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Viewing cable 09PARIS1416, MARCH 2010 REGIONAL ELECTIONS PREVIEW SARKOZY'S

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09PARIS1416 2009-10-21 15:03 2010-11-30 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nytimes.com
VZCZCXRO6133
PP RUEHAG RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHFR #1416/01 2941509
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 211509Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7384
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 001416

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2019
TAGS: PREL FR
SUBJECT: MARCH 2010 REGIONAL ELECTIONS PREVIEW SARKOZY'S
STRENGTH AT MID-TERM

Classified By: POL M/C Kathy Allegrone for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary:  French regional elections scheduled for
March 2010 are shaping up as a measurement of President
Nicolas Sarkozy's strength at the mid-point of his term.
Despite rumors of malaise and dogged by a series of internal
political tempests including the Clearstream trial, rumors of
his Culture Minister's participation in sex tourism, and his
son Jean's appointment to a coveted business position amidst
charges of nepotism, no other political figure or party can
match the dominance of Sarkozy on the French political scene.
The opposition Socialists (PS) are in tatters, with Martine
Aubry, as Party Chairman, vying for control of the left
against her bitter rival, 2007 PS presidential candidate,
Segolene Royale.  With Sarkozy's UMP controlling only two of
22 regions, and following their impressive victory in the
European elections last June, the center-right appears to
have nothing to lose.  The debate has been how many more
regions will tip their way -- and what will constitute
victory.  Regional councils play a role in the selection of
French Senators, and by extension that body can take on a
different complexion than the UMP-controlled National
Assembly.  As the only national vote before the 2012
presidential and legislative races, all eyes view this round
of regional elections as a preview Sarkozy's reelection bid.
End Summary.

2. (U) Regional elections will be held in France in mid-March
2010 to elect local leadership for the 22 regions of mainland
France and four additional overseas regions.  In 2005,
Socialists overwhelmed the UMP in the regional elections,
winning all but two regions.  The huge Socialist victory was
viewed widely as a repudiation of then-President Chirac's
leadership.  As the only nationwide elections before the 2012
presidential and legislative elections, "the regionals" are
viewed as a referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy's leadership and a
snapshot of parties' relative strength heading into 2012.

Mechanics
---------

3.  (U) As elsewhere in Europe, regional elections in France
are a confusing system combining proportional and majority
voting.  Like other elections in France, voters choose a
party list, or slate of candidates, representing various
parties.  Any list winning 10% of the vote in the first round
of elections (likely to be on March 14 or 21, 2010), advances
to a second round of elections (one week later, thus either
March 21 or 28, 2010).  Parties that win only 5% of the vote
may join efforts with other parties to advance to the second
round.  If one party wins 25% of the votes, they win the
right to form the regional council; the remaining seats are
divided proportionally depending on the results of the second
round.

Sarkozy's Dominance, Despite Governing Woes
-------------------------------------------

4. (C) Regional councils finance education, transport and
other key infratructure, and are locked in a struggle with
national authorities over taxation.  They also participate,
along with other municipalities, in the selection process of
French Senators, and will do so again in September 2011.
With only two regions controlled by conservative majorities
(in Alsace and Corsica), President Sarkozy would welcome
extending his political dominance to regional councils, to
match his lionized role in the executive and legislative
branches.  But Sarkozy faces his own challenges, and the
press is abuzz about malaise in his administration, as well
as Sarkozy's "monarchial tendencies."  Concretely, Sarkozy
first urged cabinet members to head the UMP ticket in various
regions.  He then flipped and decided it was incompatible to
hold both jobs simultaneously.  That decision forced three
ministers to opt out of running in regional races, and has
left the President's UMP party ill prepared for March,
scrambling to find suitable candidates. Sarkozy has also been
dogged by recent scandals, including his Culture Minister
Frederic Mitterrand's dalliance in possible sex tourism.
Mitterand chronicled his appetite for paying for sex with
young men in a 2005 book (that Sarkozy described as
"courageous") but subsequently publicly denied and condemned
"sexual tourism," and vigorously denied that any of his
actions extended to under-aged youth.  Sarkozy has come in
for withering criticism when news broke that his 23-year old
son, Jean, an undergraduate law student, was to be named head
of the regional business authority of France's premier
business district, La Defense.  Both the Mitterrand affair
and the apparent favoritism enjoyed by the younger Sarkozy
have given the president's opponents two potential campaign
issues, that could damage his party's chances in the upcoming
regionals.

PARIS 00001416  002 OF 002

Weakened Opposition Focused on Infighting
-----------------------------------------

5.  (C) Despite the challenges facing Sarkozy, other parties
are far from fighting shape.  The opposition Socialists (PS)
are locked in their own internecine struggle for dominance
between party leader, Martine Aubry, and 2007 presidential
candidate, Segolene Royal.  Sarkozy confidant Alain Minc told
Ambassador Rivkin in September, 2009 that he was a close
friend of Aubry's whom he had known since their days at
France's Ecole Naitonale d'Administration (ENA), and that
Aubry told him she ran for the PS leadership in order to clip
Royale's wings.  The PS is preoccupied with how to position
the party for the 2012 presidential race, either by forming a
broad left coalition, or moving into alliance with the
centrist Mouvement Democratique (MoDem) party.

6.  (SBU) The PS faces a real challenge from its left, with
the Green party hoping to repeat their surprisingly strong
showing in European parliamentary elections.  The Greens have
refused to run with PS in the first round of regional
elections and are counting on the growing profile of their 34
year old leader, Cecile Duflot to win in Paris.  A Green win
in high-profile Paris would be a serious rebuke to the PS,
and if repeated elsewhere in France could precipitate Aubry's
ouster from her leadership role in the PS.

7.  (SBU) MoDem will be challenged by a new group of
centrists called Nouveau Centre, which is largely allied with
Sarkozy's UMP.  Neither party is expected to win any regional
contest, but there is an open question of where MoDem will
throw its support in a second round of elections.  Their
electoral results will be watched closely as a barometer for
the 2012 presidential race, and whether MoDem will join
forces with the PS to create a united coalition to oppose
Sarkozy in 2012.

8.  (C) The far right National Front (FN) will focus its
efforts in the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur (PACA) region in
southern France, a traditional area of support.  With his
party's finances in tatters and its traditional themes
co-opted by Sarkozy's UMP, this race likely represents Jean
Marie Le Pen's final campaign.  He has passed the torch to
his daughter, Marine, who broke the Frederic Mitterrand
story, largely to energize her flagging campaign.  Fearing
association with the FN, other mainstream political parties
were slow to criticize Mitterrand, although some PS leaders
eventually joined the chorus calling for his resignation.

9.  (C) Comment:  Although the Mitterrand story has largely
disappeared, it has been replaced since by the embarrassing
issue of Jean Sarkozy's likely election to head the La
Defense business district.  Combined, these stories have
bolstered the impression that Sarkozy is operating in a zone
of monarch-like impunity, and his aides, according to an
article in Le Figaro, are unwilling to question the
President's views. UMP party leaders have turned to the
traditional canard of lashing out at the media for their
unfair attention, but they have just as quickly sought to
lower expectations for a strong conservative comeback in the
March 2010 elections.  After losing 13 regions in 2005, UMP
election expert Alain Marleix said winning six back was a
possibility, but that estimate was lowered by UMP President
Xavier Bertrand, who said this week that a center-right win
in four would "be a miracle."  Regardless of the result,
Sarkozy will head into 2012 enjoying an outsized role in the
French political firmament -- beloved by some, reviled by
others -- and the failure of the opposition to do anything
other than bicker amongst themselves spells a positive
forecast as Sarkozy eyes a re-election bid in two more years.

RIVKIN