Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Adieu Sarkozy?


What did the first round of voting on 22 April tell us about the French presidential election? The turnout was very high, around 80%, contrary to what many commentators and pundits had expected. This confirmed the central place of the presidential election (“the queen of the elections”), which decides France’s main orientation over the next five years.

François Hollande with 28.63% of the votes came in ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy at 27.18%, the first time since the beginning of the Vth Republic in 1958 that a president trying to win a second term has failed to beat his challenger. This is a clear sign of the French electorate’s rejection of Sarkozy and a repudiation of his government’s policies — especially economic and social, with their resultant high unemployment. Sarkozy was “le président des riches” (president of the wealthy), but there was also a resounding “non” to his personal behaviour since, for many French people, Sarkozy has discredited the presidential role. In one particularly symbolic incident, he insulted a demonstrator in front of television cameras.

Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right Front National party, took 18% of the votes, not that different from the percentage her father won in the 2002 presidential election (more than 16.8%; another far-right candidate won 2.3%), and far more than her father’s 10.44% in 2007. Why this difference? In 2007 Sarkozy ran a dynamic campaign, defended ideas important to the far right (security, immigrants) and took some of their votes. This time, despite a campaign that was very rightwing (especially against immigrants and Islam), he failed.

There is another important reason for the Front National’s results. Under Marine Le Pen, the party has begun to transform from a fascist, anti-Semitic, anti-state party, to a party that wants to be respectable, which rejects anti-Semitism (but replaces it with Islamophobia), which supports the state and its role, and is anti-European.

For Sarkozy, the situation is very difficult: Hollande can count on those who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (from the far-left Front de Gauche, with more then 11%), and on the Greens and other small parties, with around 3.5%. It is the first time since 1981 that this leftwing trend has been so strong.

Who will the people who supported François Bayrou (a centrist candidate with more than 9%) vote for? And how will Marine Le Pen’s supporters vote?

The first polls showed that of Bayrou’s electorate, 34% will vote for Hollande, 40% for Sarkozy and the rest are undecided or will abstain. Bayrou has not taken sides as yet (in 2007 he refused to do so). The problem is the division among Bayrou’s support base. To gain Bayrou’s support, Sarkozy would have to make concessions and make his campaign more “centrist”, but would then risk losing the votes of the Le Pen supporters. He has embraced the Front National’s propaganda in his campaign for the second round: attacks on immigrants and Islam, attacks on the “elites” and the trade unions, attacks on Europe.

Marine Le Pen told her supporters at the Front National’s annual 1 May rally: “On Sunday, I will vote blank. I have made my choice. Each of you will make yours.” According to the polls, 50% of her supporters will vote for Sarkozy, 15% for Hollande and the rest will abstain. She is betting on Sarkozy’s defeat and wants to be seen as the “official opposition” to the future leftwing president. She is hoping Sarkozy’s Union pour la Majorité Présidentielle (UMP) will implode after the election — he has said that he will retire from politics if he loses; the UMP is likely to be divided, and weakened by personal ambitions (a fight has already begun between UMP general secretary Jean-Yves Coppé, prime minister François Fillon and foreign minister Alain Juppé). Le Pen also hopes that UMP members, and even members of parliament, will join her party. For her, the next general election, in June, will be decisive: even with 20% of the votes, she is not sure her party will get any candidates elected because of the particularities of French electoral law.

The polls show that on 6 May around half of Le Pen supporters will vote for Sarkozy, but not enough for him to win. His defeat will mark an important moment: for the first time since 1995, France will have a Socialist president, and in a situation of deep economic crisis.

Alain Gresh is vice president of Le Monde diplomatique.

This article appears in the July edition of the excellent monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat