The French Elections: Off With King Sarko's Head

He posed in spectacular grandeur as the neo-imperial Liberator of Libya - only a few years after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi helped finance his 2007 election campaign with a cool US$65 million.

Profiting from a mysterious alliance between the Holy Ghost and an African chambermaid in New York, he got rid of the unstoppable challenger to his re-election, former International Monetary Fund director general and international sex fiend, Dominique Strauss-Khan.

And still, this Sunday, French voters - in a Facebook-style remix of the fall of the Bastille - are bound to yell "Off with his head".

Why? Hubris. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, aka neo-Napoleonic King Sarko, former king of bling bling, "Chouchou" to [Italian] First Lady Carla Bruni, may be his own worst enemy.

A ritzy lifestyle

Bashir Saleh is Gaddafi's former chief of staff and former president of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund. He was the go-to guy when the regime decided to finance Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign.

King Sarko, predictably, denied everything and said he would sue the French website, Mediapart, that revealed what many already knew. Yet this Thursday, former Libyan prime minister Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi confirmed it all over again. And that's exactly what Gaddafi's son and former darling of the London School of Economics, Saif al-Islam, had said in March 2011: "Sarkozy must give back the money he accepted from Libya to finance his presidential campaign."

Saleh is now under Interpol watch, but he remains in France, authorized by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) rebel regime in Libya that otherwise is pursuing him... He happens to maintain a cozy 4 million euro (US$5.2 million) abode near the Swiss border, with a view to Mont Blanc.

All that protected by the police of King Sarko, who said everything is going on "with the full agreement of president [of the Libyan Transitional Council] Mustapha Abdel Jalil". Life is good; this week Saleh was spotted hanging out at the Ritz in Paris.

My vote is for Carla

The French presidential campaign came to the proverbial anti-climax this week in an almost three-hour long debate between King Sarko and Socialist Party challenger Francois Hollande. Trillions of bytes hit the screens describing the debate essentially as "tense". No KO was delivered. Sarko behaved like a Duracell bunny on crack, while Hollande - with the charisma of a dry sausage - actually looked solid and relatively precise.

Lies were given free flow. Sarko defended his job creation record. In April 2007, he was promising only 5% of unemployed after five years as president. Today, France has 9.4% unemployed among the active urban population. After five years of Sarko, the ranks of the French unemployed rose by one million.

As the macarron to complement the cafe, centrist Francois Bayrou - who got 9.1% of the votes in the first round - manifested his repulsion towards Sarko's campaign to seduce the extreme right and announced he would vote for Hollande.

By the way, no less than 33% of French voters sat out the first round, preferring instead to concentrate on the geopolitical ramifications of consummate top model Carla Bruni's looks.

The real winner of the first round - a toxic political Hellfire missile, no less - was the French extreme right, via the National Front (18% of votes) "normalized" by savvy businesswoman Marine Le Pen, the daughter of founder and certified fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The National Front's growing influence since the 1980s all across European extreme right circles is simply astonishing. The cancer has spread everywhere, from France to Italy, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and even Greece.

Xenophobia and Islamophobia are alive and kicking across a fearful, mired-in-crisis Europe. In Austria, the extreme right, after years under the charismatic Jorg Haider, is now totally normalized and legitimized.

In the Netherlands, under uber-Islamophobe Geert Wilders, the PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid - Party for Freedom) got 24% of votes in the 2010 elections and was part of a conservative coalition in power that ended up breaking down because, once again, of Wilders.

In Scandinavia, the extreme right is on a rampage; in Sweden, for instance, the Swedish Democrats (nice Orwellian touch) for the first time entered parliament.

One can't go wrong campaigning as an extreme right-winger in Europe; it's enough to rail against globalization and "brown" and "black" immigrants; denounce corrupt elites; demonize Islam; warn about national identity in danger because of multiculturalism; and essentially pose as "anti-system". It's as if the specter of Nazi Germany was hovering from the south of France to the Carpathian mountains.

No wonder when an extreme right-wing party reaches 15% of voters nationally, conservative parties scramble to adopt their policies. That's exactly what King Sarko tried in France; after losing the first round, he said wily Marine Le Pen was "compatible with the republic". Yet it didn't gell - because millions of voters were in fact nursing another kind of fury; their Europhobia.

Europhobes, unite

The eurozone crisis, countries going bankrupt, non-stop orthodox "austerity", unemployment, the iron hand of rating agencies and budget technocrats, widespread economic horror; millions of French, like other Europeans, blame Brussels for it. And King Sarko happens to be part of the hated elite - as 50% of the "Merkozy" couple, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is, in theory, trying to "save" Europe.

So an extra problem for the bling bling king was that he was not, and was never, able to sell a political, cultural and social project, his vision for Europe. Or at least point to how to recreate post-crisis Europe (assuming the crisis will vanish soon, which it won't).

Hollande may be a cold cucumber, and his prescriptions may be "outdated" - as King Sarko and The Economist accused; but at least this return of the socialists to power in France may shake up the whole groggy chessboard.

The European Union will forcefully have to re-examine the Franco-German axis in its "post-Merkozy" stage; this is the axis that actually rules over Europe. There's a lot of talk in Paris and Berlin of "continuity". It did happen before, between Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, and between Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl.

But the real challenge is what a Hollande presidency could do for a more social, and more egalitarian Europe. The Economist - that is, the financial interests of the City of London - has been so sorry for King Sarko, who was trying to "save" not only France but also Europe. That's nonsense.

Bye bye bling bling guy - and good riddance.

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