French left seizes Senate majority, hurts Sarkozy

PARIS Sun Sep 25, 2011 4:20pm EDT

French President Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony commemorating the Harkis, Algerian soldiers loyal to the French during the Algerian war, at the Invalides in Paris, September 25, 2011. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French President Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony commemorating the Harkis, Algerian soldiers loyal to the French during the Algerian war, at the Invalides in Paris, September 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

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PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government lost its majority in the Senate to the left on Sunday, officials said, in a historic defeat that deals him a blow just seven months before a presidential election.

For the first time since 1958, the right-dominated upper house swung to a left-wing majority as the body's membership underwent a major generational change of guard.

Early results from the indirect elections showed left-wing candidates took at least 23 seats from the ruling conservative party, securing them an absolute majority.

The shift to the left, which UMP Senate leader Gerard Larcher had described as having "seismic" consequences ahead of a presidential election next April, drew howls of joy from left-wing supporters at a meeting in Paris.

"The 25th of September, 2011, will go down in history," Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Socialist group in the Senate, said on LCI television. "The results of this Senate election represent a real comeuppance for the right."

The left's victory followed a series of wins by Socialist candidates in local elections in the same regions where tens of thousands of municipal officials -- empowered as so-called "super voters" in the Senate poll -- cast votes on Sunday.

SYMBOLIC SETBACK

A left-leaning Senate will not be able to derail Sarkozy's legislative plans but the loss of a longstanding bastion for the right is a symbolic setback especially when taken together with his persistently poor poll ratings.

Sarkozy has become slightly more popular in the past few months, but he remains one of the least well-liked presidents in post-war France and faces a tough battle for reelection in a two-round vote scheduled for next April.

French voters are depressed about their economic prospects, unemployment remains stubbornly high and a European debt crisis has invited intensive scrutiny of France's public finances.

Such worries have overshadowed Sarkozy's foreign policy victories, notably France's role in the toppling of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the result was a result of divisions in the ruling camp.

"Today, the opposition has shown strong progress in the Senate, underscored by divisions in the ruling camp in several regions," he said in a statement.

"The moment of truth will come next spring. Tonight, the battle begins, and the results of this Senate election show us what sort of effort we will have to produce."

Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse pointed out that the right retained a majority in the National Assembly.

"This is in no way a point of blockage for the government because, as you know, it's the National Assembly that has the last word," she said.

Sarkozy, in the final months of his term, faces a tough battle for reelection against Francois Hollande, the most likely Socialist candidate.

"This victory creates a dynamic ... If we could win the presidency of the republic after winning the presidency of the Senate, that would be a good," Hollande said on LCI television.

There is no major legislation outstanding that a left-wing Senate could delay, but losing his majority there would bury Sarkozy's grand plan to get a budget-balancing debt rule written into the French constitution, a measure that could have been an anchor for France's AAA-rating.

Parliament already has approved an adjustment to the 2011 budget bill to incorporate a bigger bailout for Greece as agreed by euro zone states on July 21, and the 2012 budget bill should pass without hitches.

Of the 170 seats up for grabs in the election, the UMP had 147 seats out of a total 343 to the Socialist Party's 115 before Sunday's vote. Final results are expected later on Sunday.

The number of seats in the upper chamber will be increased on Sunday to 348, reflecting a rise in the population.

Sarkozy is expected to announce sometime in November that he will run for a second term in next April's election.

(Reporting by Catherine Bremer, Nicholas Vinocur, Emile Picy and Sophie Louet; Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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Comments (16)
Miguel526 wrote:
It’s a shame that the French can’t see past their own narrow politics of self-service and their vast mis-educations and voted in those same people who’ve essentially destroyed France’s economy in the name enriching the wastrels at the expense of “the rich”.

The American Worker has paid for France’s wildly extravagant social programs since France has gotten by it’s normal tribulations almost Scot free regarding their military needs since WWII. One can easily see that the French voter can’t comprehend the greater good, since they’ve purposely been made ignorant of what really makes a society work, due to their progressive leaders/fools’ dedication to make France stupid on it’s face.

If the French are hopelessly ignorant, made so by their Marxist-led leaders, MSM and government unions, how can one expect the people to vote intelligently in any sense of the word? Progressives have moved voting to an emotion-run exercise, . . so many French people are voting with the intelligence of grade school kids voting themselves longer lunch periods.

Sep 25, 2011 7:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Skep41 wrote:
Yeah! Sarkozy doesnt spend enough money and taxes in France are just too danged low. Europe is on the greased skids to disaster so it probably doesnt matter which gang of schmoes runs any one of the aging, decadent component states. They all have the same disease…socialism. Now, a century into the socialist experiment, we find that the end result of all this redistribution and fairness is that people forget to have those expensive nuisances called children, counting on their phat pensions to carry them from their mid-50′s to the grave. Uh-oh! Now that every country in Europe is faced with national extinction from catastrophic low birthrates (100 Greek grandparents have 40 grandchildren)we can envision in another fifty years the ruins of a forgotten civilization will be inhabited by migrants who escape the starvation and epidemics in the Middle East and Africa that accompanied the collapse of the globalist civilization and who find it entertaining to gawk at the moldering facades as they graze their goats on the Champs Elysee.

Sep 25, 2011 7:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gurgle wrote:
So what are the socialists going to do about the economy in France? Raise Taxes? Spend money they don’t have? Nationalize everything? In short that’s all they know how to do. My guess is that in the mean-time they fall back to scapegoating political opponents while consolidating their power. In the end people get the government they deserve.

Sep 25, 2011 8:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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