Friday 23 June 2017

Sarkozy hit by 'earthquake' after senate swings to Left

John Lichfield in Paris

FRENCH politics was hit by a political earthquake yesterday. The upper house of the French parliament, a bastion of conservatism, swung to the Left for the first time in 53 years.

It was a devastating setback for President Sarkozy. Four years ago Mr Sarkozy boasted he would oversee a transformation of the French political landscape. Yesterday, to his dismay, he succeeded.

By some calculations, this is the first time the Senate has had a left-wing majority since its creation in 1851.

In elections on Sunday, in which only local and regional politicians could vote, the Left captured 25 seats from Mr Sarkozy's centre-right to achieve a likely senate majority of 178 to 170. Even 'Le Figaro', a fiercely pro-Sarkozy newspaper, called it "an earthquake".

Seven months before he seeks re-election, President Sarkozy faces miserable poll ratings, a European economic crisis and a deepening scandal over alleged illegal political financing in the 1990s. He must now fight the election as the man who lost the right-wing's perpetual senate majority,

The Senate has limited powers to delay, or propose, legislation. But the left-wing opposition now has a pre-election, platform from which to delay Mr Sarkozy's economic and social policies and offer alternatives of their own.

The president of the Senate steps in temporarily if the president dies or is incapacitated. If chosen as president by the Senate on Saturday, Socialist Jean-Pierre Bel (59) will be "one heart-beat away" from the presidency.

Centre-right senators tried yesterday to block his election. Even some members of Mr Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), called the manoeuvres "pitiful" and "undemocratic".

Others tried to minimise the defeat, saying it was not a rejection by the full electorate. Only 70,000 locally and nationally elected politicians could vote. Only half the senate constituencies were up for grabs.

Government supporters said the election merely mimicked the results of local polls in recent years which have given the Left a grip on cities, towns and regions. This is true but it drew attention to the fact that Mr Sarkozy's party has lost every mid-term local election since he came to power in May 2007.

Even worse for the centre-right, several seats were lost because of revolts and splits in the ranks of his supporters. The senate victory opens up the prospect of an unprecedented left-wing stranglehold on government if a Socialist candidate wins the presidential election in April and May.

A left-wing president would almost certainly win the parliamentary elections in June. The Left already controls almost all of the 20 French regional governments and most major cities.

The Elysee Palace is braced for further revelations this week on the so-called Karachi affair: a judicial investigation of alleged kickbacks on defence contracts in 1994-95 over which two close associates of President Sarkozy were arrested last week.(©Independent News Service)

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