PARIS, Oct. 16 — Last month the town council of Sannat, a village of 380 people in the dead center of France, became so fed up with President Nicolas Sarkozy that it decided not to hang his official portrait in the town hall.
Calling the act “a bit rebellious,” Henri Sauthon, the 81-year-old mayor, explained that the council disapproved of what he called Mr. Sarkozy’s imperial and egotistical style. “Our decision is irrevocable,” he said. “I have nothing more to say.”
Granted, Mr. Sauthon calls himself a man of the left, and his village voted Socialist in the election that swept Mr. Sarkozy, a conservative, to power in May.
But five months into Mr. Sarkozy’s presidency, a sense of unease and discontent is surfacing — not just among his opponents but within the corridors of the government and Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement, the governing party.
The 52-year-old president has offered a flood of political and economic initiatives aimed at changing the way things are done in France, raising questions along the way of whether a coherent strategy was behind them.
He has incurred the wrath of loyalists in his conservative camp by giving high-level jobs to people on the left. He has ruffled some of his own ministers by contradicting them in public.
On Thursday, he will face the first test of whether his know-it-all, do-it-all approach is working: a national one-day strike opposing his pension reform initiative, which envisions an end to special pension privileges for more than half a million public workers that cost nearly $7 billion a year.
Unions of the state-owned rail company, the Paris Métro service and the power utilities have said they will stay home. Postal and employment office workers are expected to join in, as will some smaller Air France unions.
The Paris Opera has canceled its Thursday performance of “La Traviata,” and the Comédie Française has done the same with Molière’s “Imaginary Invalid.”
In 1995, an attempt to eliminate the pension privileges was abandoned after three weeks of crippling strikes and mass protests. This time Bernard Thibault, the leader of France’s oldest and most powerful union, is poised to negotiate, saying he does not want a lengthy walkout.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sarkozy, who campaigned on a pledge to get the country to “work more to earn more,” is gambling that the public will support him. “I was elected precisely to confront difficult issues,” he said last week.
“He knows that there is a great desire for change among the people,” Claude Guéant, Mr. Sarkozy’s chief of staff and closest adviser, said. “He said this throughout the campaign, and that seduced public opinion. Today he is doing what he said he was going to do, and I believe that will continue to seduce.”
But seduction may not be enough to transform the country.
France is the biggest public spender, relative to its gross domestic product, in the European Union. The 2008 budget, with a deficit of nearly $59 billion, is based on a growth rate that even the government’s own statistical arm calls much too optimistic.
The economy is in such bad shape, Prime Minister François Fillon said last month, that the French state is “bankrupt” — a term that aides at the Élysée Palace quickly branded unfortunate.
“The real problem of Nicolas Sarkozy is not that he wants to change things — the country elected him to change things — but that the economy is in such bad shape,” said Manuel Valls, a Socialist and the mayor of Évry. “He is not an economic liberal like Thatcher, or a Reagan, but remains a Gaullist at heart. The strategy he has chosen doesn’t support economic growth.”
But Mr. Sarkozy is not one to accept criticism or negative thinking. Showered with nicknames like “hyperpresident” and “Czarkozy,” he has annoyed some of his ministers by relying heavily on a kitchen cabinet of close advisers and publicly putting his ministers in their place as he deems necessary.
In August he referred to himself as “the boss” and to Mr. Fillon (who as prime minister is the head of government) as a “collaborator,” using a term suggesting “aide.” Mr. Fillon reacted harshly, saying, “This is not a term that I would have used.”
Making amends in a television interview, Mr. Sarkozy praised Mr. Fillon’s work as “perfectly remarkable,” adding that the two of them are “interchangeable.”
After campaigning on a platform aimed at wooing voters from the extreme-right National Front, Mr. Sarkozy has tacked to the left to avoid the impression that reform will be too painful.
The government has been forced to cover nearly $13 billion in tax cuts passed by Parliament over the summer, for example.
When Finance Minister Christine Lagarde announced that the 2008 budget reflected a policy of “rigor,” she was quickly criticized by Mr. Guéant. When Mr. Fillon said that a civil service reform initiative was “ready to go,” Mr. Sarkozy suggested that he had spoken too soon.
Mr. Sarkozy’s 2008 budget has been criticized for not reducing either public spending or public borrowing, and for failing to curb the deficit.
“Without great coherence or real ambition, this plan seems above all to symbolize the hesitations of the government,” Le Monde editorialized.
Other reforms have been more modest than predicted. Mr. Sarkozy had harshly criticized the law mandating a 35-hour workweek, but instead of abolishing it — a politically unacceptable step — he pushed through a measure making it less expensive for employers to pay overtime.
Pledging during his campaign to eliminate one of every two civil servant jobs that came open with retirement, he has scaled back the initiative to one in three.
Meanwhile, his plan to continue a policy of political “opening” that brings prominent figures on the left into government or into high-profile commissions has infuriated politicians in his party.
"If you put too much salt or pepper on a dish, it becomes inedible," said Nadine Morano, a Union for a Popular Movement deputy in Parliament.
In the Senate, the president of the U.M.P. group, Josselin de Rohan, quoted de Gaulle as saying, “Above all, the adversary is the adversary,” then added: “The adversary is known. It’s called the Socialist Party.”
Mr. Sarkozy dismisses his critics, saying, "I don’t want clones.”
Paradoxically, the left has become so weak that Dominique de Villepin, the former prime minister who hails from Mr. Sarkozy’s party, has begun to emerge as perhaps the most outspoken leader of France’s opposition.
In particular, he has faulted Mr. Sarkozy for moving on all fronts simultaneously.
“The president has the confidence of the people, but he seems to believe you can reform the country by putting all the subjects of reform on the table at the same time,” Mr. de Villepin said. “There has to be logic and very vigorous debate. But nobody dares to tell the president the truth or that he is wrong.”