Election 2012: Socialist Candidate Tops French Presidency First Round, Strong Showing for Far Right
Socialist candidate François Hollande narrowly won the first round of the French presidential election yesterday (22 April), with incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy finishing in second place. The election was marked by a strong showing of support for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished third.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
Socialist candidate François Hollande won the first round of the French presidential election yesterday (22 April), taking 28.63% of the vote. Incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy came second, with 27.18%. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen surpassed expectations to win 17.9%, the best ever result for her party.
As widely predicted, Hollande and Sarkozy will face each other in a second-round contest, to be held on 6 May. In the mean time, both will seek to consolidate their support by appealing to the voters of the eliminated candidates.
Sarkozy is likely to be defeated in the second round. All polls indicate a convincing victory for Hollande is probable, which would leave Sarkozy as only the second president in the history of the Fifth Republic not to win a second term.
First Round Results
Socialist Candidate François Hollande arriving at his campaign
Results released by the French Interior Ministry this morning (23 April) indicate that socialist candidate François Hollande won 28.63% of the vote, finishing in first place. Centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy came second with 27.18%, leaving the two candidates to face each other in a second-round run-off on 6 May. Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen came third, with 17.9% of the vote, the best result the party has ever had, even surpassing that of 2002 when then party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen went through to the second round. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came fourth with 11.11%, somewhat lower than he had hoped after a series of encouraging polls prior to the ballot. In fifth place with 9.13% of votes was centrist candidate François Bayrou, a disappointing result for the candidate, who finished third in 2007. The remaining five candidates each failed to win more than 2.5% of the vote. Turnout was high, at around 80% of registered voters.
The result is of course good news for the socialist camp, and leaves them well placed to seal victory in the second round in two weeks time. In coming second, Sarkozy becomes the first president to run for re-election and fail to lead after the first round in the history of the Fifth Republic. Sarkozy's team had hoped that a narrow victory in the first round would help them gather momentum and narrow the gap in opinion polls ahead of the second round. The results were greeted warmly by Le Pen, who revelled in her party's best ever performance, despite being eliminated. This contrasted with disappointment for Mélenchon, who had hoped to push Le Pen into fourth place, and Bayrou, who had hoped to repeat his third place performance of 2007.
The Battle for Endorsements
Both remaining candidates will now attempt to win endorsements from the eliminated candidates, and woo undecided voters. Far-left candidate Mélenchon immediately urged his supporters to back Hollande, as did Green Party candidate Eva Joly. Both Sarkozy and Hollande will seek the backing of Bayrou; however, the centrist candidate has been scathing of both in his campaign, and could well refuse to endorse either. Moreover, with under 10% of the vote, his endorsement would be less influential than it would have been in 2007, when he won 18% of the first-round ballot. Le Pen is unlikely to endorse either candidate. Having framed her campaign as that of the anti-establishment outsider, and being fiercely critical of Sarkozy and Hollande, she is unlikely to compromise and risk accusations of hypocrisy from her supporters. Instead, Le Pen is likely to attempt to build on the result in the upcoming legislative election, and consolidate the National Front as a major force in French politics.
Outlook and Implications
Defeat for Sarkozy in the second round looks likely. Opinion polls have consistently projected that Hollande would win a second-round contest by about eight points, and the left looks relatively united following Mélenchon's swift endorsement of his former rival. With a solid left bloc behind him, Hollande can afford to tack to the centre in the next two weeks, in an attempt to win over Bayrou supporters and other centrist-leaning voters. In contrast, Sarkozy will need to win over as much support from Le Pen voters as possible, without overly alienating the centre. This will be a difficult task, particularly as Le Pen supporters will not automatically migrate to Sarkozy on the centre-right. Although ideologically closer to Sarkozy than Hollande, particularly on security and immigration issues, many Le Pen supporters will choose to abstain, and some will be attracted to Hollande's desire for greater emphasis on growth measures as well as austerity.
Most importantly, Sarkozy's presidency is intimately associated with France's economic woes. With unemployment at a 12-year high and growth stagnant, any president would have found re-election challenging. Sarkozy's problems are yet further compounded by his own personal unpopularity, and the enduring perception that he is more interested in the rich than the average French man or woman. Barring an unexpected and spectacular turnaround, Sarkozy looks set to become to latest European leader to lose an election in the aftermath of the financial crisis and recession.
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