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Nicolas Sarkozy’s French Lessons

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.

Second, and equally important, the extremist vote is weakening. Support for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s quasi-fascist National Front fell from 18% in 2002 to 10% this time around, representing an important gain in democratic stabilization. Likewise, the extreme left, which together put up six presidential candidates, was politically annihilated. Only one Trotskyite candidate received more than 4% of the vote, while the rest – including the French Communist party, which for more than 30 years received a stable 20% of the vote – gained less than 2%. It is the end of an adventure that was not at all good for France.