Tomorrow the French public will go to the polls for the second round of their Presidential election. The run-off, between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, his Socialist Party challenger, remains uncertain, despite Mr Hollande leading by a six to ten point margin in the polls. Following a capricious election campaign, dominated by the Toulouse shootings, the financial crisis and problems surrounding Europe, there is little time for the candidates to adapt and assert their messages. In the first round Mr Hollande led Mr Sarkozy by just under 1.5% – largely in line with pre-election polls. The shock came in the shape of Marine Le Pen’s strong showing, taking third place with 17.9% of the vote.
In an attempt to woo these voters from Ms Le Pen, Mr Sarkozy has upped his rightist rhetoric, and in his new second-round campaign video, he stresses issues relating to Europe, immigration and “La France Forte” – a strong France. Following a criticism of Europe as a “sieve” compromising the safety of nations, he declares his intent to withdraw from the EU’s open border Schengen agreement within a year unless an element of border control is resurrected.
Mr Sarkozy has also advocated the introduction of ‘naturalisation’ exams before accepting immigrants into France. Having stated “I have chosen to listen to what you said to us – all the candidates” there is little doubt which band of voters Mr Sarkozy is chasing, though he has also attempted to take aspects of Mr Hollande’s campaign, advocating more taxation and stealing the slogan “Long live the Republic, Long live France” from his opponent’s first round speeches. It is this ability to take any viewpoint – a trait learned whilst training as a lawyer – that has allowed Mr Sarkozy to remain in the race this long, as well as a deficiency of credible challengers.
Mr Hollande is boosted by the fact that the left is unified against Mr Sarkozy, and thus there is little need for him to radicalise his previous election promises in order to attract most of the 11.1% of votes gained by the far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. Furthermore, with the increasingly right-wing anti-European rhetoric coming from Mr Sarkozy, Mr Hollande can count on a significant slice of support from the centrist Francois Bayrou and his pro-Europe Democratic Movement voters, who accounted for a disappointing 9.1% of the vote.
Reinforcing his pre-election argument, Mr Hollande has stressed that change is needed now, and has presented himself as a calm figure in comparison to his more animated rival. Hollande has called for unity within France, and has attempted to paint Mr Sarkozy as having aggravated societal divisions, to the detriment of the country as a whole.
And while Mr Hollande’s victory looks likely, it is believed as much as 22% of the electorate has not yet decided who to vote for. Mr Sarkozy’s chances do, however, look dim. Ms Le Pen recently refused to endorse the President, and the latter’s move to the right will likely dissuade moderate voters who would otherwise have considered voting for him, as will Mr Bayrou’s recent endorsement of Mr Hollande.
The very fact that Mr Sarkozy promised to be a different President if re-elected gives some indication as to how rocky his tenure has been; the French appear to be largely fed up with him. The path is now clear for the Socialists to take office – not under the man originally intended: Dominique Strauss-Kahn – but instead under the deserved winner, Mr Hollande, who will try to lead France in a new and balanced direction.