It is time to forget that bloated, money-wasting carcass of the US Republican Primaries. The candidates are merely crawling inexorably towards Romney’s eventual victory anyway, leaving behind a vile trail of ignorance, incompetence and sometimes outright bigotry that serves to demonstrate just how incapable each of these contemptible specimens of humanity are to run what is still (just about) one of the most powerful countries in the world. That’ll only start again anew when the real campaign begins anyway and we will still be able to laugh at Romney as he proves just how big the gulf in class is between the Democrats and their boorish cousins of the GOP. Forget all of that, for now, because there is something far more entertaining going on. Vive l’Élection Présidentielle!
The first reason to start getting excited about is the prospect of finally seeing Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP) unceremoniously booted out of office. The little Parisian (who loved nothing more during the last campaign than sticking the knife into the back of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac) has suffered a bruising first, and hopefully last, term in office. Chiefly thanks to the implosion of the Eurozone economy and the subsequent downgrading of France’s credit rating (particularly galling for the Gauls considering the UK stayed AAA), Sarko has also been criticised strongly by the left, although also by prominent right-wing figures for the way he has handled the Presidency. His approval ratings have plummeted from the lofty heights he enjoyed before taking on the job of ‘Top Frog’ and he has yet to top an opinion poll. It is certainly not looking good for the incumbent.
If that all sounds rather promising, it is certainly not yet cut and dry that the ‘petit général’ will be ousted just yet. The Parti Socialiste (PS), traditionally the main left-wing party in France, has settled on François Hollande as its candidate – hardly a name that will strike fear into those looking to get Sarko reelected. The former First Secretary of the party, who received much of the blame for the loss of the 2007 Presidential elections and the subsequent relatively poor performance of the PS in the legislative elections, managed to see off his successor in the role, Martine Aubry, for the nomination. It is telling, however, that he trailed the IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the socialist primaries before DSK’s arrest in the US for suspected rape; that the former IMF head retained a lot of popular support even after Hollande secured the nomination is telling. DSK might now be in yet more trouble, embroiled as he is in yet another sex scandal, but his shadow will no doubt hang over Hollande’s campaign for much of the run up. The socialist may be the front-runner for now, but his lead over Sarko is tenuous at best.
Rather more ominously, the far right is on the up once more in France. Since 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen somehow managed to make it into the second round of the Presidential elections against Jacques Chirac, the right-wing Front National (FN) has held a steady presence as the party of the far right in France. Since Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, succeeded him as President of the party, the Front National has seen a steady rise in support once more, with Le Pen regularly reaching between 16-20% in opinion polls, not far off Sarkozy in second place. Marine Le Pen has largely been credited with making the far-right party more appealing to voters and giving the impression of modernising the party (think Nick Griffin bringing in Joanna Lumley to front the BNP for a British comparison). Despite the makeover, the Front National is still the same worrying xenophobic, semi-racist beast as ever and the prospect of them making the second round will be the cause of many a sleepless night for Sarko, Hollande and the majority of the electorate.
It’s not just the right that is providing stern opposition to the front runners this time around – even the left have gotten in on the action with the emergence of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate for the recently formed Parti de Gauche, a green socialist party formed in 2008 by politicians deserting the PS. While not expected to reach the second round, Mélenchon is polling well and has seen support rise in the last year to between 7-9% of the electorate. While unlikely to beat Hollande in the elections, Mélenchon could well attract disgruntled left-wing voters and deprive Hollande of the necessary votes to get into the second round, particularly if he enjoys a late surge in popularity.
Finally, there is the perennial centrist candidate François Bayrou, who will be contesting the Presidency for the third time. Bayrou, who won 18% of the vote last time around and shook up what was expected to be largely a UMP-PS affair. While not expected to do as well this time, particularly following the acrimonious splitting of the UDF party into two following the 2007 Presidential Campaign, Bayrou is polling at 11-13% and will expect a strong result in the first round. It’s a shame he won’t let anyone else take on the nomination – with a more electable candidate his centrist MoDem party could be well placed to make it to the second round this year. As it is, Bayrou’s 0/2 record as a candidate up to now will do little to persuade voters that he is the man for the job.
All this, of course, is ignoring the motley crew of far-left socialists, communists, jilted former Prime Ministers, radicals and greens that make up the rest of the candidates. While mostly no-hopers, these ‘characters’ add a sense of variety to the contest all too absent from the commercialised TV drama of the US elections and the relatively dreary, dull as porridge UK parliamentary elections. More pertinently, this year could see a huge rise in those planning to abstain completely from the next election, or to spoil their vote in protest. With polls currently indicating that this figure could be as high as 18%, it seems the French, like much of Europe, are starting to feel disenfranchised with their political class (though they’re not at rioting point just yet).
The first round of voting takes place on the 22nd April 2012, with the second round on the 6th May.