Tag Archives: marine le pen

France presidential first-round campaign comes to an end

French voters go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election.

While the French media has been fixated on rules that would prohibit the early publishing of exit poll data on Sunday, and each candidate has been making a final push for votes, there’s not so much to analyze in advance of the vote:

We already know the top two candidates to emerge will most certainly be incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande.

Despite polls that showed Sarkozy tied with or even pulling ahead of Hollande, the trend has now moved back to a slight Hollande lead.  Either way, it seems a safe bet that each will win just under one-third of the votes.  Ultimately, every poll has shown Hollande with a significant second-round lead, so the winner of the first round will take away bragging rights and perhaps a little momentum, but if Sarkozy edges Hollande out in the first round by a small amount, don’t expect that alone to significantly scramble the dynamic.

Indeed, the first-round winner is by no means a lock to win the second round — Lionel Jospin, for example, won the first round of the 1995 election but Jacques Chirac emerged in the second round with a majority; similarly, François Mitterand lost the first round of the 1981 election (to Chirac) before winning the second round, and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing won the second round in 1974 after losing the first round.

The battle for third place looks a bit more interesting — although none of Front national candidate Marine Le Pen, Front de gauche candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon or centrist François Bayrou will place out of the first round on Sunday, a strong showing for any of them could increase their political leverage with Sarkozy and/or Hollande in the event of a second-round endorsement (Le Pen is unlikely to support Sarkozy, although her supporters will likely support him overwhelmingly; Mélenchon has already said he will support Hollande in the second round; it is unclear who Bayrou might endorse).  Each will also be looking to June parliamentary elections as well — a strong showing in April is not dispositive of a similarly strong showing in parliamentary elections, but it’s a good indicator.  Mélenchon, too, may well be able to exchange a full-throated and enthusiastic endorsement of Hollande for soft support in the legislative election and/or potential ministry posts for his fellow communist/leftist coalition partners.

Marine Le Pen and the youth vote

With 10 days to go until the French election, and with presumably more pressing topics to discuss, the campaign’s narrative has turned once again to Front national candidate Marine Le Pen — and her surprisingly strong support among the youngest voters.

According to a poll published in Le Monde earlier this week, Le Pen wins 26% of the 18-to-24 vote, to just 25% for Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande, 17% for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and 16% for Front de gauche candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  An IFOP poll earlier this week showed her polling second among the 18-to-22 vote.

This should not be a surprise – with unemployment running high in France amid near-recession levels of GDP stagnation and in the middle of a Europe-wide sovereign debt crisis (and currency crisis), it is perhaps understandable that job anxiety among the young, for whom unemployment runs highest, is fueling her support. 

Her anti-immigration rhetoric has been sanitized to the point where her argument is essentially economic and employment protectionism, less the nastier xenophobia of her father’s Front national.  She has no particular problem with LGBT rights and she has not emphasized religion in the same way as her father.  As an outsider, she is not tied to the difficulties and compromises that come with being a player in the European arena, which also undoubtedly plays a role in her success.

These polls somewhat remind me of the exit polls in the United States that showed U.S. representative and avowed libertarian Ron Paul leading among 18-to-29 voters in the Republican primaries of 2012 — as in the United States, it is hard to know whether to strike the anomaly to youthful rebellion or some deeper ideological turn among the right’s youngest generation.

But by all means: give Marine credit for her success.

She’s managed to take what was once a shamefully anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and otherwise parochial party, headed by a grumpy old toad, and bring it within the mainstream of French politics.  Marine has clearly mastered the art of 21st century political imagery in ways her father could have never fathomed.  Indeed, at this point, the Front national probably has a stronger brand in France than Sarkozy’s own party — can you even name it?*  Even in a country like France where party identification is relatively weak, the party of center-right has been rechristened about once every decade in the Fifth Republic.  Continue reading Marine Le Pen and the youth vote

France’s election — three weeks to go

It’s been a while since I’ve posted much about France’s upcoming presidential election, and in large part that’s because the past week has been somewhat subdued in the wake of the Toulouse shooting.

But there are three weeks left until the first round and almost five weeks left until the runoff, with a parliamentary election to follow a month thereafter.

So where is the race headed?

Nicolas Sarkozy has shown he is leagues ahead of his competitors in terms of raw political talent.  He can move from European statesman to right-wing demagogue and back to statesman with dexterity.  One moment, he’s the sober-minded man of the hour to stabilize Europe, the next he’s arguing to halve immigration, the next he’s assuming the mantle of counter-terroist-in-chief (never mind that he presided over an administration that knew about, and failed to apprehend, the Toulouse killer prior to his deadly shooting sprees).

The past month of the campaign has not been flawless for Sarkozy, but there’s a sense that the momentum has switched from frontrunner François Hollande to Sarkozy — if not necessarily in support, then certainly in setting the campaign’s narrative.

Hollande’s strategy — to show up as the most credible ‘non-Sarkozy’ and riding his polling lead into the Elysée — is looking ever more precarious.  His cautious approach has left a space for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose fiery rhetoric has galvanized France’s left.

As such, a once formidable first-round lead has been reduced to a dead heat (at best).  Certainly, Hollande still leads polls for the second round, but if you add together the share of the vote currently going to Sarkozy, François Bayrou and Marine Le Pen, it’s not difficult to foresee Hollande losing his second-round lead as well. Continue reading France’s election — three weeks to go

‘It is difficult to imagine François Hollande acting like him. That is probably unfair but that’s the way it is’

In my post last night, I argued that the Toulouse shootings could harm French president Nicolas Sarkozy because it could (i) focus attention on the inability of French security services to apprehend Mohammed Merah after numerous warnings and after he committed two shooting rampages and (ii) force Sarkozy to mute his rhetoric on immigration, leaving the stage to more extreme voices like Front national candidate Marine Le Pen to capitalize on voter anger about the shootings.

I still believe that’s true — and we’ll know in two or three weeks when the politics of the tragic shooting have more fully played out.

And yet… this sentence from a superb summary in The Financial Times rings very, very true:

“This will definitely reinforce his strengths but it will also reinforce the weakness of his counterparty,” said one close associate of the president. “It is difficult to imagine François Hollande acting like him. That is probably unfair  but that’s the way it is.”

It’s been quite clear that Sarkozy has a much wider range of political skills than Hollande, and there’s a certain advantage to being able to project a message of unity and calm as the sitting head of state.

Who ‘wins’ in the fight about the Toulouse shootings?

To say that French president Nicolas Sarkozy will try to use the Toulouse shootings to his advantage in the presidential race is fairly coals-to-Newcastle (or, if you will, coals-to-Nantes).

Although his campaign is already trying to fake the high road by accusing rivals of taking advantage of the incident for political gain, Sarkozy himself has managed to sound a message of national unity and calm, on the whole, which should be the first job of any head of state in the aftermath of a tragic event. That’s to be applauded.  

But politically, it’s a fluid situation, and while it’s already impacting the presidential race (and it was impossible for such a large event not to impact the race), it’s not clear to me that it’s a win for Sarkozy, even if the gunman does turn out to have ties — real or aspirational — to al-Qaeda.

In a world where Front national candidate Marine Le Pen will continue to deploy over-the-top rhetoric in arguing that the way to stop future shootings like those that occurred Monday is to ban French immigrants and treat Muslims with suspicion, and where Sarkozy wants to be seen to rise above petty politics by playing the statesman, Sarkozy may well have to lay off the immigration rhetoric that he’s used to such great effect in the past few weeks — thereby giving up (for now) the one tool that’s helped him claw his way back into contention for the first-round lead.

While Sarkozy may try to use the incident to paint himself as a stronger candidate on terrorism — I have no doubt that Sarkozy’s tough talk will be more convincing than Hollande’s — I’m still not so sure that will be such a clear win.

If it is true that French security forces have known about the gunman for “a long time,” and if Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande has any fiery pluck as a candidate, he should soon be asking why Sarkozy’s government let the suspect shoot three Muslim soldiers and then, days later, three Jewish schoolchildren and one parent, before going after him — and then taking the better part of a day to apprehend the gunman.

 

French shooting upends presidential campaign

The tragic killing of four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday by Mohamed Merah, a gunman of Algerian origin, who may also have murdered three Muslim soldiers elsewhere in southern France, and who has ties to Afghanistan, has become a powder keg pivot point in the French presidential election.

With so much of a focus on immigration by both incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Front national candidate Marine Le Pen — the campaign just a couple of weeks ago went a round on the threat of halal meat in France — it is not difficult to see how this story could galvanize the campaign in the days ahead in a way that could challenge the calmer, more pro-immigration voices of frontrunner François Hollande of the Parti socialiste.

The shocking event provides both Hollande and Sarkozy a crisis of the first order to demonstrate their particular styles of presidential leadership.

For now, a quick rundown of the responses so far: Continue reading French shooting upends presidential campaign

Mélenchon storms the Bastille


Over the weekend, the candidate of the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, held a well-attended rally in Paris in front of the Bastille, as if to confirm his arrival as the man of the hour in France’s presidential election.

Once the undisputed leader of both rounds of the presidential election, Parti socialiste candidate and frontrunner François Hollande now faces an ascendant rival on his left flank who is now taking just over 10% of the first-round vote in polls, even as moderate candidate François Bayrou continues to hold steady in polls with between 10% and 15% of the first-round vote.

With the Parti communiste français so withered that even former candidate Robert Hue has endorsed Hollande, Mélenchon — himself a former Parti socialiste member who had clashed in the past with Hollande — has consolidated the far left to a degree not seen in a generation.  The last time a far-left candidate won in excess of 10% in the first round of a presidential election was 1981 under Georges Marchais, so a double-digit finish would itself be a milestone.

No wonder the left cheers Mélenchon every time he grittily attacks Front national candidate Marine Le Pen.

In reality, though, none of Mélenchon, Bayrou or Le Pen have the kind of momentum that vaunted Le Pen’s father into the second round of the 2002 race or that put Bayrou himself into real contention in the 2007 race.  Hollande — for now — is in no trouble of falling out of the top two spots in the first round, and polls show that he’s maintained a smaller, but nonetheless still double-digit lead over Sarkozy in the second round.  So why should he worry?  Continue reading Mélenchon storms the Bastille

A mixed day for Sarkozy

Today’s news was mixed for French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

A new poll shows him with his first-ever lead in the first-round April 22 presidential election — at 28.5% to just 27% for Partis socialiste candidate François Hollande.  Hollande has a slimmer but still quite commanding second-round lead, where he polls 54.5% to Sarkozy’s 45.5% for the May 6 runoff.

Centrist François Bayrou held steady at 13%, but Front National candidate Marine Le Pen lost a point from the prior survey and Jean-Luc Mélenchon gained 1.5%, at 10% his highest poll rating to date.  The shift of voters away from Le Pen (presumably to Sarkozy) and to Mélenchon (presumably away from Hollande) is more than enough to explain first-round movement between Hollande and Sarkozy.

Looming on the horizon, however, are explosive charges from Mediapart, a French investigative website, that Sarkozy illegally received over €50 million from Muammar Gaddafi to finance his 2007 presidential campaign.  Sarkozy has denied the charges — and snarked that if true, Gaddafi certainly didn’t get his money’s worth, as Sarkozy joined British prime minister David Cameron in the NATO-led bombing campaign against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year.  The charges remain very much unsubstantiated, though. Continue reading A mixed day for Sarkozy

Schengen silliness

With French flags waving (as shown above) to the tune of La Marseillaise at a campaign rally in Villepinte on Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the Shengen zone, calling for a French defense to the “European way of life.”

Don’t worry — you shouldn’t believe for a nanosecond that Sarkozy will ever take concrete steps to pull France out of the 25-member Schengen zone in a second term.

You should believe, however, that it’s the next logical step in a populist campaign to consolidate right-wing voters in advance of the first round of France’s presidential election.  Recall that Sarkozy opened his reelection bid with a call for a referendum on immigration.  Last week, he declared there were “too many foreigners” in France and called for the country to halve the number of immigrants permitted annually from 200,000 to 100,000.

The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985 but which took effect in 1995, allows for free travel without internal border controls throughout the EU countries (except for Ireland and the United Kingdom), plus non-EU members Iceland, Norway and others.  Even the sovereignty-conscious Swiss are members as of 2008.

It’s the agreement that allows outsiders to visit any number of European countries (again, except for Ireland and the U.K.), while going through passport control and customs just once — at the port of entry.

Taken together with the EU Directive on services in the internal market, promulgated in 2006 with implementation taking effect in 2009, which aims to create a single market for services throughout the EU, Schengen is also the agreement that nudges freer movement of workers across the European continent, subject to the labor regulations of each member state.

In any context, Schengen must be counted as the chief achievements of the entire European project.

Continue reading Schengen silliness

Could Mélenchon endanger Hollande’s first-round victory?

It’s easy to forget in the battle royale between the two champions of the center-left (François Hollande of the Parti socialiste) and the center-right (incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the latest right-wing Gaullist incarnation, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) of the French presidential election, the first round ballot gives voters a choice of nine additional candidates.

From among those nine, the most well-known are Front national candidate Marine Le Pen, who is polling in third place and whose father finished second in the 2002 presidential election, and centrist Mouvement démocrate candidate François Bayrou, who finished a close third in the 2007 presidential election.  Perhaps equally well-known is former French foreign minister and prime minister Dominique de Villepin, whose presidential campaign in 2012 has yet to catch the imagination of the French electorate.

But creeping up slowly in the polls — with currently just under 10% — is the candidate of the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The Front de Gauche is an umbrella group of various leftist political parties, the most prominent of which is the once-strong but now-atrophied Parti communiste français.  Continue reading Could Mélenchon endanger Hollande’s first-round victory?

Hollande retakes the initiative

While campaigning in Bayonne over the weekend, French president Nicolas Sarkozy was ignominiously forced to take refuge in a local bar when Basque separatists and other protestors started throwing eggs at the beleaguered French leader, shouting in Basque dialect, “Nicolas kampora!” — Nicolas get out! 

A far cry from the start of the election, when Sarkozy seemed to take the initiative in the campaign and define the terms of the presidential race for the first time, buoyed by the confidence of European leaders across the continent, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.  In the immediate aftermath of his campaign announcement, Sarkozy also bounced somewhat upward in the polls — and as recently as last week, polled just 1.5% behind frontrunning Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande. Continue reading Hollande retakes the initiative

The field, c’est moi

So it looks like Nicolas Sarkozy is gearing up to announce his formal campaign for reelection tomorrow.

In one sense, the optics will be horrible given Moody’s Monday downgrade — in one fell swoop, the credit ratings agency downgraded Spain, Italy, Portgual and others, while shifting the outlook on France’s current Aaa rating to “negative.” Standard and Poor’s downgraded France’s credit rating from Aaa to Aa last month, in what was seen as a stinging rebuke to Sarkozy.

But then again, it’s long seemed clear that the European debt crisis could also be Sarkozy’s key to victory. Continue reading The field, c’est moi

Shadows of 2007

I noted last week that Marine Le Pen could well shut out French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round.

Sure enough, I read this as an attempt, however clumsily, to win some of those culturally right-wing Front National voters back.  Sarkozy, as Minister of the Interior, co-opted Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2007 elections in an incredibly skillful way.

With Marine polling substantially higher than her father’s 10.4% in 2007, it’s clear that Sarkozy will sending some quiet, but sure, signals to FN voters to attract the support he’ll need in the first round to advance to the runoff.

**** Continue reading Shadows of 2007