Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Peut'etre , pas cette fois!
Nicolas Sarkozy (Sarko ), the 52 years old right wing driven pugnacious son from a broken Hungarian immigrant family, won comfortably the hotly contested French Presidential contest on 6 May, with a high 85% voter turn out by garnering 53% votes. Sarko represents UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire). He is neo-liberal, authoritarian, pro-American and pro-Israeli. Except for Socialist Francois Mittereand's 14 years reign, France has been ruled by right wing forces since 1958 when Charles de Gaulle ushered in the new Republican regime.
Socialist Segolene (Sego) Royal, Sarko's opponent, leader of the Left, Dakar (Senegal) born pied noire, 53 years old daughter of a military Colonel managed 47% votes. She is the first French woman to arrive this far in French politics and needs watching. She is cool, suave, attractive and sharp. The election ends an era of 1970s vintage leaders with the outgoing President Jacque Chirac, 74 years old, who took over in 1995 from an ailing dinosaur 78 year old Socialist Mitterrand in his second 7 year term.
Fear played an important role in the elections which Sarko exploited taking much of the elderly frightened vote with his get tough policy on immigration, crime and violence and attracted others by promised Anglo-Saxon style economic reforms. Sego's warning of the violence in case of a Sarko win helped him instead, but viola violence erupted all over France the day after Sarko's Champagne flowing victory celebrations.
With passions aroused in the wake of a brutal polarizing campaign, France and the world now await in the lull before the incoming storm, with Sarko gone away to unwind with his estranged wife in tow to sail the calm Mediterrenean waters and think through his plans and politics. But his use of a rich man's super luxury yacht, after claiming to be the President of the poor half as well, was much criticized. But first to the Assembly elections next month to see which way the French camel will sit. The real battles will commence in autumn when the French return from their sacred vacations.
US President George Bush, who won the 2004 poll, masterminded by Karl Rove, the master manipulator of fear of fear, could barely wait for the closing of the polls to congratulate Sarko and to welcome him to the neo-Liberal world, from which poodle British PM Tony Blair is making an involuntary exit by end June, mercifully; Angela Merke , who just about managed to become German Chancellor in a grand coalition and others. Europe would be the ground for the coming struggles between the Left and the Right, which the Left is winning in Latin America.
A White House spokesman while admitting differences with the outgoing Chirac regime gloated that "there are certainly real opportunities to work together on a broad range of issues." The two Presidents will meet next month at a G8 summit in Germany. In his victory speech, Sarko proclaimed that: "France will always be by the US's side... You can count on our friendship."
The Wall Street Journal welcomed Sarko's win as "the promise of closer trans-Atlantic links". Charles Kupchan, at the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that Sarko was more willing to work with the US "than any president since De Gaulle. But Jeremy Shapiro of the Washington think-tank the Brookings Institution pointed out that the French people were still highly wary of America.
Governments around the world congratulated Sarkozy, even Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, who urged him to desist from making further statements against Turkey's entry into the European Union. In US occupied Iraq President Jalal Talabani, hoped for France's greater co-operation in the 'struggle against terrorism.' France led by its suave and articulate Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, along with German Foreign Minister Fischer had fiercely opposed US led illegal invasion of Iraq.
Of course Paris has already blotted its book with the Turks by legislating the Armenian Genocide, but in western legal books there is little mention of Genocide of the Red Indians, or the obnoxious slavery of the Black Africans, pauperization and deaths of tens of millions in famines during the British colonial rule in India, genocides in Australia, Congo and other places in Africa and for that matter death of a million Algerians out of a 11 million population during the war of independence. There is of course the Holocaust but why it happened? What about the genocide at the same time of the Gypsies, mostly of South Asian extraction, but it does not interest the followers of the ideology of Shylocks, who rule the roost in US and most of the Europe, mostly by blackmail.
An admirer of Blair's New Labour ideology, Sarko has promised to "communicate" more aka 'spin' with the French people, and which they are wary of. But he must win a parliamentary majority next month first and sell the idea of change to push through his economic and other reforms like tax cuts, loosening the 35-hour week, limit strike action and reduce state bureaucracy. However, even the British visitors to France admit with envy that health and transport services are much superior in France. The state of medical coverage for poor Americans is deplorable. In USA, five media corporate conglomerate control and manufacture news for the masses. France is relatively freer even with government control. Would the French want to be like the Anglo-Saxons?
Many feel that not only the Left but the Socialists are split, with heavy booted socialists sticking to old style opposition to even good principles and total rejection of capitalism. Sego has tough task ahead of her and she has to first unite a split left. Less than 10% of the French labour force is unionized.
France could possibly become the testing ground in Europe for pro people policies versus rampant exploitation by Robber Barons in the new avatar of consumerist messiahs. The battle has already tilted in peoples' favour in Latin America led by Cuba's Hugo Chavez and new leaders under the resolute and inspiring example of stability of Castro government for its people, in spite of American attempts to get him assassinated and economically squeeze out Cuba. USA's economic embargo against Havana is a resounding failure of the free competition so proclaimed by US led western corporate interests and media. They work for monopolistic controls only.
Commented Le Monde diplomatique
"If the right and far right win in the upcoming parliamentary elections, they will try to put in place a policy of social destruction: a single work contract; restrictions on the right to strike; abolition of labour laws, death duties and wealth tax; further dismantling of public services, social security and pensions; cuts in health benefits and civil service recruitment; a crackdown on immigrants; revival of a neo-liberal Europe that supports US policies etc. The left will need to summon all its strength to resist this unprecedented onslaught and present some prospect of change."
End of dinosaurs' Era
The French did not elect presidents but emperors for 7 years, the term now educed to 5 years after 2002. Le President has so much of power that in a developing country he would be accused of being a dictator by the Western media.
The era of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Francois Mitterend and Jacque Chirac began in 1974, following the sudden death of Gaullist President Georges Pompidou, who had let in US Trojan horse UK into the European Economic Community News of his demise was allegedly suppressed for a day or so in order that the wealthy with suitcases full of ill gotten French Francs could go over and stack them across in Swiss banks. In case ! Giscard, 48 years old and Finance Minister did not belong to the Gaullist formation but a young, brash and hard driven Gaullist, the Minister for Agriculture named Jacque Chirac teamed up with Giscard who became the right wing's candidate after the second round, over loser Chaban Delmas, a colourful Gaullist maverick .
Giscard was elected President very narrowly over Francois Mitterand. Compared to stodgy Gaullists and even Mitterand, Giscard a modern man just about got the better of Mitterand at the end of the final TV debate by firing accusations that he was a man of the past, and then the program ended abruptly. That helped Giscard, apart from the fact that Gaullist bailiffs coerced voters for Giscard in far flung overseas territories. Giscard entered the President's Elysee Palace by just 200,000 more votes. Giscard won 50.7% of the vote in the second of two rounds against Mitterrand's 49.3%. The narrowest of the victory ever.
The evening the polls indicated a Giscard victory, he came out and spoke to foreign journalists in his quaint and droll English (in which he was taking lessons) much to the horror and dismay of French establishment, this departure from the Langue du Civilisation et Culture. Soon many in the younger generation took to taking English lessons for trade and travel.
Giscard was only 48 years in 1974 and was once an Inspecteur de Finance, the highest rank in French civil service coming out of prestigious Eecole Natioanale d'Administration (ENA), some what like the very top entrants to the diplomatic service from the Indian civil service lists in 1950s and 60s. Jacque Chirac was barely 41 years. Mitterenad at 57 was described an old man by Giscard.
In politics and business there are no permanent friends or enemies. Apart from the scandal of gift of diamonds, allegedly received from self styled Emperor Bokassa of Central African Empire, the main reason for Giscard's defeat in 1981 was Chirac's lack of support because of his own eyes on the Elysee palace Giscard's failed policies were to be blamed equally.
Of course Chirac himself would have liked his son like aristocratic and now Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to succeed him, but like what Chirac himself did to old Gaullist heavy weights in 1974, Sarko did to him by defying the President and taking over his party UMD thus nipping even Chirac ambition for another five-year term. Chirac was elected with a massive margin in 2002 when Le pen, extreme right wing leader came second in the first round over candidates of the left and toute France joined to keep out this Ku Klux Klan like figure taking over in Paris.
Chirac might now face investigations in some corruption charges which were held in abeyance because of the Presidential immunity. Many French political leaders have been investigated and even jailed for corruption. It rarely happens in USA where the outgoing President pardons, a prominent example being pardon of President Richard Nixon by nominated President Gerald Ford and others like Bill Clinton making a profitable enterprise of pardons as allegedly reported. George Bush's list would run in to pages of lawbreakers and criminals.
Unlike earlier heads of state with French establishment bourgeoisie credentials , Sego with name Royal leads the leftist block while Sarcozy is and has proletarian origin and name. While Sego the socialist is a graduate of the elite ENA, Sarco studied law and joined politics early as Chirac's protégé in wealthy Paris quartiere of Neuilly. Sarco is twice married while Sego has 4 children from Socialist François Hollande to whom she is not married but whom she elbowed out from the Presidential race.
Hypocrite Anglo Saxons and blasé French
Unlike the hypocrite Anglo-Saxons, who proclaim purity of their leadership clean like a whistle, when many a time it is not so, the French are quite blasé about it.
During Giscard's Presidency, media publications like 'Canarde encahine' regularly published his adventures arousing much mirth, even showing him once in a small car driven by himself for a rendezvous. He once reportedly disappeared leaving behind a telephone number with his ADC to call him only in case of real emergency. It was not very easy for the ADC to disturb the President's siesta when the French embassy in Holland was taken over by terrorists.
Giscard's followers are no different. Mitterand had an almost open liaison with his young mistress Anne Pingeot, a daughter of a friend, while his wife Dannielle occupied herself with more pressing matters like situation of the Kurds in Turkey. Mitterand's mistress and natural daughter Mazarine even attended his funeral with Dannielle with her two sons.
A tall and elegant man Giscard surprisingly had doubts about his attractiveness in an autobiography written after retirement. It is said in Paris that once you become the Prime Minister or the President not many society ladies would decline the advances. Few said no to Turkish hero Kemal Ataturk either, who a busy man allegedly remarked that availability was the quality he admired most in a beautiful woman. Perhaps after losing the Presidential authority, Giscard was left without the aphrodisiac of power.
On Peccadilloes by US politicians when President Clinton was being impeached for sexual indiscretions in the Oval room, it became clear that some of his opponents accusing or trying him were no better. But the Americans keep on the charade. The British carry on with their secretaries and whosoever and when found out resign like John Profumo and others.
Did not some one once say that 'power was the ultimate aphrodisiac' .Doctor Henry Kissinger, who else, but he used it in the killing fields of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, unnecessarily. He also advises the current Bush administration that the only exit policy in Iraq is Victory. As it was in Vietnam! How people like him and others including Gen Pinochet, Gen Ariel Sharon and many in the current US administration escape the arm of Law and Justice.
If extra testosterone meant bombings in Vietnam, it is so in Iraq now. The man who coined the phrase 'Shock and Awe " for initial destructive attack on Baghdad, is in the list of Washington Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey making the rounds and includes many of who and who in power. The story reveals deep hypocrisy, showing how powerful men talk publicly of their 'family values' and then have escorts visit them in hotel rooms. 'Only for massage' they claim. As Rob Capriccioso, editor of Big Head DC, a Washington news and gossip website, says: 'Tawdry sex is everywhere in Washington.'
Even during Clinton's time when he was embroiled in Monica Lewinsky affair, he bombed Iraq to divert attention. Of course the US and UK leadership by implementing the sanctions against Iraq after 1991 war are responsible for half a million deaths of Iraqi children over which two UNICEF program Chiefs resigned in disgust. Sooner or later the crimes would catch up. That is the eternal Dharma of cause and effect.
This US chicanery seeps into state affairs. The head of the outgoing US Congress Committee on environment while talking about connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change made a categorical declaration that there was none. Many US lawmakers and senior officials have affiliations with corporate bodies and interests and return after their tenures. You can hear Corporate News Networks like CNN hammering how China and India (with population of 2.5 billion ) are harming the environment while USA (with population of 300 million contributes 25% of pollution) wastes as much energy as the total consumption of the second largest economy, Japan, as disclosed by a British environment minister.
Lobbyists spend US$ Six Billion repeat US $ Six Billion on lobbying mostly with the US law makers. And then there is the purse of the corporates with control over media. So much for freedom of media and democracy and of the legislators' integrity in USA. The corruption and other scandals which keep cropping up in spite of media control is only a tip of the tip of the nauseating and ugly iceberg of the state of sleaze.
Worse, a US Congress Sub-Committee head to protect minors and others was forced to resign when found carrying with the US Congress trainee pageboys, which seems to reoccur quite regularly among the doddering lawmakers, some what like among the senior Athenian debauches.
Lessons from French Electoral System for India
Soon after independence in 1947, the lawyer-led Brahmin-dominated Indian National Congress party, with electoral support from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (dalits, former untouchables whom Mahatma Gandhi named Harijans - children of God) and post-partition defensive Muslims, ruled India, with the Brahmins monopolizing the levers of power. Soon the number of Brahmins, a small percentage, occupying senior government posts doubled.
From the mid-1960s, at the ideological economic level, the new Congress elite was opposed by maharajas, big industrialists, traders, landlords and free marketers through the Swantantra Party, and at the social level this elite was challenged by Jats, Yadavs, Ahirs and Kurmis, that is, petty landlords and cultivators who had benefited the most from the post-independence abolition of zamindari (tax collection on land).
Now Mayawati, a 51 year old leader of Dalits has turned the tables on Brahmins and other castes. Under her mentor late Kanshi Ram, she first welded Dalits, very backward castes and Muslims together. In the just concluded elections she gave one third seats to Brahmins, who form a sizable percentage in the key north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) with a population of over 170 million. Her policy of using the Brahmanical electoral arithmetic brought stunning success. After years UP will have a single party majority government. If she governs well she could play an important role in New Delhi as well. But she should reign her ambitions as the wily Brahmins have only bought protection from the Yadav goons of the ousted regime. Delhi is another matter.
What she has done can be made easier by bringing India's electoral system closer to the French one, which is also employed in many EU nations and elsewhere.
The post- independent Congress party leadership was dominated by lawyers, many had studied and trained in UK. They had an Anglo-Saxon view on life, fair play, equality and justice, on which basis they demanded independence. They then adopted basically the British parliamentary system, to show the erstwhile British masters that they were their rightful successors. These honourable framers of the Indian constitution, with little experience except of the British system, that too without a written constitution, which evolved over centuries in this landlocked island, agreed on with the first across the line as the winner. This may be all right if they are only two parties as they evolved in UK , but even there it is under severe strains.
However, the Indian polity frozen during the British Raj got slowly unfrozen, following competitive party politics, the grass root political leadership started throwing up different kind of leadership. This leadership is not steeped in Anglo-Saxon morality. Its thinking is based on oral traditions, not on an ideal Raja (ruler) following the Raj Dharma, but the traditions of degenerate last days of the Mughal polity which made the Raja or Nawab's word the law; at the village level, the arbitrary Daroga (policeman), the revenue or irrigation inspector.
If in the second and final round the successful candidate has to obtain more than 50% of the votes, the candidates may represent interests of their castes or left or right, but to be elected and to be re-elected they must take into account the aspirations and expectations of at least half the electorate.
Now in many Indian states caste leaders with 20 to 25% population, with votes of another caste or religious group of around 10% can continue to rule election after election. This completely subverts the will of the people. The political leader has to worry only about 25% of the population which gets most of the loaves of office and benefits.
The dethroned UP government of Mulayam Singh Yadav was based on his community vote and Muslims with financial underpinning from corporate houses and Bollywood film glamour. So was the government of Bihar's Chief Minister Lalu Parsad Yadav, on Yadav caste and Muslim votes who lost power 3 years ago after mal-administering for 15 long years.
Democracy dos not come cheap (other wise why not have Gallup Polls only). So India should have two rounds of voting as practiced in many countries. France being one example. In the second round only the two top winners should contest. To begin with India could experiment with transferable votes, so that to succeed a candidate must win over 50% of first and second preference votes. The current electoral system has become tool of manipulation by 'professional politicians' which dilutes the purpose of holding elections to obtain electorates best choice.
K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He was counselor at the Indian Embassy in Paris in 1973-75 .He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copy right with the author. E-mail: Gajendrak@hotmail.com