Sunday, April 22, 2007

Close Election Looms In French Second Round

The son of Hungarian immigrants, Nicolas Sarkozy, and a Socialist who is bidding to become the first woman to be president of France, Segolene Royal, will face each other in the second round of the French elections May 6, after first round results Sunday showed Sarkozy with 31% of the vote cast, Royal with 26%, centrist candidate Francois Bayrou with 18% and far-right candidate Jean Marie Le Pen with just 11%, considerably off his showing last time. The other 14% went to minor candidates.

A poll indicated Sarkozy may prevail in the second round, 54% to 46%. However, my own assessment is that the election will be closer than that and Royal cannot be counted out.

Sarkozi in some ways is the candidate who would bring the most change. Of part Jewish descent, he has provided strong indications he would lean French policies toward the Israelis for the first time since Charles de Gaulle came to power in 1958, and may even be slightly more pro-American. He has tried to rub off some of the rough edges from last year's Muslim riots in France when, as interior minister he called the rioters "scum," but he worries some people as too strident on the Muslims, who are now a substantial minority in France.

With a high, 85% voter turnout Sunday, Sarkozi may have fallen a little short of what had been expected, and Royal fared a little better than expected. Sarkozi had been expected to drain Le Pen of many votes and did, but Royal had been expected to be more closely challenged by Bayrou.

Some Socialists have urged Royal, an unwed mother of four and at 53 still a glamorous figure, to try to offer Bayrou a coalition, maybe the premiership, in a bid for the centrist vote. She will pick up some votes that went to minor candidates further to the left of her, but she cannot win without a substantial share of the Bayrou vote.

Royal's showing in the first round also establishes her in the public eye as truly a major candidate and gets her past the Socialist infighting that had prevented her from having unified left wing backing. The left now has nowhere to go but her.

Still, Sarkozy is an able politician and he too could move into the center, though he probably would not go so far as to offer Bayrou the premiership.

We'll see. This is a significant election in what is still a significant country in the world, and Europe, like the U.S., is at something of a crossroads in the War on Terror.

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Joe Hutchinson, the L.A. Times design director who damaged the newspaper with an unpopular and unpleasant redesign last year, is leaving the paper for Rolling Stone. Hooray! Along with Michael Kinsley and Andres Martinez, the editorial editors who finally outlived their welcome, Hutchinson's position and influence had gradually deteriorated as his seniors realized he wasn't all that good a designer.

Some of the odd type faces he introduced on Page 1 have already been scrapped. We might wish him well now in his new job, but thank goodness he has decided to leave. I had called for his removal in a blog posted last Oct. 24. He's the latest of the Chicago-engendered transplants to leave the Times. To put it as nicely as possible, he was a flat failure in Los Angeles.

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