ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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France: A New President

The protests that broke out in some French suburbs immediately after Nicolas Sarkozy’s election as France’s new president speak of the polarity of opinion that surrounds the sixth president of the Fifth Republic. The presidential campaign was a highly charged one with the two main candidates in the second round, Sarkozy of the United Movement for the People (UMP) and Segolene Royal of the Socialist Party, putting forward diametrically different policy proposals. An unprecedented 84 per cent of the voting population turned out at the polls; Sarkozy winning the presidency with a clear 6 percentage point victory over Royal (52.7 to 47.3).

The 12 years of the Chirac presidency were agonising for the French in certain ways. France’s renewed “world ambitions” during this decade were in several senses let down by its stagnant economy and a profound social crisis that called into question on several occasions the very notion of being French. The stagnation and the social tension were in response largely to conflicting demands posed by a changing world. While Chirac envisaged a greater role for France in the European Union, the French rejected resoundingly the EU treaty in a referendum held in 2005. There was the fear of not only losing jobs to new EU members from east Europe, but also that the long era of public welfare and state subsidies would end. Domestically, the French version of secularism, ‘laicite’, which insists on a clear separation of state and religion, sparked off debate after the traditional Islamic headscarf was banned in state-run schools. It led to attempts to redefine French-hood and revisit amorphous concepts such as assimilation and integration. Among the countries of western Europe, France has the highest percentage of Muslim population, chiefly from the countries of north Africa, Turkey and west Asia. When the suburbs erupted in riots last May, it was the unemployed immigrant youth who were blamed.

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