international stage, something that is not appreciated either. Be it his leadership over Libya after recognizing his early mistakes over Tunisia, or the dynamic duo with Germany, or his unabashed desire to return in the pro US fold, or his timid start at moralizing French foreign policy so as not to put up with dictators of any stripe. That last one in particular has costed France a lot in Venezuela as Chavez vulgarity was not accommodated the way Chirac did. I am convinced that Sarkozy's team has learned a lot, and changed a lot, and that a second term would find France foreign policy occupying a bigger place than France would deserve in normal circumstances. I am almost certain that Hollande's foreign policy would be close to disastrous....
I do not mean to say that Hollande is a bad candidate. I even tried to join the Socialist primary so as to vote for him because the other option, Martine Aubry, would have been a catastrophe for France. The petulant nature of French electorate would have elected her anyway, but to much, much greater damage than Hollande who is not stupid and has a sense on how the real world works, even if he is quiet about it. The problem of Hollande is Melanchon and his supporters who I call Melanconnards, an untranslatable bad pun meaning that they are assholes.
I have had experience of Melanchon for a decade now, when a very polite comment on his then blog as a socialist senator was never published even though it merely suggested that some of his information on Chavez should be revised. See, Melanchon is a rat who abandoned the French Communist party when it was doing its post Berlin wall sinking to join the Socialist Party and its improved electoral prospects. Since then Melanchon has abandoned the socialist Party and has gathered a coalition of commies and "occupy whatever" guys. Melanchon was even in the past an ardent supporter of Chavez, embracing constitutional assemblies and speaking of a French 6th republic. Now, political expediency considered, he thinks that Evo Morales is a better model for France..........
In French political double standards for Sarkozy to talk to the National Front of Le Pen is seen as a grotesque action, a No-No taboo. But for Hollande to consider an alliance with the equally destructive Melanchon crowd is acceptable. And thus the problem of Hollande: to win and get a parliamentary majority next June he will negotiate with Melanchon and become his hostage.
My vote for Sarkozy is clear, unequivocal. Maybe not a ringing endorsement but considerably more than a mere resignation. For all his faults I can see that Sarkozy has learned a lot, that he is a true democrat in spite of his occasional outbursts, usually sent the way of that traditional French negativism on anything just for the sake of it. But he is almost certain to lose the vote and that is OK with me: I am getting quite used be on the losing side of 90% of the votes I participate in.
PS: The French system has changed (and I also voted NO on that referendum). Presidential and legislative elections are now synchronized which I think is a huge mistake as the "cohabitations" under Mitterrand and Chirac did work much better than expected and forged for the firsts time ever a French consensus on some key issues. France is still nominally a parliamentary system though the president is very powerful IF he also has a majority in parliament.
I have the impression that the mistake of synchronizing elections will come back to bite the political class in the next May parliamentary election as neither the Socialists or the UMP are likely to win an outright majority. In fact it is quite possible that regardless who wins in two weeks, he will get an adverse parliament anyway.
That would not be so bad as what France needs today is a "grand coalition" German style to make some of the reforms that Germany made over a decade ago and that are now paying off handsomely for them.
I am sorely tempted to vote socialist in June in case Sarkozy were to pull it off in May. I am that evil.