French President Nicolas Sarkozy started to reshuffle his cabinet Monday after a resurgent left beat his center-right party in regional voting. The losses have some questioning Sarkozy's shot at reelection in 2012.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy began a minor reshuffle of his government hours after a thumping defeat in the second and final round of regional voting – a by-election seen Monday as a troubling referendum on the rule of the flamboyant French leader.
While conventional wisdom in France last year had Sarkozy a lock for reelection in 2012, the 54 percent vote for the French left indicates a changed political landscape in which Sarkozy and his center-right party will face a hard fight to hold on to power.
Even ruling party officials admit the outcome has revitalized Sarkozy’s opposition both in and outside the ruling party, especially among the Socialists led by Martine Aubry. “By voting – but also for many people by abstaining – the French people have expressed their rejection of the policies of the president and his government,” Ms. Aubry said last night.
The French electorate voted amid worries over 3 million unemployed, an uneasy sense about Sarkozy’s incomplete reforms, and criticism in Sarkozy’s party of efforts to reach out to the French left, allegedly leaving the French right without a focused program.
A substantial number of the French right that voted for Sarkozy in 2007 shifted back to ultraconservative National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who scored well at nearly 10 percent.
The defeat is “a turning point in Sarkozy's mandate," offered the right-leaning Le Figaro on Monday. Sarkozy will need to "send strong signals" to right-wing voters who feel they “have been left on the side of the road.”
Sarkozy’s popularity in France has been in slow ebb of late. But the pro-left vote in some 23 of 26 regions showed an enormous local tractability for the much maligned Socialists. Just last summer, following numerous defections and intense bickering as Aubry sought to assert leadership, the French left was being described as moribund.