“Game-changer” and “shocker” were the terms used to described the results of the first round of voting for president of France Sunday. And, while Socialist Francois Hollande topped the ten-candidate field and edged center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy by a margin of 28.5 to 25.5 percent, that was not the lead story.
The real “shocker” in the voting was who came in third and the performance of that candidate. In returns no pollster saw coming, National Front leader Marine Le Pen — best known for her opposition to immigration and the European Union — rolled up 20 per cent of the vote. In running not far behind the incumbent President, the 43-year-old daughter of National Front founder Jean Marie Le Pen had the support of one out of five French voters and scored better than her father did in five presidential runs.
But, looking ahead to the run-off between Hollande and Sarkozy May 6, no longer are pundits and pols saying that the man known as “Sarko” is finished. Although he is the first sitting President in the 54-year Fifth Republic of France not to have placed first in the initial balloting, Sarkozy can overtake Hollande in two weeks if he plays his proverbial cards right.
As Human Events discovered when we covered her rancorous press conference at the National Press Club in Washington last November, Le Pen is not exactly an American-style conservative. As we reported, she “admires Vladimir Putin, invokes the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and speaks of a vision of the ‘ecological and environmental dimension, specifically seeking to counter all dumping and to make our planet advance towards greater well-being.’ Although she wants France out of the EU and NATO, Le Pen also makes somewhat strange internationalist proposals such as applying America’s Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which legally separated investment banking and commercial banking (and was repealed in 1999), to “the banking system of each country,” and supports revival of the Havana Charter, a trade agreement that would have established an international currency and that was rejected by the U.S. in 1951.
It is doubtful that most of the one in five French voters who supported her for president Sunday did so on the basis of any of those issues, so much as for her brass-knuckled anti-immigrant stance. Although Sarkozy has not gone as far as Le Pen in calling for massive repatriation of immigrants, the president has taken a hard-line against the Roma (gypsies) in his country, infuriating some fellow EU members, and banned the Burka (full body cloak) favored by some Muslim women. It is almost certain he will step up that line to appeal to Le Pen voters — although Sarkozy won’t seek her public endorsement in any way and Le Pen has said she won’t join his government.
High taxes, the great debate, and Carla
And watch for Sarkozy to hit hard at Hollande for his high-tax, soak-the-rich proposals. The Socialist candidate obviously believed polls showing that the fourth contender in the race, Jean Luc Melanchon, candidate of the Communists and the far-left, would do very well in the first round. In calling for a 75 percent marginal tax rate on French wage-earners who make more than one million euros a year and raising the minimum wage, Hollande styled much of his platform to appeal to Melanchon voters in the run-off.
But with 11.5 percent, Melanchon scored far worse than expected and Hollande is now vulnerable for attack as someone whose program would drive business out of the country.
Sarkozy’s “ace in the hole” is likely to be the “great debate” with Hollande. Since 1974, France has had only one televised debate between the two run-off contenders — two-and-one-half hours long, permitting cross-examination by the contenders against one another. In ’02, although polls showed Sarkozy with a small lead over Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal (who is Hollande’s former partner and mother of his four children), the conservative hopeful scored major points over her in their televised show-down and won by a decisive 53-to-47 percent margin.
Sources close to the Sarkozy told Human Events that “he can’t wait” to go one-on-one on TV against Hollande. In his address following the voting Sunday, Sarkozy called for three televised debates on economic, societal, and foreign policy issues. But Hollande headquaters said it would follow tradition and agree to only one.
And, of course, Sarkozy admirers hope the president will unleash his “secret weapon” on the campaign trail — wife and actress-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Less than a week ago, observers of French politics were already talking about the inevitability of a Hollande presidency and who would be in the Socialist Cabinet. The results Sunday were a “game-changer” — and the results May 6 are far from certain.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter