Those who have been keeping up to date with the results of the French election will have realised by now how incredibly diverse and stimulating the country’s mainstream politics is.
Even more unique is the current results and the implications this will have for the rest of Europe. The current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, having secured 27% of votes in the first round, as compared to his rival, François Hollande, currently on 28%, has become the first president in French history to lose the first round of the election. Dissatisfaction with the current president is strong, largely to do with broken economic pledges made in 2007, where he pledged to decrease unemployment in France to 5% (it has since increased to almost 10%). As well as this, as Sarkozy often himself points out, there is a strong intellectual and media movement against his campaign, largely due to his political character and willingness to break Presidential norms.
After the scandal with Dominique Strauss-Kahn the Socialist party looked as if it were in trouble but the recent setback and cuts experienced by France’s economy have meant a move to the left has been favoured by many. If François Hollande becomes the new French president, he will become the first Socialist to do so for 17 years, which have seen a succession of conservative-dominated governments. Economics aside, it has been written by several commentators the main argument for many is simply “anything but Sarkozy” (“tout sauf Sarkozy”), and that Hollande has had it easy in not having to necessarily press hard for what he stands for. In fact, one statistic reads that 60% of Hollande’s voters for the 1st round voted purely to oust the sitting president from the Élysée Palace.
In general, while Sarkozy’s stance is centred on austerity measures, those of Hollande focuses on investment, borrowing and growth. Sarkozy also focused heavily on matters such as immigration, security and Islamism, particularly in the wake of the Toulouse murders which led to the deportation of dozens of Muslim preachers, despite most having no connection to the gunman whatsoever. The media coverage of the arrests (criticised as presidential ploy), however, meant Sarkozy found new battlegrounds to fight against Hollande, who he accuses of being weak, as well as appealing to opposition of the increasingly strong far right party, Front National, led by Marine Le Pen.
Almost one-fifth of voters out of France’s 80% electorate turnout voted for the FN – which way these voters will swing in the second round of the elections today is unclear. Sarkozy will need at least 80% of the votes from the over 6.4 million strong number who supported Le Pen in order to beat Hollande in the next round. However, commentators in France note there is a lot more vitreol for the current president among FN-supporters than against Hollande, who has conceded immigration controls should be strengthened during the recession and recently reflected the concerns of those who voted FN. In fact, much support for Le Pen has come from traditional rural and working classes, many of whom have supposedly suffered from the Sarkozy era. Sarkozy, realising this, is persistent in trying to grab her voters (it is reported he believes he is going to win, despite predicted figures for the second round standing at a 55-45% vote in favour of Hollande). As Le Pen herself put it, the FN is anti-wealth, anti-EU and anti-establishment. Much of her support has also come from a strong proportion of French women who see her as a modern woman who changed the face of a shady party with Vichy France roots to the 3rd most popular in France. Yesterday, she made a speech in which she declared that she does not support any off the two remaining candidates (14/19 of her subordinates plan to abstain from the 2nd round). A win for Hollande could potentially cripple the traditional right. There is still everything to play for in the 2nd round- 50% of voters from the first round are left to be persuaded either way, and as one French student recently told me, “the first round is for our hearts, the second for our heads”.
What is significant is also the support for Jean Luc Melanchon of the communist Left Front, who secured over 10% of the vote- the highest ever percentage in favour of a hard left president. His policies have centred on pure rejection of all European austerity measures and ‘resistance to financial markets’. France 24 reported, just 5% of his supporters are expected to vote for Sarkozy. In similar fashion, Hollande has proposed for the creation of a new EU plan which focuses on growth- his ideas seemed to gain more support recently as the European Central Bank chief Mario Drugi echoed calls in similar vain. There are still plenty of commentators, such as Philip Turle and Jean-Marc Gonine, who doubt the ability of Hollande to be able to fulfil his pledges. Are the promises too unrealistic? All that matters is that economic changes in the relationship between Berlin and Paris will affect the whole Eurozone. We should all keep an eye on the coming elections.