‘In a system divided between three powers, it’s imperative to be one of the two.’ — Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
This morning’s weather forecast is for high winds and rising temperatures throughout la Hexagone. Evidently a continuation of yesterday’s mood, both physical and political–because yesterday, to the surprise of doomsayers, a wind of collective reason swept the political landscape. Could the changes France desperately needs be possible, before it is too late?
During the week leading up to the final departementale elections, hopes and fears for the outcome peaked and clashed. Prelims, in which the radical-right FN made stunning advances, had been held the Sunday before. (Short version of the FN program: take France out of the Euro, out of NATO, and close the borders.) The results meant that for the first time, a significant number of run-off elections would be three-ways between the FN, the ruling PS, and the conservative UMP. Would the radical-right National Front succeed in seizing executive power in one, or even two, departments, thanks in large part to their new lance-bearer, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a 26 year old neo-con Joan of Arc? (More on the redoubtable Marion in future.) If so, blame would fall squarely on the UMP, where a resurgent, unapologetic Nicholas Sarkozy refused to advise ‘his’ voters to support the PS where the UMP’s chances were small, as a bulwark action against the Nationalists. Finally, would the PS, bled by vacillating immobilism (sic), continued high unemployment and a fractious far-left wing, merely lose, or lose so horribly–the ‘spanking’ that Marine Le Pen indelicately promised her adversaries–that something would finally have to give in the Palais d’Elysee?
In the end, roughly one voter in two cast her/his vote, a striking turnout anywhere for a merely regional election. (Contrast this with 33% for the last, dismal, US national Congressionals.) And while not all the results have been tallied, this much is sure:
–The PS, often criticized at the local level for cronyism and worse, lost about half of its previous seats. A devastating rout. Will Hollande/Valls now finally begin the tough reforms needed? (Hint: no one is holding their breath.)
–The UMP, channeling Bismarck’s dictum, was the big winner. Which leaves Party leader Sarkozy (whether you like it or not) in better position to capture nomination for the Presidency in 2017.
–Yes, the FN failed to take the majority in Departments they thought were ripe for harvest. But they’ve consolidated power where already present. Not to be discounted in the rough two years before national elections.
–Most importantly, the nightmare scenario of parliamentary tripartisme, or worse, a squabbling plurality of parties, has been rejected for now by an informed, participative electorate. Vive la raison, vive la France!