Tortoise And The Hare: Can François Hollande Outlast Nicolas Sarkozy?

Even as they share the same passion for politics, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande have very different world views -- and polar opposite personalities.

Hollande and Sarkozy (Jean-Marc Ayrault, EPP)
Hollande and Sarkozy (Jean-Marc Ayrault, EPP)
Raphaëlle Bacqué

PARIS - Here they are, face to face, these two men who have fought each other for months. Same generation, same passion for politics. They have known each other for years, each on his side of the invisible fence that separates France's two main political parties. When they were members of Parliament, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande used to address each other with the familiar "tu" of the French language. But now, only one will win Sunday's election for the French presidency.

For the traditional lone televised debate, a decisive moment of the presidential election, they had to remind the other one what they knew of each other: the blunders, the policy contradictions, even the alleged fibs and falsehoods. But in a presidential election, personality matters too: the ways of reacting that are forged in childhood, the lessons in life drawn from past failures and success.

Hollande does not underestimate Nicolas Sarkozy: "He is a bad president but a good candidate," he concedes. For his part, Sarkozy overlooked the Socialist candidate for a long time. But because they share the same political instinct, they also had the same opinion of a potential rival for each: Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The now former head of the International Monetary Fund had too many love affairs, manners that were too casual -- a kind of indifference that is not permissible to reach the presidency.

But apart from this, what do they have in common? A realism that only belongs to major party leaders, a shared political obstinacy, and a commitment to Europe that had sometimes dragged them down. Once, they even exposed their seeming complicity to promote the European Constitution, on the front page of Paris Match. This picture of the two candidates has now become a secret irritation for both.

Let's look at them for a moment, to try to understand them. François Hollande, 57, is a provincial, even in his culinary tastes and in the pleasure he gets from the small talk of cafés. His father was an ear-nose-and-throat doctor, his mother a social worker. He has one brother. He had a standard childhood in the Catholic bourgeoisie of the northwestern city of Rouen. And even though the family moved to the upscale Paris suburb of Neuilly-Sur-Seine when he was a teenager, the provincial image never really left him. And because of this, he was long considered a political outsider.

His rival has a Hungarian name, legacy of a family history that went hand-in-hand with the troubled history of post-war Europe. Pal Nagy Bocsa y Sarközy, Nicolas' father, was the heir of a Budapest aristocratic family. He arrived in France in 1948, fleeing from occupying Soviet forces who forced young people to join the army. Nicolas Sarkozy does not know a single word of the language of his father, who did not want to teach him. "It wouldn't have been very useful anyway; Hungary is a small country," Pal told Le Monde a few years ago. "And I wanted my children to be entirely French anyway."

But according to the French president, it's above all a sign of his father's negligence. His childhood in a hotel particulier of the 17th district of Paris was more than comfortable. But he held a wound from his parents' divorce, which happened when he was only five. "What shaped me are my childhood humiliations," he let slip out in an interview years ago. "I don't have any nostalgia from my childhood because it was not a particularly good moment of my life."

Political marriages

Along the political spectrum, Hollande is a real Social Democrat, and a convinced backer of a united Europe. When he was younger, the only person who dared to confront him, while he was a start student at the elite ENA school for public administration, was Ségolène Royal, who would eventually rise through the Socialist party to be the candidate in 2007 (losing to Sarkozy in the runoff). Back in their university days, Royal seduced Hollande with her intelligence and sense of humor.

Over 25 years, they became a star couple, precisely because it is so rare in the political arena. "François and Ségolène": she has twice been a minister; he was the head of the party. They had four children, though never married. Their story ended in 2007, because of what we can call both sentimental treason and political rivalry. She was a presidential candidate before him. He now lives with political journalist, Valérie Trierweiler.

Hollande is considered a practical and balanced man. But he has been through a professional winter that began in 2008: four years of solitude and contempt. He was called "wimpy," a "paddle-boat captain," and was praised more for his one liners than his poitical skills. But all of this is behind him now, and leads the polls heading into Sunday's vote.

As for Nicolas Sarkozy, also 57, he adopted every right-wing trend that came along. For years, as the mayor of Neuilly, the same town where Hollande's family moved, he organized urbane dinners in the city hall. He invited CEOs, actors, lawyers, TV presenters.

While he was conducting the marriage of one of his citizens, Jacques Martin, one of the most popular French TV presenters, he fell in love with the bride, Cécilia. For 15 years, he did not make a move towards her. They finally married in 1996. "The political world is so violent that it's better that there are two to face it," said Cécilia Sarkozy.

But while her husband was facing Ségolène Royal during the 2007 presidential election, she left him. The day he was elected, she didn't go to vote, and his victory will always miss that single ballot. Since then, he has remarried former model Carla Bruni, who was initially from the left. Sarkozy is now both a father of an infant girl, and a grandfather.

The same things have been said about him during his whole life: "tough," "determined," "resourceful," "aggressive," "extreme" and "brutal." His presidential record is full of contradictions and breakdowns. Even his supporters are ambivalent.

In this election during which they oppose each other, one became the favorite. The other one fights with his back to the wall.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Jean-Marc Ayrault & European People's Party

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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