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Right or Left? France faces political crossroads

By Professor Nick Hewlett

In the first round of the Presidential elections in France on Sunday 22 April, the Socialist candidate François Hollande was in the lead, with almost 29 per cent of the vote, whereas his rival and the incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, polled 27 per cent. This pits them against each other in the second round on 6 May, when most polls suggest Hollande will win.

However, the big surprise of the first round was that the extreme right National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, received 19 per cent of the vote, which was the highest ever for the party, formerly led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. For Sarkozy were to win the second round, he would need many of the first-round National Front voters to transfer to him and he has already commented since Sunday that he ‘understands’ their grievances, mainly concerned with immigration and law and order.

In order for Hollande to win, he will need the first-round votes of the former Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose Left Front unites Communists and other disaffected left voters and who received nearly 11 per cent of the vote. Transfer of almost all these votes to Hollande is far more likely than those of Le Pen to Sarkozy.

The final major player in the first round was the self-defined centrist François Bayrou, who received 9 per cent of the vote. His supporters will vote roughly evenly for Hollande and Sarkozy, or abstain, according to the polls.

If Hollande wins, and if the Socialists win the parliamentary elections in June, he will be expected to implement his economic programme which includes higher taxes for the rich and a re-negotiation of the European fiscal pact. This is partly why share prices around the world dropped on Monday morning, after the first-round results were announced, but the reality is likely to change substantially less than promised.

Professor Nick Hewlett, from the University of Warwick’s French department, is an expert in French politics, and is the author of The Sarkozy Phenomenon.