As French voters vote to elect a new President, current President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to beguile far-right voters to combat the surge of support for Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, else Sarkozy faces becoming the first French president to lose a bid for re-election in more than 30 years.
Francois Hollande came out on top with 28.6% and Sarkozy with 27.1% of the vote, the first time a sitting President has lost in the first round. Hollande’s performance mirrors advances across the European continent by anti-establishment Euroskeptical populists, gaining momentum as the Euro Zone’s grinding debt crisis deepens anger over government spending cuts and unemployment. Sarkozy has been a target for much EU animosity because of his close ties to German Chancellor Merkel, many critics going so far as satirically entitling the duo as ‘Merkozy’. France has played key roles in international hot spots such as Libya and Syria, as well as the perpetuating pan-European debt crisis. Nevertheless, his efforts internationally have not won him much favor, as the domestic economy has been the prime focus of the elections and France is struggling in the face of sluggish economic growth and a 10% unemployment rate, all of which sits upon their recent downgrade from their prized AAA rating. The weak showing has forced Sarkozy to expand his constituent base, targeting the rightists under Le Pen, the leader of the National Front that won 19.3% of the votes, equating to 6.2 million people. Returning to the campaign trail, Sarkozy propagated promises to toughen border controls, tighten security on the streets and keep industrial jobs in France, signature issues concerning the rightists. The recent populist rise has already evicted 10 other Euro Zone leaders from office since the start of the crisis in late 2009, evidently lending credibility to the rumors that Sarkozy will soon be ousted.
“National Front voters must be respected. They voiced their view. It was a vote of suffering, a crisis vote. Why insult them? I have heard Mr. Hollande criticizing them.” – Nicolas Sarkozy, French President
There are now two more weeks before France elected its President on May 6th. Sarkozy will not doubt continue his aggressive tactics, confronting his rival’s lack of experience at government level, and trying to corner hum during the traditional TV debate. Sarkozy has already attempted to challenge Hollande to 3 debates, rather than the traditional 1. Sarkozy seeks to impress upon the people his experience and intellect by focusing on the economy, social policies and international affairs, all the while accusing Hollande of avoiding the debates. Nevertheless, the strong turnout of 802%, in which more than a third cast ballots for protest candidates, the future seems foreboding for Sarkozy’s typical tactics of showboating and scapegoating. Hollande has vowed to change the direction of Europe by tempering austerity measures with higher taxes on the rich and more social spending. Polls have already predicted he will win the run-off with between 53% and 56% of the votes. A predominant contrast in the two remaining contenders’ economic approaches is that Hollande generally supports more government action to stimulate the economy whereas Sarkozy favors policies such as lowering some taxes and possibly repealing the mandated 35-hours work weeks. With France’s domestic interests rallied around economic prosperity, a juxtaposition to years of hardship and downgrade under Sarkozy, Hollande seems sure-footed in the road towards the final elections.
“The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying President.” – Francois Hollande, Socialist Presidential Candidate
In retrospect, the results of the elections are a bad sign for Sarkozy, who will now be forced to perform a balancing act of campaigning to far-right wing voters and maintain a hold on his centrist supporters. If Hollande wins, as is very likely, Hollande will be France’s first left-wing president since Francois Mitterand. The rise of Hollande has come as a response to the economic crisis, providing ground for populism to develop. Wages, pensions, taxation, and unemployment have been topping the list of French voter’s concerns, concerns founded on the mistakes and consequences of Sarkozy’s measures taken to counteract the debt crisis.