by Stephen Yellin
I'm not sure if anyone here has reported on the French Presidential election results that came out earlier today, so here goes...
France had its 1st round of the Presidential election yesterday and today (they vote on 2 days and the weekend - how democratic!). The top 2 vote-getters advance to the runoff on May 6th. Pre-election polling has shown incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy (sar-KO-zy) trailing his main opponent, Socialist Party nominee Francois Hollande (holl-OND) by a large margin in that runoff.
First, however, Sarkozy and Hollande had to get past a number of opponents in this weekend's 1st round. The good, bad and ugly results are below the line.
First, the good news: with over 87% of the vote reported (according to Google), Hollande is in 1st place with slightly under 29% of the vote. Sarkozy, the incumbent and nominee of the UMP (Union pour un Movement Populaire in French) is behind Hollande at just over 26%.
This is good news because Sarkozy is the right-of-center candidate, has encouraged right-wing rhetoric on immigration, and has worked with Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel to push for austerity measures across Europe. Hollande is in favor of a balance between debt reduction and (more importantly) economic stimulus and raising taxes on the wealthy. According to the BBC, Hollande is in favor of raising the top tax rate to 75%, which is supported by a majority of the French public. In addition, Hollande wants to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan at a quicker pace than Sarkozy.
Clearly, Hollande is the better choice in the runoff if you're a Progressive.
The 1st round result is also a great omen for Holland's chances of winning the runoff. His 30% is the best showing for a Socialist Party candidate in Round 1 since Francois Mitterand won reelection in 1988 (34% against Jacques Chirac). By contrast, 2007 nominee Segolene Royal received 26% in the 1st Round to Sarkozy's 31%. In addition, no incumbent President of the 5th Republican has finished 2nd in Round 1 and went on to win the runoff. Sarkozy needed to finish in 1st to give his campaign the chance to win the runoff. Hollande now has the "Big Mo" (as we say in America) and will be in the driver's seat for winning on May 6th.
The bad news: It was a poor showing for Jean-Luc Melanchon's left-wing coalition candidacy, as he will finish with around 11% of the vote. His campaign was aiming to finish in 3rd, but it will be far behind in that goal. It was also bad news for Francois Bayrou, the centrist who almost made it to the runoff in 2007 against Sarkozy and Royal; he finished in 5th with less than 10%. To his credit, Melanchon has publicly urged his supporters to vote for Hollande in the runoff, according to BBC reporter Christian Fraser at Socialist Party headquarters.
Now, the ugly news. First, some context.
In 2002, the National Front Party's Jean-Marie Le Pen achieved the unthinkable. Thanks to a lackluster campaign by Socialist Party nominee Lionel Jospin and a massive splintering of the left-of-center vote, Le Pen snuck into the runoff with President Jacques Chirac.
Why is this bad? The National Front's philosophy rests on extreme, right-wing
nationalism and xenophobia, which Le Pen expressed in statements reeking of racist and (in his past) anti-Semitic rhetoric. Imagine, if you will, that your only choices for President in the United States are Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, and you can see why over 80% of French voters went for Chirac in the 2002 runoff. Incidentally, many voters went to the polls with clothespins on their noses to express their disgust at voting for a scandal-ridden incumbent (who was prosecuted for corruption after leaving office).
In 2007, Le Pen's support dropped to 11 in Round 1 %, prompting me and others to celebrate his poor showing. It was a premature celebration.
Le Pen has passed the National Front torch to his daughter, Marine Le Pen. Shedding her father's racist past and rhetoric, Le Pen has nonetheless kept to her party's right-wing, xenophobic platform. Sarkozy, in an attempt to woo Le Pen's voters has also adopted anti-immigrant rhetoric, fueling the credibility of her message.
The ugly result is that the National Front has had its best showing - ever. As I've been typing this article, Le Pen's support has climbed up to nearly 19% of the vote. That's a stronger showing than her father received in 2002, including in the runoff!
It is a horrible turn of events, for it adds enormous credibility to Le Pen and her party's message, and will give them additional leverage in French politics in the next several years. While LePen's supporters will not flock en masse to Sarkozy (FNP voters distrust both major candidates according to news reports, and most will sit the runoff out), making it hard for the incumbent to win, he will no doubt try and court their support with more bursts of anti-immigrant rhetoric. It's like having Mitt Romney run even further to the right to try and win in November!
A final piece of news: it appears turnout will end up almost as high as in 2007, when unprecedented voter interest led to over 70% of the electorate turning out. This time, it looks as if turnout will break 70% again despite complaints of a lackluster campaign and not enough attention paid by the candidates to the issues.
To recap, Hollande should beat Sarkozy on May 6th, but the right-wing extremists are also winners today.
Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 2:34 PM PT: WOW! Thanks to everyone who commented and recommended my diary! Also, thank you to the individual who put this in the Community Spotlight page - otherwise it wouldn't have been read as much!
I hope most of you liked the piece. I'm an old-timer here (2003!), and am glad to see I still have some creative "juice" in me. :)