PARIS, May 7, 2007 -- Last night, Nicolas Sarkozy's "motorcade" looked more pop star than presidential. With the results just in, announcing him the winner, he took a victory lap of Paris. The paparazzi did their best to keep up.
Sarkozy's route took him past the Arc de Triomphe and up the Champs Elysée, right past the Elysée Palace, where he will take up residence in two weeks. All the while the scooters and motorcycles gave chase. France's famously aggressive photographers are nothing if not persistent.
Sarkozy's commanding victory is a strong mandate for change. The central theme of his campaign was "la rupture" -- a clean break with the past. He is vowing to shake things up here. "I want to bring back work, authority, morale, respect and merit," he told his supporters. The crowd ate it up.
Sarkozy has dreamt his whole life of this moment. He has long held ambitions to lead his country. The grandson of Hungarian Jewish immigrants who later converted to Catholicism, he is the product of state universities, not the elite schools that normally serve as the breeding ground of French politicians. He may be short in stature, but like Napoleon he is known here as a tough leader, a force to be reckoned with.
Sarkozy brings generational change to French politics. For the first time, France will have a president born after World War II. He is also the most pro-American politician to come along here in years. Sarkozy's opponent tried to use that against him. Socialist Segolene Royal branded him a "George Bush neocon," and her supporters used a smiling photo of him with Bush taken last September to make fun of him. They called him "an American with a French passport" and the leader of "the French unit of Bush and company."
In France, where anti-Americanism runs high, Sarkozy has had to moderate his enthusiasm for the United States during the campaign. He has made it clear he would be "friendly but frank." And while in the past he has criticized the arrogance of the Chirac administration on foreign policy issues, he has recently clarified that France has been vindicated in its opposition of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"The U.S. can look forward to a real, loyal ally -- not submissive, but loyal," said Nicole Bacharon, a political analyst and author of the book "Should We Fear America."
Sarkozy will need to stand his ground here in France as well. He has vowed to cut taxes and bureaucracy in an effort to stimulate the French economy. He has even indicated a willingness to take on sacred cows like the cushy 35 hour work week -- perks for which the labor unions have fought hard, but which have tended to drag down the French economy.
Said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations: "Sarkozy will be like the bitter pill that you have to swallow. You know it's bad when you taste it but it's good once you've taken it."
But already there are signs that some don't want to swallow that pill. There were flare-ups across the country, from the southern port of Marseilles to the northern city of Lille. As many as 10,000 people nationwide took part in the demonstrations, and nearly 300 are now under arrest.
The supporters of president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy were still celebrating last night in the Place de la Concorde, the square where Marie Antoinette faced the guillotine, when the Bastille erupted.
A small group of anarchists wearing masks were the vanguard of the violent protest. They hurled rocks at police, who shot back tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Nationwide nearly 400 cars went up in flames, many of them in the Paris suburbs that were the focus of immigrant riots in 2005. The interior minister at the time had dismissed the protesters as "scum." Now that same man is France's president elect.
Across town, it is hard to find a Sarkozy campaign poster that hasn't been modified with a Hitler mustache and haircut by a disgruntled supporter of his defeated Socialist rival Segolene Royal.
But the sentiment is far from universal. This is now a deeply divided country, and the fight is not over yet.
Sarkozy has won this crucial round, but there are clearly bigger battles ahead.