Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy’s coattails are shorter than anticipated. As expected, his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) won a parliamentary majority in national elections this month, but not the landslide that the new French president had hoped for to push through his aggressive program for change. Mr. Sarkozy will clearly need to do more to woo support from the left as he proceeds to modernize his country as promised in the presidential campaign.
Final election results show the UMP and its allies control 346 seats; the Socialists, the main opposition party, and their allies took 226, with minor parties winning the remainder in the 577-seat Parliament. Not only is that substantially less than had been predicted for governing party, but the UMP actually lost 45 seats in the National Assembly, while the left gained 58.
Those results reflect public disenchantment with news that the government would raise the VAT, disappointment that the minimum wage would not keep pace with inflation, and effective campaigning by the left, which argued that France needed a strong opposition to check Mr. Sarkozy’s reforms. Prime Minister Francois Fillon conceded the results are a “clear decision,” and promised to heed the opposition in Parliament.
The French may want change, but they want it in measured doses and they have not lost their taste for egalitarianism and protection of the weakest in society. Mr. Sarkozy did himself no favors immediately after the election, when he vacationed on the luxury yacht of one of his supporters. The VAT move, which was not supposed to be revealed until after the vote, only compounded fears among voters about where his sympathies lie.
Once again, French voters have reminded their leaders, and the world, that they are a divided and complex group. There will be no stark and simple solutions as France moves forward. Mr. Sarkozy will have to govern cautiously, reaching out to the opposition to win support for his programs; he will not merely reign.
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