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Little Napoleon or French neocon

Little Napoleon or French neocon

The Hindu mardi 23 janvier 2007: editorial.

"The nomination, some way coronation, of the french Interior Minister and President of the ruling UMP (Union for Popular Movement) party, Nicolas Sarkozy, as the conservatives's candidate for next spring's presidential election in France came as no surprise. The "little Napoleon", as a section of the French press calls him, has made no secret of his ambitions. For the past two years, he has moved with determination and cunning, knocking off rivals, transforming the party he wrested from President Chirac into a formidable political machine that is now entirely at his command. However, this is no-holds-barred rhetoric and though talk have made him the most polarising figure in the country and a majority of the French regard him with suspicion. In an attempt to woo centrist and extreme-right voters, he has made a series of contradictory declarations. He has favoured the war in Iraq and condemned it. He has promised immigrants the vote in local elections and disiwned the proposal. He has been in favour of liberalism while defending French state-owned companies from foreign predators. He has called for a "clean break" with the past only to drop the word "rupture" from all subsequent declarations. In his nomination speech, Mr Sarkozy made a conscious effort to soften his image. "I have changed. I am but a little Frenchman ", he declared, reffering to his own immigrants roots (he is a second generation immigrant of Hungarian and Jewish-Greek descent). His values, he said, were those of the republic -"hard work, order, merit, fairness, responsability". But he openly opposed Turkey's entry into the European Union and snubbed France's five million muslims by calling France "heir to 2000 years of Christianity" in an obvious sop to extreme right.

However, that kind of talk might not be enough to win the election. Despite the fact that several loyalists have crossed over to the Sarkozy camp, the President could yet queer the pitch by standing as an independant candidate. Mr Chirac has a reputation for placing his own interests before those of his political family and his intense dislike of the younger man is well known. With the extreme right upping the ante, Mr Sarkozy's victory is by no means certain. The man whom the Socialists call "a neocon with a French passport" could tripped up by Socialist Segolene Royal. With over 40 candidates in the fray, the April 22 first round has all the ingredients of a cliffhanger. Will it be a Sego-Sarko match or will extreme right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen edge one of them out in the first round for a repeat of 2002 that gave Jacques Chirac a second term with 82per cent of the vote "