Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Go Bayrou -- but Go Royal for now

By Michael J.W. Stickings

François Bayrou -- my preference in Sunday's first round of the 2007 French presidential election -- is refusing to play kingmaker. After finishing a solid third behind Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, he spoke of "a centre in France, a large centre, a strong centre, an independent centre capable of speaking and acting beyond previous borders," an alternative of change and hope. And the key question in defeat was whether he would support Royal on his left or Sarkozy on his right.

The answer: neither: "I will not give any advice on how to vote."

Indeed, according to Bayrou, neither candidate would be good for France: "Nicolas Sarkozy, I believe, will aggravate the problems with democracy and the fractured society. Ségolène Royal, through her programme, is going to aggravate the economic problems, and one as much as the other is going to unbalance the deficit and the debt." And so his plan is to establish a new centrist party, the Democratic Party, to compete with the major parties of the left and right, Royal's Socialist Party and Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement. It will run candidates in June's parliamentary elections.

For more on Bayrou's present and possible future, see here. Although he has expressed opposition to Royal's economic policies, which tend to be mildly socialist but hardly out of the social democratic mainstream, his criticisms of Sarkozy have been blunt, harsh, and ominous. Consider: "Because of his close links to big business and with France's media barons, and thanks to his taste for intimidation and threat, Mr Sarkozy will concentrate power like never before. And because of his temperament, he risks aggravating already deep social divides in France." Tough words -- in my view, entirely justified.

So what now? It seems that Bayrou is leaning to Royal and that, on the whole, his supporters are, too. But to what extent? Enough to put Royal over the top, given Sarkozy's margin of victory in the first round and his popularity and prominence in French politics?

Either way, I'm with Royal -- but mostly because I dislike Sarkozy and his atrocious combination of neoliberalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. It's not that Royal is too much of a socialist -- in fact, she's quite moderate -- it's that Bayrou is probably right about her economic policies and that she lacks experience in foreign and security policy and often doesn't seem to have much of a clue (plus, she has expressed support for Québécois separatism, not exactly a position that endears one to a proud Canadian federalist such as myself).

But she's not that bad, on the whole, and, well, she's not Sarkozy. That's good enough for me.

(Photo from The Globe and Mail.)

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