Ten years later, could another Le Pen sneak into a runoff?

Ten years ago, the left was so divided in the first round of the French presidential election that none of the left’s candidates, including then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, made it into either of the top-two wholesale mlb jerseys slots. The result was a nearly-farcical faceoff between then-President Jacques Chirac against longtime far-right Front national leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. 

In addition to Jospin, who finished just narrowly in third place with 16% of the vote, five additional leftists pulled between 3% and 6% of the vote, including Jean-Pierre Chevènement, a former Parti socialiste minister (minister of defense from 1988 wholesale nba jerseys to 1991 and minister of the Interior from 1997 to 2000), who took 5.33% of the first-round ballot. Chirac won the resulting runoff with 82% of the vote, including most of those frustrated voters ranging from center-left to far left, whose only alternative to Chirac, recently convicted for corrupition, was the xenophobic Le Pen.

Fast-forward to this year’s presidential election and the same pattern is emerging, but in a way that benefits the left and François Hollande, the Parti socialiste candidate who’s leading polls for both the first round and the runoff.  Yet again, the Front national, which is polling in the mid-to-high teens in the latest polls, under the standard of Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, stands ready to pull 26th… off votes from Nicolas Sarkozy. Unlike in 2002, when Jospin and Jean-Marie were not even competing for the same voters, Sarkozy and Marine, whose rhetoric is state? much less hard-edged than her father’s, are very much competing for the same set of law-and-order voters on the right that Sarkozy attracted from Jean-Marie in 2007 (when the WeatherStar Front national was limited to just 10.4% of the first-round vote, largely by Sarkozy’s ability to co-opt the populism of the Le Pen message).

Yesterday’s news that Chevènement, whose moderately Euroskeptic and decidedly 1970s-era socialism places him far to the left of the more technocratic Hollande, is ending his presidential bid only reinforces the dynamic. Chevènement, who was polling far less than 5.3% in the latest polls, joined just Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the far-left alliance (including what remains of Post-Launch the Parti communiste français) and Eva Joly, the green/ecology party candidate as the only two remaining left-wing candidates with a chance to win over 5% of the first-round vote.

Meanwhile, Hollande’s campaign is very smartly posturing François Bayrou, a centrist who placed third with 18.6% of the first-round vote in Of 2007 behind Sarkozy and Parti socialiste candidate Ségolène Royal, further to the right. (Add droitisier to your list of delightfully droll French political terms).

In addition to Le Pen and Bayrou, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has launched an aggressive, if quixotic, presidential campaign motivated in no small part by animus against Sarkozy, his chief rival during Chirac’s second term in the mid-2000s.  With polls showing Le Pen within striking distance of Sarkozy, and with Bayrou appealing to center-right voters who have lost faith in Clegg Sarkozy, there’s already a lot of competition for right-leaning voters. Just 1% or even 2% wholesale jerseys of first-round voters supporting de Villepin could be enough to deny Sarkozy a spot in the second-round runoff.

Given Hollande’s current second-round lead in polls against both Sarkozy and Marine, the final result may not matter.  There’s much to be said for France’s dualistic system of a robust parlimentary coupled with a strong executive, including the Fifth Republic’s unique form of cohabitation.  But across one decade and three presidential elections, a result that leaves a member of the Le Pen family in two out of three runoffs and shuts out, in one occasion, the current Prime Minister and leftist standard-bearer and, in the other, the incumbent President and center-right standard bearer, would call into question the current electoral process.

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