Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Left Takes the Senate

A first in the history of the Fifth Republic and another sign that Sarkozy's unpopularity has crippled the governmental right: the left has captured the Senate:

La gauche est majoritaire au Sénat pour la première fois

La gauche a remporté, dimanche, au moins 23 sièges aux élections sénatoriales. Elle obtient ainsi la majorité absolue. Le président du Sénat, Gérard Larcher (UMP), annonce qu'il sera tout de même candidat à sa succession. Retrouvez les résultats détaillés et les biographies des sénateurs élus en "une" du

UPDATE: MYOS asks in a comment to another post how the Senate could have been "designed" to return a safe right-wing majority. The design was sociological: by having mayors elect senators, the constitution ensured that small communes would have disproportionate representation. These were mostly rural at a time when left-wing power was concentrated in and around industrial cities. The rural constituency outweighed the urban in terms of communes but not in terms of population. So this rigged things in favor of the right. But the demographics have changed. clerical and industrial workers, state employees, and other non-farmers have been priced out of many urban areas and now live in less expensive suburbs scattered over the countryside. Hence their representation has increased. Furthermore, the left dominance of regional governments has made even more traditional rural areas more dependent on left-leaning regional councils, etc.

Central Moment

Bernard Girard is right: this is Borloo's moment. But will he seize it? With the Right crumbling under the combined assaults of Marine Le Pen and le juge van Ruymbeke, now is the time. But Borloo has always been the most laid-back of politicians: "fire in the belly" is not his style.

What about other centrists? Bayrou? Morin? The former has been on the stump often enough, but he doesn't seem to be able to close the deal. I don't know why. To be sure, his 16% in the first round of 2007 was swelled by legions of "anybody but Sarkozy" voters, who may have had no special affinity for Bayrou and who may have ceased to care quite so much about finding a non-Socialist alternative to a UMP presidency. By contrast, Morin has gone out of his way to minimize the importance of the unfolding affairs, as if explicitly disavowing any ambition for the presidency.

So, France's next "centrist" president is likely to be François Hollande. Dominique Strauss-Kahn must be regretting his faute morale more than ever. This election would have been his to lose.

Sarkozy at the UN

I neglected to comment on Sarkozy's speech at the UN. Here is the text. I thought he acquitted himself quite well, maintaining his balance while offering a modest proposal to move things forward:

Faut-il pour autant exclure une étape intermédiaire ? Pourquoi ne pas envisager pour la Palestine le statut d’Etat observateur aux Nations Unies ? Ce serait un pas important, nous sortirions après 60 ans de l’immobilisme, l’immobilisme qui fait le lit des extrémistes. Nous redonnerions un espoir aux Palestiniens en marquant des progrès vers le statut final.
To be sure, he wrapped himself in the mantle of the Arab Spring, overstating its achievements in a manner befitting his identification with its latest and most ambiguous episode, regime change in Libya:

Je veux le dire avec une profonde et sincère amitié pour le peuple israélien : Ecoutez ce que criait la jeunesse des printemps arabes. Ils criaient : « Vive la liberté ! ». Ils ne criaient pas : « à bas Israël ». Vous ne pouvez pas rester immobiles alors que ce vent de liberté et de démocratie souffle dans votre région.
This passage conveniently ignored the attack on the Israeli embassy in Egypt, where cries of "à bas Israël" were indeed heard. This Le Monde article tries hard to paint Sarkozy as somehow uniquely fitted for the peacemaking role, playing up his Jewish ancestry, about which we rarely hear in any other context, and his supposed rupture with past French policy, which is unfairly maligned. I see Sarkozy's Middle East policy as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Operating under tight constraints, Sarkozy maintained his footing and his credibility as a potential broker, not wedded to the American position and sensitive to the desiderata of both sides. This was as much as he could accomplish at the UN, and he was equal to the occasion.