Nicolas Sarkozy’s French Lessons

The French presidential election was a triumph for voter participation and a defeat for extremists of the left and right. But Nicolas Sarkozy's victory underscores the fundamental changes that the French Socialist Party will have to accept if it is avoid entering a period of slow decline.

France has chosen – and it has chosen decisively. The next French president will be Nicolas Sarkozy, elected with 53.1% of the popular vote, with turnout, at 84.8%, the highest since 1981. This election is particularly rich in lessons.

France was said to be to be a country mired in apathy and increasingly uninterested in politics. For the last 20 years, the number of citizens who registered to vote had been declining and the number of registered voters who stayed home had been increasing. Among those who voted, the number who cast their votes for the parties of the extreme right or the extreme left – that is, parties unsuited for government – was steadily rising.

All this changed in the two rounds of this year’s election. The first lesson, then, is that France is re-politicizing. With voter turnout beating all European records, France’s new president will have unusually strong legitimacy.

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