In milestone elections, Greece radicalizes, France moderates - Macleans.ca

In milestone elections, Greece radicalizes, France moderates

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Springtime Sundays are election days in Europe, and this one brought two blockbusters. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy becomes only the second man to lose re-election in the half-century since the country began electing presidents by direct popular vote. Socialist François Hollande defeated him, becoming only the second Socialist president of the Fifth Republic, following François Mitterrand 31 years ago.

Trailing after first-round voting two weeks ago, Sarkozy swung hard to the right, trying to pick up voters from Marine Le Pen’s National Front party with anti-immigrant themes. Hollande tried a more traditional centrist path — well, centrist by French standards, where Hollande’s proposal for a top tax rate of 75% drew little comment — and held enough of his advantage to seal his victory.

The results in Greece could hardly be more different. Support for traditional parties collapsed, and extreme left- and right-wing parties prospered. It remains to be seen whether anyone can even form a government out of the resulting mess.

Why the different outcomes? Partly it’s different systems. France was voting in a run-off where third- and fourth-place parties were already eliminated. Greece was electing a parliament. And it was doing so in reaction to a European bailout plan that required harsh austerity measures that just about nobody in Greece liked. This mess is the result. From the New York Times:

Starting Monday, the front-runners have three days to try to form a government. But with seven parties expected to enter Parliament, the prospects for stability appeared low.

“It’s a completely fragmented Parliament,” said Loukas Tsoukalis, the president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens research institute. “The two former big parties have suffered a defeat which is greater than most people had expected.”

He said that he expected new elections soon. “The question is what happens in between, whether there are any realignments in the Greek political system that provide credible alternatives to protest movements,” Mr. Tsoukalis said. “If this doesn’t happen, then Greece is in deep” trouble, he added.