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Anne Sinclair

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Good Luck, Mr. President!

Posted: 05/06/2012 3:31 pm

There we go, it's done! The French wanted change. Nicolas Sarkozy has lost his bid for re-election. Francois Hollande has won, and will enter the Elysee Palace with a comfortable score of 51.9 percent.

On Monday, we'll start evaluating the downfall of the outgoing president, who went from being a popular candidate in 2007 to a president quickly pushed aside by his fellow citizens. His presidency was marked by a strong exercise of power, which was neither humble nor quiet, and by a ferocious energy, a determination that made him continue to fight in the past two weeks, even with his back up against the wall.

But tradition dictates that tonight we celebrate the winner, Francois Hollande -- the person whose victory few would have expected two years ago, who some even doubted could do the job. He did it.

In the final hours before the election, the elected socialists began to sound the alarm: voting in favor of Francois Hollande was eroding in favor of Nicolas Sarkozy.

For two reasons: First, the fiscal and economic policies of the leftist candidate alarmed many centrists. The latter group would certainly be receptive to the severe criticism of Francois Bayrou on the drift Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign, but those of them more attentive to austerity measures than to the correction of social injustices, would be frightened by the bold -- yet relative -- policies of the socialist candidate with regard to taxes and spending.

More importantly, they were worried, given the rise of the rural vote, by Hollande's promises to give voting rights to immigrants. The French would realize that after a socialist victory, this would be inevitable.

Well, they were scared for nothing. The commitment to give voting rights to foreigners in municipal elections -- promised by the left since 1981 and desired by many humanist politicians -- has been to Francois Hollande what the abolition of the death penalty was to Francois Mitterrand: a risky proposition, unpopular, but moral and emblematic of the left.

And it is to his credit that he hasn't backed down from this proposition, which will require a revision of the Constitution, either through a 3/5 vote in parliament or by a referendum that would, in this case, give the French people a second opportunity to comment on the issue.

The French left, which has not had the backing of the French people since 1997 but has been dreaming of it ever since, has once again found the happiness of May '81 -- for at least a night, a few days, or several weeks. After that, as Blum said in 1936, "Now the trouble begins." Or to parody the new president, "The trouble is now."

The traditional "state of grace" period afforded to those newly elected has become increasingly short. It might last for a summer, if we get through it without another European crisis.

But from the start, Hollande will need to begin to coordinate his economic promises with the social realities of France today, with the situation in Europe -- an angry Greece also voted today -- with Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Obama, the financial markets, unemployment, purchasing power, and the debt crisis. He will have to manage the expectations of the French people and their inevitable disappointment, as it is true that those who govern in times of crisis have lower approval ratings. "What is glory at first, at the end is burden," wrote Victor Hugo in The Legend of the Centuries.

But tonight, after a nod to the losers of the election (who make up almost half of the French people), let us wish good luck to the seventh President of the Fifth Republic.

Let us hope that he knows how to be measured, modest, just, bold, courageous, generous, visionary, inclusive, competent and tough!

The Socialist candidate chose humility. Let us hope that Francois Hollande, our new head of state, who now faces considerable challenges, surprises us. Let us hope that he surpasses our expectations and is not simply content, on behalf of a troubled France, to be a "normal" president.

 

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