French polls set new records in political history
May 04, 2012
During Libyan war last year, former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner revealed that lower priority to humanitarian considerations in the foreign policy was one of the major reasons for President Sarkozy’s declining popularity. It would be a big blow to Sarkozy if he fails to win the presidential elections next year.
Current French first round election has proved to be a blow to Sarkozy’s career and his decision to attack Libya for regime change can not help him to win minds and hearts of his people. Sarkozy also failed to get support of voters even making an announcement of withdrawal of French forces from Afghanistan before deadline after killing of French troops. The result of the polls reflected that French people want a leader who is more prone to domestic affairs rather than foreign affairs and get them out of prevailing economic crisis at home.
Apart from Sarkozy’s defeat in the first round, the French elections set new historic records in many aspects. It was the first time since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958 that an incumbent president has failed to win the first round of election. Even France’s last one-term President, centrist Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, prevailed in first-round voting in 1981 over Socialist rival François Mitterrand, before losing to the leftist in the final round.
Sarkozy, who has been in office for the last five years, tried hard to make voters forget about his poor track record, but all efforts were in vain. He won 27.1 per cent of the vote, while his Socialist rival Francois Hollande took 28.6 per cent. The two men will face each other in a second round of voting to be held on 6 May 2012. If Francois Hollande were elected, he would be France’s first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995. Present scenario predicts that he will comfortably win the second round.
Wining of the right-wing populist candidate Marine Le Pen set another record in French history, as she came third with a high result of 17.9 per cent. She proved all forecasts wrong, which had predicted a much lower share of the vote. She even surpassed the record result of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 election, when he won almost 17 per cent of the vote in the first round and got through to the runoff. Together, Marine Le Pen and the left-wing populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon won more votes than any of the mainstream candidates. Marine Le Pen told jubilant supporters that the result was ‘only the start’ and that the party was now ‘the only opposition’ to the Left. Hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon secured 11.1 per cent votes and centrist François Bayrou got 9.1 per cent votes.
Moreover, contrary to all expectations, more than 80 per cent of French voters went to the polls. It was the second highest turnout since 1981, and was only slightly lower than the record 2007 turnout. The first round of French election reflected that people were not very excited about any of the candidates. It also exposed frustration of French electorates, who are desperate social and economic change.
The whole scenario paints a pessimist picture for Sarkozy’s success in the upcoming second round of election. Now, to win second round, Sarkozy will need the support of nearly all extreme-right National Front (FN) voters, who backed Le Pen. Around one in five people voted for the National Front candidate, including many young and working class voters, putting her ahead of seven other candidates. Nearly a fifth of voters backed a party, the National Front that wants to return to the franc from Euro. For Sarkozy, meeting this demand seems impossible.
Nevertheless, Sarkozy may make massive appeals to Le Pen’s supporters before the runoff election. He may conduct a campaign quite some way to the right of the center. Le Pen will certainly not call on her supporters to support Sarkozy, however an important number of voters might choose Hollande.
Sarkozy’s promise to reduce the number of immigrants to France from 180,000 a year to 100,000 if he is re elected and also restrict some benefit payments to immigrants who had been in the country for 10 years. This policy agenda will surly cut his votes. It is very interesting to know that he himself is the son of a Hungarian immigrant.
Wages, pensions, taxation, and unemployment have been topping the list of voters’ concerns. Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to reduce France’s large budget deficit and to tax people who leave the country for tax reasons. But he has not talked about imposition of taxes on big corporations.
While the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, has promised to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than 1 million Euros a year. He also wants to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers and lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers.
Hollande promises less drastic spending cuts than Sarkozy and wants higher taxes on the wealthy to fund state-aided job creation, in particular a 75 per cent upper tax rate on income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million).
It is also said that many French people also expressed distaste for a president who has come to be seen as flashy following his highly publicized marriage to supermodel Carla Bruni early in his terms.
Sarkozy said that he was a safer pair of hands for future economic turmoil but many of the workers and young voters drawn to his 2007 pledge of more pay for more work are deserting him as jobless claims have hit their highest level in 12 years. France’s feeble economy could make Sarkozy the country’s first president to lose a fight for re-election in more than 30 years.
Despite all these revealing facts, Nicolas Sarkozy still seems optimistic about his victory in the second round. He said that he would give up politics if he fails to be re-elected as a French President.