French presidential elections, round one

Extreme Right candidate Le Pen delivers; tight race between Sarkozy and Hollande.

By JOSEPH STRICH, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 24, 2012 03:43
3 minute read.
Francois Hollande, Socialist Party candidate

French presidential candidate Hollande 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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PARIS – The presidential election campaign restarted here Monday morning, just a few hours after the announcement of the official results for the first round.

Extreme-Right candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) Party made a surprising key victory, coming in third place with 18 percent of the votes. Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen did the same 10 years ago when he eliminated Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin during the first round, bringing more than 80% of voters to give their voice to Jacques Chirac during the second round.

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Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy came in second place with 27% of the votes.

The loss to his Socialist challenger François Hollande was a surprise for nobody, since the French leader has been steadily declining in popularity ever since taking office.

Voters have been crying out against both his policies and his infamous “bling-bling” persona.

Le Pen wants to lead in the legislative elections this June, what she terms the “third round” of this year’s elections series.

“The ‘battle of France’ [a reference to the Battle of France with Germany in June 1940, or to the Battle of the Marne during World War I] has just begun... on the road of national resistance,” she declared during her election rally Sunday night, while TV screens behind her displayed a 20% victory for her party.

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The mood of the meeting was festive, with her supporters elegantly dressed and dancing, toasting champagne to their heroine, known as “the blue-marine wave.”

What will the Front National Party do for the second round? “Let suspense operate, wait for the first of May at the Place de l’Opera,” Jean-Marie Le Pen told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the yearly demonstration the FN holds in celebration of French heroine Joan of Arc, the national symbol for party.

The candidate is refusing for the moment to say which candidate she will endorse in the May 6 run-off election, but promises to do so during the May 1 gathering. According to specialists, though, a significant portion of her blue-collar voters will probably give their voices to the Socialist candidate in the second round.

Meanwhile, though centrist candidate François Bayrou has not yet revealed his intentions, he has promised “to take [his] responsibilities” after he hears the choices of the two finalists at the planned television debate.

While disappointed at being beaten by Le Pen, fourth-place winner Jean-Luc Mélenchon expressed solidarity with the Left, calling on his constituents to vote for Hollande in the second round “without dragging their feet.” He was speaking at his election-night rally at the Place de Stalingrad.

What we see is that Sarkozy must bridge the large gap between Right and Left voters, a seemingly impossible mission. He must talk to and convince both the extreme Right and the Center, and for that purpose, he held a “strategic meeting” Monday morning in his Paris headquarters, to analyze the statistics and define his strategy.

The president’s staff made the decision to occupy the field, to spread the message, in order to catch up.

But, said Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s special adviser, “there will be no secret negotiations.

We are going to talk to the people.... If [in Europe] we don’t listen to the people, there is an enormous risk [of going down] the same tragic road as in the ’30s.”

In the Hollande camp, too, there is an understanding of the necessity to unify, and not to depend only on the Left. While Hollande looks optimistic, Segolene Royal, the ex-candidate who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, said to BFM TV: “There [are] a lot of suffering people among FN voters, and not only FN members.”

Eric Besson, one of Sarkozy’s closest ministers, concluded: “The match will be tight, but it’s possible for Sarkozy.”

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