Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tension Mounts

The second round of municipal elections on March 16 is still a major topic at the French websites, although American politics is equally represented, with Hillary, Obama, Geraldine Ferraro, and Eliot Spitzer making headlines.

According to an article in Le Parisien, quoted by Gaelle Mann, Nicolas Sarkozy and his camp are now almost in a sweat over the outcome:

Bewilderment over the election results has now given way to real anxiety among UMP leaders. At the beginning of the year, Nicolas Sarkozy, eager to politicize the races, had unwisely declared: "Local elections always constitute a national test." A bad move: the Right could lose about 30 cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants.

The Left, that governs already 20 regions and holds Paris, Lyons and Lille, could win five or six more departments.

Such a defeat for the Right, which would establish a veritable counter-weight on the local level for the Left, would hamper the government in the coming months and reduce the president's margin of maneuver. Hence, the barely concealed anxiousness of the majority party. "It's going to be tough." (...) "It's all very uncertain." (...) "Is next Sunday in the bag? I don't think so." (...)

After having denied a socialist resurgence on the first round, the majority party is determined to repair the damage, explaining that one cannot infer a national verdict from last Sunday's results. "There is no national dynamic," insists Elysée. "Each city is a separate case," adds the Prime Minister.

All eyes are now turning towards Marseilles and Toulon because of their symbolic importance. In the first case, UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin could squeak by with a victory (51% to 49%) over the socialist Jean-Michel Guérini, according to a CSA poll. In the second case, UMP mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc is likely to be beaten by socialist Pierre Cohen in a close race (49% to 51%). But the margins are so slim that other polls give the opposite results. Hence Sarkozy's attempt on Tuesday in Toulon to rally the voters around the theme of immigration, and the frequent visits to the provinces by François Fillon.

"I hope our electorate gets moving. Get out and vote," exhorts Patrick Devedjian, UMP deputy from Hauts-de-Seine, and general secretary of the majority party.

However the UMP party may lose the votes of those registered with the Front National. When Sarkozy visited Toulon (department of Var) on Tuesday he expressed satisfaction at having reduced the influence of the FN which, according to the president, "poisoned the political debate for years." In a communiqué Jean-Marie Le Pen angrily retorted: "The Front National has never poisoned the debate. It denounces the poisons spread throughout our society by those whose duty it is to protect it." In another communiqué the local FN leader calls on his constituents to abstain from voting for UMP candidates in the department of Var.

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