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Press abuzz about Sarkozy’s ‘humiliating defeat’ in regional elections

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-16

Newspaper headlines in France and abroad were abuzz about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s setback in regional elections on Sunday, as his centre-right party trails opposition Socialists after the first round of ballots.

Morning newspapers in France and abroad were full of headlines about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s setback in regional elections on Sunday, as his centre-right party was left trailing opposition Socialists after the first round of ballots were tallied.

The ‘anti-Sarkozy vote’

The New York Times highlighted a “a resounding defeat for the centre-right”, but suggested that the French left should not yet be setting its sights too high, noting that “the Socialist Party remains deeply divided about its policies and its leadership, with no clear presidential candidate at this stage.” The daily newspaper also evoked the divisive political climate that preceded Sunday’s vote: “It has not been a pretty campaign, with charges of racial and ethnic insults superseding regional policy issues…”

Meanwhile, in the UK, the BBC called the results “a major blow for Mr. Sarkozy”, zeroing in on the surprisingly strong showing by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, which picked up 12 percent of the vote. The party’s “performance comes against the background of social and racial tensions after the government's public debate on national identity”, the organisation noted.

Approaching the news from a similar perspective were British newspapers The Independent, which called the vote “a humiliating defeat” for Sarkozy, and The Times, which summed up the election as “the anti-Sarkozy vote” in which “France signalled its displeasure” with the president during a period of economic slowdown and high unemployment.

A Socialist comeback

The French press took a closer look at the implications of the election beyond the bad news for Sarkozy – namely, what it could mean for the winning Socialists. French daily Le Monde called the Socialist party “victorious but fragile”, citing three “handicaps” that could hamper future electoral successes: “leadership, platform, and alliances”.

Left-leaning French daily Libération noted that the Socialists had “reason to be pleased with themselves”, while right-leaning Le Figaro cast the election as the comeback of the party, adding that “the poor results from European parliamentary elections in June 2009 were erased on Sunday”.

The online news site Rue89 took up an angle similar to that in the English-speaking press, but went a step further, calling the elections a “triple failure” for Sarkozy: his party’s strategy of uniting various centre-right constituencies did not pan out; nor did an attempt to lure far-right voters using themes such as national identity; and, according to journalist Pierre Haski, “the message of rejection of [Sarkozy’s] style and politics is clear, brutal, and undeniable”.

But for Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique, the main thing to take away from the elections was the record voter abstention (an estimated 53.5%). Three reasons could explain this phenomenon, according to journalist Bernard Delattre: polls that predicted the outcome weeks in advance, uninspiring campaigns and the fact, repeated by Sarkozy, that “no national impact could be expected from this regional vote – to the great displeasure of the 70 percent of people who according to polls would have desired such a national impact”.

Date created : 2010-03-15