François Hollande’s political track record is questionable and change has yet to be seen in France
Earlier this month, on 6May, France turned a new page by electing the socialist candidate François Hollande as its president. Yet, while thousands of people gathered at the historical palace of la Bastille to celebrate the much awaited end of Nicolas Sarkozy’s mandate, I chose to remain in front of my television with relative restraint. It was not my cynicism talking, but my memory reminding me to draw serious conclusions from what happened during the past few months
The election of François Hollande reminded me somewhat of Obama’s election when public opinion cast him as a Nitzcheen übermensch who would put behind the Bush era and make a real change for the country. Hopes were high, but so too were the disappointments that followed. Regarding François Hollande, the strength of his movement and campaign has been gravitating around the leitmotiv of change and a structural anti-Sarkozysm has been a uniting force to this end. However, it seems difficult to know whether the vote for the socialist candidate is more than merely a sanction against Sarkozy. It is most probably the first challenge the new government will have to face now that Sarkozy is out of the equation, they will have to unite people around their ideal for France.
This is precisely where the retrospective in the presidential election campaign comes to defuse the general euphoria. Indeed, this election has revealed the extent of the symptoms from which our society suffers. During the run for the Elysée, we have systematically undermined the public debate regarding the €90 billion public deficit and the unemployment rate approaching ten percent. Instead, personal attacks have prevailed with an excess of populism, and the key issues facing the nation are submerged under the same contrived chorus of halal meat at school canteens, Islamic radicalism and questions debating whether or not we should have different swimming pool hours for women. No one can deny that Le Pen or even Sarkozy have clearly seized the opportunity to surf on this recent swell of xenophobic waves. Tellingly, it matters little which candidates initiated these debates, or the extent to which each has contributed, because these questions seem to be importantfor a large number of French people.
We have reached a point where we have accommodated those sterile themes and variations and have integrated them as part of the political sphere. The extremeight’s share of almost 20 per cent at the first ballot, and the very thin 1.8 per cent that separated Hollande from Sarkozy, are significant elements which lead to the observation that our country is severely fractured. It seems clear that France will need more than a new government to implement the change that Hollande promises. Furthermore, one should remember that as a member of parliament, François Hollande has never condemned with the adequate firmness and force, the sometimes Islamophobic drift of political debate.
Similarly, during his campaign, while referring to the extreme-right’s votes as a “vote of anger” or “vote of crisis”, he has often shown a relative acquiescence to some of their demands, reminding us that he was amongst those voting for bans against the burqa or the niqab in the public space. On the verge of the arliament elections, in which polls foresee a parliamentary representation of 12.5 per cent for ‘National Front,’ the extreme right party, the victory cannot be complete and satisfactory.
The end of Sarkozy’s mandate is not an end in itself, and the new president will have to be judged on his ability to resist in front of these challenges, and unite around a new project of society for France.
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