Sarkozy Courts Far Right

The first round vote of the French presidential election has been completed and it seems likely that France’s president and UMP party candidate for the 2012 presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy is on course to become the first French president to lose a bid for re-election in more than 30 years. Center-right leader Sarkozy lost, trailing Socialist challenger Francois Hollande ahead of a May 6 run-off, after a record showing in the first round election by the National Front made them potential kingmakers.

In Sunday’s 10 candidate run-off Hollande knocked out Sarkozy by 28.6 percent to 27.2 percent, however National Front leader Marine Le Pen stole the lime-light by managing 17.9 percent which is the biggest tally a far-right candidate could ever get. Her performance reflects the views of the anti-establishment Euro-skeptical populists as the euro zone’s debt crisis deepens the anger over government spending cuts and unemployment. Sarkozy, the most unpopular candidate, faces a balancing act to attract both the far-right and centrist voters to retain his presidency. His weak performance has spooked investors who are already nervous about the European government’s ability to service their debts leading to the French stocks and bonds to dip lower.

Returning to the campaign on Monday, Sarkozy promised to tighten border and street security and retain industrial jobs in France. Hollande on the other hand has vowed to change Europe by measures such as higher taxes on the rich, more social spending and has promised to renegotiate a European budget treaty signed by Sarkozy which could augur tension with German chancellor Angela Merkel who made the pact on condition of further assistance to troubled Euro zones. The polls predict his win in the run-off by 53% to 56% votes. The strong show by Le Pen offers hope to Sarkozy by suggesting there are more votes to be grabbed than previously thought. Her focus is on keeping a strong National Front show in the parliamentary vote and will be giving her view on the run-off at a May Day rally in Paris; she considers Sarkozy and Hollande to be same on core subjects.  It’s not the first time Sarkozy is trying to grab the National Front vote as the tactic had helped him to win mandate in 2007 however according to Florian Philippot, strategy director to Le Pen, it wouldn’t work twice as the French will not fall to this kind of electioneering game. Sarkozy challenged Hollande to 3 television debates instead of the customary 1 but Hollande who has no ministerial experience and is less accomplished as a television performer made clear that he would accept only 1 prime-time debate on May 2. Leftist, Jean Luc Melenchon finished fourth with 11.1 % ahead of centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.1 %.

Political pundits say that Hollande is still ahead of Sarkozy in round 2 and that he would have to pick up at least three quarter of Le Pen’s supporters and two thirds of Bayrou’s to manage a feeble victory. Polls by three different institutes on Sunday revealed that 48 to 60 percent of Le Pen’s voters plan to shift to Sarkozy and Bayrou’s voters split evenly between the two finalists while one thirds are still undecided. Stephane Rozes of the CAP think-tank said, “Sarkozy is going to be torn between campaigning in the middle ground and campaigning on the right. He’ll have to reach out to the right between the rounds, so he’ll lose the centre”.

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