The World from Berlin Conservatives Face Thrashing Over Sarkozy's Unpopularity

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power, he promised change. Since then, though, he seems to have focused more on his personal life than changing the country. German commentators predict the municipal elections starting Sunday will see his party suffer for his increasing unpopularity.

When Nicolas Sarkozy became France's president last May, it was a bit like a western movie. Like the new sheriff, confidant in himself and his mandate, Sarkozy rode into town ready to change things the hard way, if he had to.

Ten months are a long time in politics, however, and it seems the French people are far from thrilled about the new sheriff's way of doing business. And, with municipal elections starting this Sunday, it looks like his own Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party could suffer as a result.

The mayors of the majority of the large cities in France belong to the UMP but they are threatened with what is being dubbed the "red wave," as members of the opposition Socialist Party look poised to take over control of many cities.

Sarkozy's fall from favor has been swift. The French have clearly been put off by his much publicized divorce and then front-page romance with and marriage to supermodel-turned-singer Carla Bruni . Gruff words between Sarkozy and a Brittany fisherman followed by the film footage of the president insulting a man who refused to shake his hand have added to his plummeting approval ratings, which now stand at 37 percent.

The elections to be held in the nearly 37,000 municipalities will in large part be about local politics. However, since 2001, the conservatives have held power in 20 of the 35 French cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Local candidates, in fact, have been so worried about how their party affiliation with Sarkozy might affect their chances that some are even removing the UMP's party logo from their own posters.

Should the socialists make big gains and wrest the majority of these big cities away from the socialists, the national stage would feel the repercussions, too. The opposition would clearly feel more confident in opposing Sarkozy as he tries to breath some life into a sluggish economy and finally starts pushing forward the many promised -- and controversial -- reforms. And members of his own party might feel less pressure to tow the line. As political analyst Jean-Luc Parodi has said, according to the Associated Press, this election could mean that Sarkozy "would be like a magician who has lost his magic."

German commentators are closely following how the municipal elections will affect the French leader:

SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:

"Could this vote for the mayors be a national ostracism? Without a doubt, widespread displeasure with (Sarkozy) will penetrate all the way down to the level of the municipal and local elections. Not only in Bordeaux, but also in Strasbourg, Toulouse, Marseille, Rouen, Caen and St. Etienne and a half dozen more of France's larger cities, disappointment with Sarkozy could cause major changes in a protest vote against the local dignitaries. And in those places where last year conservative candidates were hoping to ride the 'blue wave' into the mayors' offices after Sarkozy's election -- such as in Paris or Lyon -- the predictions point to sobering disappointment."

"Of course, vexation with (Sarkozy) in Paris isn't the only reason for the turnaround in voter sentiment, as the battle for the mayors' seats is mostly about schools, hospitals, cultural projects, sewage treatment plants, traffic patterns or even just garbage collection…What is certain is that these municipal elections are coming at the worst possible time for Sarkozy. And it's not just because of the obscene display of his private life…that Sarkozy's reputation in the polls has been taking a dizzying nosedive in the polls. It's also the list of accomplishments after 10 months in office that has caused the rancor and cursing under the breath. Economic growth…is puttering at 1.7 percent. Strongly rising prices…are pushing 'felt inflation' far about the statistical average of 2.8 percent. For consumers, this is a sign experienced daily that Sarkozy, the 'purchasing power president,' has miserably failed to fulfill one of his most important campaign promises."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The loss will be a bitter one…(and) the loss will be the fault of the so-called 'omnipresident,' who dominates all the news reports, who constantly announces initiatives, and who get involved in even the smallest details of the government's policies…"

"The voters, however, have not forgotten reality and particularly not the economic reality that has affected the majority of them for the worse. They can't overlook the huge discrepancies between the head of state's big announcements and the as yet only meager results. That is Sarkozy's problem and one that he won't be able to fix unless he changes the showy style and dramatic lifestyle that have come to characterize him…It's a paradox: Sarkozy is so fixated on the public's perception of him that he is perceived by them more and more negatively. The desire to be a popstar-president just makes him more unpopular…"

"Sarkozy's rhetoric and his reforms just don't fit together. If he was really interested in leading a revolution in France, he would have to muster the courage to take on the many privileges of the powerful lobbyists. Out of fear for his popularity, however, he isn't willing to do that. Thus, the voting this weekend will show that his behavior has yet to win him any fans. When it comes to politics, long-lasting popularity doesn't come from ingratiation and entertainment but from concrete results."

"Despite the expected election debacle, Sarkozy has announced that he will continue upon this tack over the coming four years. One can only hope -- for him and for France -- that this threat isn't serious. If he doesn't grow up a bit and get serious, he will never again be as popular as he was when he was elected in 2007. And he won't be elected again."

The right-leaning Die Welt writes:

"The possible effect of Sarkozy's negative poll numbers shouldn't be overestimated. On the one hand, his prime minister, François Fillon, is enjoying increased popularity. This goes to show that the majority of the French are less critical of the French government's reform policies than they are with the unusually hectic governing style of their president. On the other hand, the influence of politics on the national level has a very limited effect on the outcome of local municipal elections. Only 9 percent of the voters cast their vote based solely on the party a candidate belong to. For 79 percent, the decisive issue is local polices and, for 49 percent, it's the platform of the candidate. While 26 percent focus on the accomplishments of the incumbent candidate, 14 percent make their decision based on personality. Moreover, when it comes to municipal-level politics, one can observe a certain depoliticization, which expresses itself in the breaking apart of traditional party alliances. And, owing to the opening Sarkozy has made to the left, this trend should be further strengthened."

-- Josh Ward, 1:30 p.m. CET

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