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September 2011, Week 4

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Mon, 26 Sep 2011 21:56:08 -0400
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French Left Marks Historic Senate Vote Victory

By Elaine Ganley Associated Press September 25, 2011

http://www.salon.com/wires/allwires/2011/09/25/D9PVO8O80_eu_france_elections/index.html

France's left wrested the Senate from the right in
indirect elections Sunday, taking the majority of seats
in the upper house of parliament for the first time in
more than 50 years -- a blow to conservative President
Nicolas Sarkozy.

Seven months before presidential elections, Sarkozy's
party downplayed what it said was a narrow win -- up to
three seats, according to various officials of the
president's party.

The minister for parliamentary relations, Patrick
Ollier, said the results have "no national political
significance." Final results of the voting to fill half
the seats in the 348-seat house were not in, but the
Socialist's leader in the Senate announced the victory.

"This is a day that will mark history," Jean-Pierre
Bel, head of the Senate's Socialist group, announced in
the gilded hall of the 17th-century palace.

The Senate president has a consequential role under the
French Constitution -- as interim leader should the
nation's president become incapacitated.

The upper house of parliament, a sumptuous 17th century
palace at the foot of the Luxembourg Gardens, is
sometimes derided as an institution that specializes in
handing out rubber stamps. Nevertheless, it is an axis
of power that can initiate bills and, above all, slow
down their passage.

The right had controlled the Senate since the start of
the Fifth Republic in 1958.

"For the first time, change is in motion ... This is a
real affront to the right," Bel said.

He estimated the left won 24 to 26 new seats. It needed
23 seats to gain a majority. Final results were not
immediately expected.

The result further chisels down the profile of the
already unpopular Sarkozy. It also provides the
Socialist Party with prestige and political capital.

Senate President Gerard Larcher, of Sarkozy's party,
conceded the left "made a real push ... larger than I
thought" -- but said he would seek to renew his mandate
as Senate president.

Leading members of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular
Movement party, known as UMP, made a bid to save face,
and power, putting the accent on the Oct. 1 vote for
the president of the chamber because of the left's thin
victory margin.

Socialists attributed their success to discontent in
France's towns and rural heartland, the home bases of
the 71,890 delegates, regionally and locally elected
officials, who cast ballots to fill the 170 seats.
Senators elected Sunday have six-year mandates.

Jean-Francois Cope, head of Sarkozy's UMP, said the
election results were "a disappointment but not a
surprise."

"In no way is it a disavowal of the politics of the
government," he said.

In the presidential elections, the "totality of voters"
will take part -- not delegates voting to fill half a
chamber, he said.

The Socialists went into the elections confident
because of the string of leftist victories in regional
and local elections since 2008. The Socialist Party
elections chief Christophe Borgel said earlier that
local officials "have the feeling of being held in
scorn."

A 2010 territorial reform will put several thousand
regional and general counselors out of jobs. Some of
these officials already complain that government funds
aren't keeping up with increased responsibilities
handed over to regions in a 2004 reform.

Francois Hollande, a favorite among a half-dozen
Socialists seeking the party's presidential candidacy,
said a leftist Senate majority would serve well a
Socialist president because "it will be the first time
there is a possibility to work with a leftist majority
in the Senate."

Sarkozy will not be the first president to preside over
the nation with opponents in control of at least one
house of parliament.

Socialist President Francois Mitterrand dealt for each
of his 14 years in office with his political rivals in
the Senate and was forced to cohabit during part of his
mandate with a conservative prime minister, Jacques
Chirac, who succeeded him as president.

------

Cecile Brisson contributed to this report.

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