In his column for Saudi Arabia’s pan-Arabic Asharq Alawsat, Ali Ibrahim makes an important point with direct application to those involved in ‘Arab Spring’. How winners of elections behave is important, of course, but equally important is how losers and their supporters behave. He uses the electoral defeat of French President Sarkozy as his launching pad. Sarkozy lost to François Hollande in a relatively close election: Hollande receiving 52% of the votes to Sarkozy’s 48%. That means that nearly half of the French population did not vote for Hollande. Nevertheless, they accept the defeat of their candidate and do not take to the streets or to their guns. They acknowledge that their candidate did not win the votes of a majority and they will have to do better next time around.
Surely, the defeated are not happy. They will complain. They will find fault in much that the Hollande government does. There will be editorials and screeds decrying the shift in politics and perhaps the economy. But they accept – peacefully and without violence – that they did not win.
How you lose is as important to democracy as how you win.
The speeches of the defeated French President and his newly elected replacement provide an eloquent lesson in the art of practicing political democracy. Following the announcement of the election results which were not in his favor, Nicolas Sarkozy – who is something of a rarity as a French president who failed to win a second presidential term – addressed his audience and supporters, in all humility, conceding defeat and saying: “I have not succeeded…I carry full responsibility for this defeat”. He added that France’s new president had come to power through popular democratic choice and that the French people must be patriotic and united behind him. He finished his speech congratulating his victorious opponent and calling on his supporters to respect the winner, pointing out that the political situation would be different now.
As for François Hollande, France’s President-elect, he did not forget in the euphoria of his victory speech to pay tribute, despite the boos of his supporters, to his defeated rival Sarkozy, who had led the country for 5 years, and as such deserves, according to Hollande, all due respect.
Between the winner and loser of the French presidential election was a difference in terms of votes of less than 4 percent; around 18 million voted in favor of Hollande and 16.9 million voted in favor of Sarkozy. Yet the 16.9 million will not oppose this election result, nor will the 2.1 million who cast blank or spoiled ballots; nobody will object to Hollande being their president for the next five years, even if they disagree with him.