From all indications, France appears to be re-writing its great political history; where an incumbent president lost to his opponent in the first round of the presidential election for the first time. Today will, however, finally decide the fate of Nicolas Sarkozy. But, will Francois Hollande complete the rewriting of history and send Sarkozy to his political waterloo? kingsley opurum examines the unfolding drama.
French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is facing an uphill struggle in the second round of the presidential election, after coming second in Sunday’s first vote. Sarkozy won 27.1 per cent of the vote, while his Socialist rival, Francois Hollande clinched 28.6 per cent the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round. Will France get it perfectly right this time? The two men will face each other in a second round of voting today.
The weighty question is; will Sarkozy still remain relevant in French political landscape if eventually, he loses to his titanic opponent Hollande or will his loss precipitate him into political oblivion? The answer to this fundamental question will come to public domain after the presidential run-off slated for today.
Third-place Marine Le Pen took the largest share of the vote her far-right National Front has ever won, with 18%. Hollande’s narrow victory in this round gives him crucial momentum ahead of the run-off in two weeks’ time. Sarkozy began reaching out to Ms Le Pen’s voters on April 23, saying “there was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another - an answer must be given to this crisis vote”.
Can I state here that the sex scandal of the former International Monetary Fund Chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a blessing in disguise for Hollande. Hollande emerged as the candidate after the downfall last May of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was then considered the Socialist favourite to defeat Sarkozy.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested after a New York hotel maid alleged that he tried to rape her. Charges against the former IMF chief were later dropped in the US but he has been warned he could be investigated in France over accusations he participated in a prostitution ring.
French voters defied expectations and handed a surprisingly strong third-place showing to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The vote was seen as a referendum on Sarkozy at a time when many French voters are worried about the economy.
Socialist Francois Hollande and conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy are heading for a run-off election in their race for France’s presidency, according to partial official results in a vote that could alter the European political and economic landscape.
French voters defied expectations and handed a surprisingly strong third-place showing to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has run on an anti-immigrant platform aimed largely at Muslims. That could boost her influence on the French political scene, hand her party seats in parliament and affect relations with minorities.
With 75 per cent of the vote counted, Hollande had 27.9 per cent of ballots cast and Sarkozy 26.7 per cent, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry after final polls closed. Le Pen was in third with 19.2 per cent of the vote so far. In fourth place was leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon with 10.8 per cent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.2 per cent and five other candidates with minimal support.
Turnout was also surprisingly high, projected by polling agencies at about 80 per cent, despite concern that a campaign lacking a single over arching theme had failed to inspire voters. Hollande, a 57-year-old who has worried investors with his pledges to boost government spending, pledged to cut France’s huge debts, boost growth and unite the French after Sarkozy’s divisive first term. “Tonight I become the candidate of all the forces who want to turn one page and turn another”, Hollande, with a confidence and stately air he has often lacked during the campaign, told an exuberant crowd in his hometown of Tulle in southern France.
Sarkozy said he recognised voters’ concerns about jobs and immigration, and “the concern of our compatriots to preserve their way of life”, he told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Paris’ Left Bank. 10 candidates faced off for Sunday’s first round of voting, a referendum on Sarkozy at a time when many French voters are worried about high joblessness and weak economic prospects and the president is seen as too cozy with the rich.
Sarkozy supporter Djamila Semoudi said the president’s showing in the first round was high enough. “I feel it’s good for Nicolas now,” Semoudi said. “Because the first estimations here are good, and it’s near Hollande.” Semoudi said Sarkozy’s total means he can win against Hollande in the second round.
Her friend Miluda Quessette agrees. “I’m persuaded that he will win the second round now”, she said in French. “No doubt. He’s the only one who can steer France through this world economic crisis”.
Le Pen, predicting a first-round surprise, said in an interview last week with the AP that she would consider it a victory if she matched the first-round score of her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002.
That year, he got nearly 16.8 per cent of the vote and was propelled into the final round and a face-off with then-President Jacques Chirac. Far leftist Melenchon said: “Our people appear well determined to turn the page of Nicolas Sarkozy”. The campaign has been marked by frustration with the incumbent and the rise of the extremes.
Sarkozy said he wants to hold three debates before the runoff, one on economic affairs, one on social affairs, and one on international affairs. “This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe. That’s why many people are watching us”, said Hollande after voting. “They’re wondering not so much what the winner’s name will be, but especially what policies will follow”.
Whatever happens to France’s leadership will affect the rest of the 27-nation European Union. France was one of six countries that in the 1950s founded the predecessor of the EU, and is the eurozone’s second-largest economy after Germany.
Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a tandem that some call “Merkozy”, have championed a treaty on budget austerity for the 17-nation eurozone.
But Hollande wants the treaty to also address economic growth, not just cost-cutting. “I think that for my future, Francois Hollande will be better than Nicolas Sarkozy”, said 18-year-old Pierre LeLouche. “I think his program about jobs for young people is very, very interesting”.
At a time when voters across Europe have ousted incumbents amid economic woes, a Hollande victory would tilt the continent’s political balance to the left as EU states such as Greece, Italy, Ireland and Spain work to wriggle their way out of crushing state debts.
Foreign policy has played barely a role in this campaign but will be a big part of the next president’s job. Candidates of many stripes want to bring France’s 3,600 troops home from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, and Hollande has vowed a fast timetable: A pullout by the end of this year.
Hollande, who wants to tax high-income earners at 75 per cent, has tapped into a fear of the free market that has always held more sway in France than almost anywhere in the West, and has enjoyed resurgence in the era of Occupy Wall Street and anti-banker backlash.
Sarkozy is battling to avoid becoming France’s first one-term president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing lost to Socialist Francois Mitterrand in 1981. Sarkozy has said he’ll pull out of politics if he loses.