FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: A field of roses and oak trees

This Sunday, the French will be choosing between current President Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist opponent, François Hollande. The tension is mounting for this second round of elections, worth a lot in these crisis and austerity times.

On the 22nd May, all candidates able to collect at least 500 signatures from the French elected officials were on the voting-list in the polling stations. The main candidates ranged from Communist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to Marine Le Pen for extreme right, François Bayrou representing the centre party, Eva Joly from the Green party and, obviously the two favourites. The opinion polls were right about the outcome, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy would the two main candidates going on to the second tour and the elections would, once more, be settled between left and right-wing politics.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Philippe Poutou, Nathalie Arthaud and Jacques Cheminade fell below the 1.7% mark of votes. When it came to the others, there remained some element of surprise. Not that Eva Joly’s 2.3% took anyone by surprise but, François Bayrou’s 9% was disappointing in comparison to the campaign he had led in 2007 when he was the ‘third man’ of the election, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 11.1% weakened the predictions of the opinion polls on an amazing rise of extreme left. The biggest surprise was yet to come. Marine Le Pen, leader of the ‘Front National’ after her father, particularly remembered for his multiple attempts in presidential elections and his breakthrough in the second round against Jacques Chirac in 2002, came out with an impressive score of 18%.

The organization of presidential elections in France, with a first and second tour between the two candidates with the highest scores, mean that the position of ‘third man’ is a very attractive one as there is always a great amount of pressure to win over this electorate. Furthermore, the Assembly elections will be taking place in June. The race to the presidency, therefore, represents some kind of a taster of the possible distribution of seats for deputies and maybe, of a possible coalition government.
This power is now in the hands of Marine Le Pen and her far right party. If this can seem worrying it was to be expected as Marine Le Pen, just like Jean-Luc Mélenchon for the communist party, appealed to voters who are weary of this recurring dispute between the centre-left socialist, PS (Socialist Party), and the centre-right, UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). These votes have been interpreted as a will to change the French political scenery at times when the crisis is hitting and hitting hard. Mélenchon with his ideas of a 6th Republic and power to the people rather than to the financial sectors and Le Pen with her anti-immigration and nationalism policies, came as messages of hope.
Their voters will now have to find hope in François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy’s programmes as one of them will, on this Sunday 6th May, become the new French president for the five years to come. In general, it would have been easy to imagine that the extreme-right voters will vote for the UMP candidate, but, there is an important wind of change sweeping France and Nicolas Sarkozy’s unpopularity during the last years are showing that the socialists, backed by an important left-wing union, could well get back to power.
In fact, the only and last socialist president of the 5th republic was François Mitterrand from 1981 to 1995 and François Hollande has built on his legacy along his campaign for change, aiming to balance the French deficit by 2017 by reaching for more fiscal, social and territorial justice. His main propositions, put forward in his ’60 commintments’ concern the renegotiation of the age of retirement to bring it back down to 60 years old, the creation of a public bank of investment to help develop small businesses, the balancing of taxation for companies to allow the creation of more jobs, especially in education for which he promises more benefits as well as policies to encourage companies to take on young or senior workers. Finally, he proposes to reduce the president’s wage of 30%.
On the other side, the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, praised for his great dynamism, with a strong leading party behind him, is defending his actions to protect France from the crisis during the past five years. His slogan is at the image of a France standing strong, united, safe, responsible, energetic, showing solidarity and part of a protecting Europe in these times of uncertainty and difficulty. His main propositions are to fight insecurity (especially following the terrorist attacks in Toulouse in March), to preserve French cultural identity, to give more value and authority to teachers as well as a taxation on the major global groups’ profits in order to promote jobs in France. Nicolas Sarkozy defends the idea of the value of work. He expresses the fact that solidarity does not mean reliance on benefits but puts forward the idea of strengthening education and small businesses to fight recession.

For the last weeks the French have been inundated with news about the candidates’ meetings, their new propositions and even more so their attacks to one another.
The French and the world are following the developments of this confrontation although somewhat disturbed by the bombardment of so many speculations, especially with the recent interview of Dominique Strauss Kahn now disputing the idea of a conspiracy against him.

If the French were hoping for an Easter escape, they might have found it particularly difficult within the current political climate and this will continue with the traditional debate between the two candidates this coming Wednesday 2nd May, first of which François Hollande has accepted.
Between the socialist roses and the conservative’s oak tree, the choice might be difficult but the wait is even worse.

Charlotte-India Moore, Paris.

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