UPDATE: Sarkozy wins!
The French presidential election—much discussed across the punditsphere, if less so on this site—is wrapping up in a matter of hours. Every expectation is that conservative Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy will clobber the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal. "Socialist losing = good" is a nice rule of thumb, but Sarkozy's combination of quasi-libertarian economics and Nixonesque leadership muddy the picture. From the New Yorker's excellent preview of the election:
The real trouble with Sarkozy is that he is not demonstrably democratic. Few politicians are, but Sarkozy is at a disadvantage, having put in five highly visible years as an interior minister that included the month of rioting in the projects in 2005, and a brief resurgence of violence earlier this spring in Paris. He doesn't pretend to listen to "the people." When rules get in his way, he walks right over them, or he changes them. "He is unafraid," his communications director, Jean-Michel Goudard, told me. "He doesn't want you to like him. He wants you to help him get things done." His answer to the country's vote against a European constitution is to rewrite the constitution, hand it to parliament, and tell parliament to vote yes. He has been known to threaten the press over articles he didn't like (Libération) or to exact revenge when he has been embarrassed. When his wife, Cécilia, had a serious fling in New York last year, and the paparazzi caught up with her and her boyfriend, he called his friend Arnaud Lagardère, the owner of Paris Match, and Lagardère obligingly fired the editor-in-chief who had signed off on publishing the pictures. (Both men deny there was any pressure.)
Not that Sarkozy's philosophy isn't charming. From Jurgen Reinhoudt's review of his 2006 political essay Testimony:
Sarkozy harshly criticizes the Socialist government of former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin for its stagnant reaction on immigration and crime, and its general style of governing, but reserves his harshest criticism for the introduction of the 35-hour workweek, which Sarkozy considers both economically unsound and a moral affront to the national work ethic. Indeed, Sarkozy admires the American work ethic and wants France to work much more, arguing perhaps a bit aspirationally that "France has a working culture… Its people know what work is… But the deliberate inversion of values between work and welfare has caused people to lose their bearings… Nothing is more important than restoring work as a cardinal value. And to do that there is only one solution: proving that work pays."
France has a super-centralized electoral system that lets networks announce the winner as soon as the polls are all closed, like this example from the 1995 election:
A year ago Michael Young reported on the scandal that helped kneecap Sarkozy's main rivals for the presidency.