Adieu Sarkozy?

by ALAIN GRESH

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 mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire