Over the past 50 years, France has had six presidents. They include Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970), who left office in April 1969.
During the same period, the United States had 10 presidents, and Japan had 25 prime ministers. Of course, there’s more to leaders than their time spent in office, but the post that awaits French president-elect Francois Hollande carries much weight.
Six years ago, I covered a summer workshop of the French Socialist Party and saw Hollande sign an autograph for a female party member. As the woman thumped into a seat next to him, she happened to sit on a set of papers that Hollande used for his speech as the party’s first secretary. The way he casually pulled the papers from underneath her showed his good nature.
Although Hollande is a powerful man who led the largest French opposition party for a long time, I did not feel he had an aura befitting a future president. Since such a seemingly modest candidate won, it stands to reason that a more charming contender could have scored a landslide victory.
The outcome reflects the deep resentment among French voters to the belt-tightening policy of defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
Without exception, major European parties support the European Union. Even parties that exhibit a populist inclination when they are in opposition become tightfisted once they come to power as “ruling parties of Europe” and lose public support.
Hollande, too, will likely have to walk a tightrope while gauging the moods of Germany and other EU members, the market and public opinion.
In France as well as in Greece, extreme left-wing and right-wing forces that turned their back to EU dominion and the euro currency have made strides. As domestic discrepancies deepen in the form of unemployment and the retrogression to welfare with the advancement of globalization, major parties are no longer able to capably deal with public dismay.
Financial difficulties, limited policy choices, the unpopularity of major parties, voting to punish a ruling party and the rise of populism--we have a lot to learn from Europe’s confusion.
Or rather, I am surprised at how similar we are. Hollande, however, will be vested with enormous power for at least five years.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 9
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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