Monday, May 7, 2007

France goes the right wing with Sarkozy

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy won France's presidential election on Sunday, defeating Socialist Ségolène Royal by a comfortable margin. Sarkozy's win in the race marks a generational shift, because the 52-year-old will replace 74-year-old Chirac, in office for 12 years. His emergence as President will probably not reflect any changes in francophone countries of Africa, as he may not likely to romance with francophone countries because he is a hardliner criticised by most for his stance on many issues including immigration.

Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sárközy de Nagy-Bocsa was born Jan. 28, 1955, in Paris, the son of a minor Hungarian aristocrat who fled Communism after World War II. His mother was a law student, herself the daughter of an immigrant, a doctor who had arrived a generation earlier from Greece.

Sarkozy was the middle of three sons, but his father left the family when Sarkozy was 4, marrying twice more and fathering two more children. (The mother of those children, Christine de Ganay, went on to marry Frank Wisner II, the son of a celebrated spy and now U.S. special envoy to Kosovo. Her son, Sarkozy's half-brother, Oliver Sarkozy, is Joint Global Head of UBS Investment Bank's Financial Institutions Group in New York.)

The abandonment marked the Sarkozy family, leaving its members largely dependent on Sarkozy's maternal grandfather, with whom the family lived in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris. "I was fashioned by the humiliations of childhood," he told Catherine Nay, author of his semiofficial biography.

Sarkozy's mother finished her law degree, took a job with the mayor of the upscale suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine and sent her sons to a private Catholic high school.

Sarkozy eventually earned a law degree and became a member of the Neuilly town council at the age of 22.

But he got his real start in politics as a long-haired, bell-bottomed youth leader of the Union of Democrats for the Republic, a Gaullist party led by Jacques Chirac who was serving his first term as prime minister.

His brash manner and strong oratory style caught Chirac's eye and won him the patronage of other party leaders. Yet Sarkozy was not afraid to outmaneuver his elders when the opportunity arose.

He unexpectedly challenged a senior Gaullist, Charles Pasqua, for the job of Neuilly mayor in 1983, becoming the youngest mayor in France at the age of 28.

He leapt to national attention in 1993 when he negotiated to free schoolchildren taken hostage by a deranged man who called himself the Human Bomb. The man was eventually killed by the police, and the children were freed.

Sarkozy served as budget minister under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur but betrayed his mentor Chirac by backing Balladur's rival bid for president in 1995. When Chirac won, Sarkozy was shut out of the new administration.

He has had a strained relationship with Chirac since then, but his political skills were too powerful to ignore: Chirac brought him back into the government as interior minister in 2002.

Sarkozy has been unstoppable since then, dominating the media and often stealing the spotlight from the president with his projects, including a high-profile law-and-order campaign.

After a cabinet rearrangement in 2004, he served as finance minister, overseeing the government bailout of the bankrupt engineering giant Alstom - a move that marked him as a dirigiste of the Gaullist tradition in many people's eyes.

A new dawn just climaxed in France with the emergence of Sarkozy as the new president, because he is the first President of France to have been born after the World War II.

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