Monday, May 07, 2007

End of the Socialist dream?

The results are in. Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s right-wing, hardliner presidential candidate is on his way to the Elysée Palace to take charge as the country’s new president. The results, declared a short while ago, confirmed what psephologists have been saying since the beginning of the electoral campaign. Sarkozy won the elections with 53% of votes in the second round, compared to Ségolène Royal’s 47. What do these results signify? Where does the Parti Socialiste go from here? Royal was the first woman to come this close to be elected president of the republic in the history of France. But, what happens next? Will she rise to the occasion and succeed in revamping the party to make it more appealing to the voting masses? Or will she disappear beneath the rubble of wannabe presidents who never actually managed to do anything in life?

Analysts suggested that Sarkozy’s pro-American, capitalist stance contributed to the success of leftist candidates in the first round. From my personal experience with the French, I know that this is a country that obsesses with job security unlike any other western democracy I know. I followed the election campaign with interest, and I must say both Sarkozy and Royal were extremely convincing in their arguments. If I had not been a convinced liberal, believing in the law of the markets, I would probably have voted for Royal. However, one of the proposals in her election manifesto caught my interest. She promised to raise the minimum salary, or the SMIC as it is called here, to 1500 euros a month. That would mean a proportionate increase in all salaries, because one can obviously not raise the SMIC and leave the pay of someone who was earning a lot more than the old rate unchanged. And it left me wondering how she proposed to raise the money needed for the endeavour. But I suppose one can dream.

Next comes Sarkozy. With his promise to tighten immigration rules, fight economic stagnation and ensure better pay for longer hours, he caught the imagination of many people in the country. The promise to tighten immigration rules and make regularisation of illegal migrants more difficult certainly strikes fear in the heart of many an immigrant, illegal or not. Unpleasant reminders of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his campaign of La France pour les français, and its similarity to the Sarkozy agenda is scary to most people. However, I cannot but support his endeavour to abolish the ridiculous 35-hour work week law established by Martine Aubry in 1998. To me, it is inconceivable that the Indian government promulgate a law establishing a cap on working hours. In such matters, the law of the markets should apply. At the very least, the law should be flexible. If I want to work more to earn more money, I should be able to without my employer cribbing about having to pay more for every hour beyond the 35th hour.

Anyway, these are just the rants of an obsessed libertarian who firmly believes that the government must govern because that’s its job, while letting the markets peacefully generate wealth. Many of the French would disagree. But hey, we live in a democracy. And dissent is healthy!

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