As President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy prepares to take office on Wednesday, La France is abuzz with talk of his curious post-election behaviour.
On the plus side, Sarkozy reportedly has offered the foreign minister's job to Socialist politician Bernard Kouchner. One of the founders of Medecins sans Frontieres, Kouchner, 67 is a former UN administrator in Kosovo. He was also a leader of the May 1968 student revolt. In his victory speech, Sarkozy lamented the "moral legacy" of that revolt.
Sarkozy has been widely criticised for mounting a divisive election campaign, appealing to "tribal instincts" of right-wing voters. In his post-election speech, he promised to govern for "the whole of France," opening his administration to senior figures with opposing views.
In choosing his government, Sarkozy must juggle three conflicting campaign promises: to appoint women to half of the senior posts; to open his administration to the opposition and reduce the number of ministerial positions. Consequently, many close allies hoping for plum posts will be disappointed.
In Paris, angry words are said to have been exchanged with Defense Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who had expected a move to foreign affairs. The foreign affairs job was also discussed with Hubert Védrine, who had the post in 1997-2002 under Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Francois Fillon, 53 is expected to be named Prime Ministor. Madame Alliot-Marie may move to justice or keep her current post.
Sarkozy plans to split the economics ministry into two: a strategic ministry for economic affairs and a managerial ministry for employment, finance and the budget. Jean-Louis Borloo is expected to be named head of the new economics ministry. He is believed to be adept at negotiating social reforms with trade unionists.
On Monday Sarkozy conducted preliminary talks with union leaders. He agreed to negotiate - rather than impose - his plans for changes in unemployment and trades union law. But most union leaders take Sarkozy's promises with a grain of salt. The country is already bracing for a series of strikes expected in September, following the re-entree of Parisiennes returning from their summer holidays.
Sarkozy's wife didn't vote
On the negative side, Sarkozy's private life has caused quite a stir. The latest controversy involves Sarkozy stopping publication of the story about his wife not voting in the second round of the presidential elections. The Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche - which like Paris-Match is owned by the Hachette-Lagardére media group - had planned to publish the story about Cécilia Sarkozy.
Newspaper editor Jacques Espérandieu denied Monday that he had been pressured by publisher Hachette-Lagardère, which is controlled by Sarkozy's friend Arnaud Lagardère. The editor said he removed the story because "it infringed Madame Sarkozy's right to privacy." Two unions in the Hachette-Lagardère group complained the story was"censored" by management "to please the president-elect, or maybe on his orders."
Madame Sarkozy, who disappeared from public view during the campaign, re-appeared late on election night, dressed in a casual grey cotton blouse and trousers. The next day, Sarkozy, his wife and their ten-year-old son began a three-day Mediterranean cruise as guests of one of France's richest men. Upon his return to Paris, Sarkozy faced a barrage of criticism of his "billionaire's holiday" off the coast of Malta. Sarkozy responded: "I've no intention of hiding. I've no intention of lying. I've no intention of saying sorry."
After his election victory Sarkozy said he was taking a three-day "retreat" to "weigh the gravity of the burdens which now fall on my shoulders." His entourage hinted he was going to a monastery. But Sarkozy and his family flew to Malta in the executive jet of billionaire Vincent Bolloré. They then went aboard the Paloma, Bollore's $3.5m yacht.
No one questioned Sarkozy's right to a holiday before accepting his role as president, but some of his allies wondered about his judgement in leaping from a campaign in which he preached the "values of hard work" to a three-day break with jet set friends. Socialist politician Vincent Peillon, a former spokesman for Sarkozy's opponent Segelene Royal, accused the president-elect of displaying a "kind of arrogant, even insulting behaviour." During the campaign, Sarkozy praised the "France that gets up early" and urged the country to work harder, Peillon said. But once he was elected, he was off enjoying himself with his billionaire friends, Peillon noted.
Under the provocative headline "Boat People," the newspaper Libération suggested Sarkozy was copying the "bad taste and exhibitionism" of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister. Le Monde published a front-page cartoon showing Sarkozy's wife sunbathing on a yacht and saying - in the style of Marie-Antoinette - "shut up, you poor people."
While Sarkozy cavorted on the yacht, scattered, violent protests against his election continued in several French cities. Media reports indicated most protests involved youths associated with far-left or anarchist groups. Some car burnings, as well as arson attacks on buildings were reported in poor suburbs surrounding Paris and other cities. It is the first time in modern French history that election results were met with such violent protests. In my neighbourhood, Sarkozy's campaign posters were gouged out with a pen-knife.
Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) still has a parliamentary election to win on June 10 and 17. His opponents are expected to make their voices heard.