Reprinted from
Sarkozy Wins, But French Socialists Gain

Kenneth R. Timmerman
Monday, June 18, 2007

PARIS -- French socialists made a surprise come-back on Sunday, stopping what some were calling a Sarkozy "tsunami" from sweeping over the French parliament.

After the first round of the legislative elections last week, President Sarkozy's center-right Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) had been expected to win upwards of 400 seats in parliament, a stunning 80% majority.

But the second round results on Sunday trimmed those gains dramatically, as the French socialists and even the French communist party made a strong comeback.

Sarkozy's party maintained the absolute majority it enjoyed in the outgoing parliament, giving it unquestioned power to push through the new president's ambitious agenda of tax reform and cut-backs of France's extensive social welfare system.

In a post-election survey, 37% of the French population said their highest priority for the incoming parliament was the abolition of onerous inheritance taxes.

The first victim of the Socialist comeback was Alain Juppé, a former prime minister who was banned from politics for one year after a conviction on corruption charges.

President Sarkozy named Juppe minister of environment and sustainable development in his first post-election government, but also insisted that he would call his government from elected members of parliament.

When he learned on Sunday evening that he had been defeated in his attempt to win a seat in parliament, Juppe announced on live television that he would resign his cabinet post.

While drama hit the right, comedy swept the left.

Socialist party secretary general Francois Hollande gloated Sunday night over his election victory, noting that he had refused suggestions from members of his own party to form an election alliance with the newly-created center-left party of presidential candidate, Francois Bayrou.

Bayrou's party, Modem, barely succeeded in entering parliament with just 4 seats, whereas Hollande's socialists won more than 200 seats.

An additional 19 seats went to the communists, who been predicted to win just 5 seats in the polls, and 4 to the Greens, giving the leftist alliance 234 in all.

But the comedy came from Hollande's own household.

Hollande's wife, Segolene Royale, was defeated by Sarkozy in last month's presidential election.

Hollande and Royale got married last summer, after living together for 26 years and having four children together. Wags in the press called it an alliance of convenience.

The French press made much of their political rivalry, noting that Royale's most serious competitor for the Socialist nomination for president was her own husband. Hollande renounced his presidential ambitions after a family vacation last summer, the couple revealed during the recent campaign.

On Sunday night, shortly after Hollande left the television studios, Royale announced that she would challenge her husband again, this time running against him to become the next secretary general of the Socialist party.

When the news was announced just two hours after the polls closed, French men and women following the election results in public places and cafes across Paris broke out in spontaneous laughter.

"Next step is divorce," one woman announced.

"Who's going to stay home and take care of the kids?" another joked.

Despite a light rain earlier in the day, crowds began to gather on café terraces after 11 PM, laughing and poking fun at the Socialist first couple.

Royale surprised some supporters after her defeat in the presidential election by not running for a legislative seat, even though she was president of the Poitou-Charente region that includes Bordeaux.

In France, politicians can hold several elected positions simultaneously, so running for parliament was expected.

With her announcement, following the Socialist comeback, that was seeking the party leadership, a position whose influence can be measured by sheer numbers of legislators, Royale was showing that her appetite for power was undiminished.

Later in the evening, French TF1 television reported that she also had announced that she was leaving her husband.

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