Niall Oddy discusses the upcoming French Presidential Election
On May 6th France will have a new president. Or perhaps the same one for another five years.
Who will win appears to be a no brainer. All the surveys suggest François Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate, will defeat the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. But surveys can be wrong: the vote in the first round for the far-right National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen, was, at 17.9%, significantly higher than predicted. And, of course, people may change their mind. The far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon emerged from nowhere a few months ago to achieve a respectable 11.1% of the vote and fourth place.
Tallying the votes for right-wing parties in the first round comes to about 47%, and for the left-wing parties 44%, indicating that if all of the former turn out for Sarkozy in the second round and all of the latter vote for Hollande then the balance of power will be held by the centrist voters – around 9%. The leader of the centrist party, François Bayrou has declared in favour of Hollande, but his policies are more in line with those of Sarkozy. Certainly there is some speculation that despite having previously served with President ‘Bling Bling’ Sarkozy in elected office there is not exactly a strong personal bond between the two men.
Yet Bayrou’s declaration will not decide the fate of the election. There are too many factors to come into play. The turnout for the second round will likely be lower. Not all of Bayrou’s voters are going to align themselves with his personal choice. National Front voters are not necessarily going to vote for Sarkozy. Indeed, lots of them hate the current President; some will not bother to go to the polls, and some will vote for the Hollande. It is too simplistic to assume that far-right voters will opt for any right-wing candidate. The BNP in the UK, for example, take votes away from the Labour Party.
So there is still all to play for. And Sarkozy is a formidable electoral campaigner. A televised debate took place between the two remaining contenders on Wednesday evening, and this could have changed some people’s minds, most likely in favour of Sarkozy, an accomplished debater who came across much stronger than his opponent five years ago in the last presidential election. Whilst it is still too early to tell the general consensus was a draw or a slight win for Sarkozy, hardly the knockout blow the incumbent required to change the dynamic of the election. However one only needs to think of the TV debates during the last general election in the UK, which arguably played a key role in the outcome of that election: Clegg’s appearance made the British people realise that hatred of Gordon Brown did not necessitate voting the Tories.
In survey after survey, Sarkozy comes out far on top of Hollande in terms of presidential stature. That is, the French regard Sarkozy as more likely to direct the country, reform it, and reduce the national debt. It is a sign of the extent of the president’s unpopularity that in spite of this vote of confidence he is still way behind in the opinion polls. The reasons for this are many and varied, but one oft-mentioned factor is his presidential style: his focus on personal image and his habit of interfering with every facet of government, rather than allowing his ministers to get on with things. Hollande’s more modest image and his promise of a more laid-back and less ostentatious approach are, by comparison, very attractive to many French people. For his part, Sarkozy has promised to alter his method of governing.
The election, then, the outcome of which remains unsure, is François Hollande’s to lose. President Sarkozy may create a surprise, but don’t count on it.