France votes decisively for political change

The French will soon face painful reforms, according to the Swiss press

The Swiss press has described Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the French presidential election on Sunday as a political turning point and a "break" with the past.

This content was published on May 7, 2007 - 08:46

A majority of commentators expects the ambitious new conservative president, who has promised an urgently needed economic revolution, to quickly get down to work but also to face considerable resistance.

Sarkozy swept aside his socialist rival Ségolène Royal with a solid majority, taking 53.1 per cent of the ballot against Royal's 46.9 per cent, with voters signing up to his vision of a hardworking France and turning a deaf ear to leftist accusations that he would prove a divisive, dangerous and abrasive leader.

The victory of Nicolas Sarkozy is "that of a man who offers the hope of a renaissance", wrote the French-language 24heures. "France is back and this is good news," it continued.

According to Geneva's Le Temps, which led with "Sarkofrance", the comprehensive margin of his triumph gives him a "strong mandate". The paper is certain that the former interior minister will swiftly try to instigate the radical reforms he has openly talked about.

Bern's Bund also underlined the decisive mandate given to Sarkozy, showing that "a majority of the French... wanted a break with the past". But it cautioned that if he failed, this sentiment would quickly dissolve.

For Zurich's Tages Anzeiger Sunday's vote was the "legitimate approval for far-reaching reforms".

The Fribourg-based La Liberté also believed Nicolas Sarkozy's decisive mandate gave him a strong hand, which should be further strengthened following June's parliamentary election.

The fiercely ambitious Sarkozy, who was "hungry for power" would have "gorged himself" on yesterday's victory and was likely to be "satiated" in June, it said.

"He will then have five years to try to instil a dose of liberalism in a country which has been overprotected by the state."

In Ticino, local paper La Regione said the vote had been the "choice of a society" that was "distancing itself from classic Gaullism". It was now a question of whether Sarkozy could "push through his promise of a dynamic France".

Words of caution

Although full of praise for his intellectual capacity and CV, Le Temps added that Sarkozy should resist any "authoritarian temptations" or "segregation" so that the French rally behind his call for change.

And Geneva's Tribune de Genève warned that Sarkozy did not have "a blank cheque" and he should beware that the "French... don't waste time taking to the streets to protest".

Bern's Berner Zeitung also warns about the power of the streets.

"If Sarkozy tries to implement his far-reaching reforms, many people are likely to take to the streets and cause considerable turmoil," wrote Bern's Berner Zeitung.

"Sarkozy has to change the mentality of people who have got used to a state jumping in whenever anything doesn't work," it added.

Lucerne's Neue Luzerner Zeitung is more dramatic, warning that the French should expect a "brutal wake-up call".

The Tribune de Genève advocated that the "new, extremely articulate" leader should follow a course of action which "breaks with the past but without totally destroying everything".

"Doubtless the new president will know how to leave behind this archaic France inherited from Jacques Chirac," it added.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement, won 53.06 per cent of the vote.
Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate, took 46.94 per cent.
Sarkozy will take office on May 16.
Turnout was about 84 per cent, the highest since 1981.
Compared with the last presidential election in 2002, three times more French voters living in Switzerland took part in Sunday's vote.
Out of 160,000 French expatriates, more than 76,000 were registered on the electoral lists and 75% of registered voters actually took part.
More than 70% of French expatriates voted in favour of the conservative candidate Sarkozy, although Ségolène Royal did well in Lausanne and Bern.

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Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy is a former interior minister who had led the opinion polls since mid-January. He becomes the first son of an immigrant to rule modern France. His father comes from Hungary.

A conservative (Union for a Popular Movement), he promises tough reforms to make France work more, crack down on crime and cut unemployment.

As finance minister in 2004, he saved engineering giant Alstom from collapse and brokered an all-French merger of Aventis and Sanofi to avert a takeover by Switzerland's Novartis.

Fears of renewed unrest prevented him from campaigning in poor districts, whose enmity he earned over his handling of 2005 suburban riots.

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