Monday, April 23, 2012
Plus Ça Change
Yesterday was the first round of the French presidential election and the man in the picture came in first. François Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate got about 28.5 percent of the vote versus his closest challenger, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy of the "center right" UMP, who garnered about 26 percent. Here's an interactive map of how the vote was distributed across France.
The surprise of the election however was Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate of the Front National, who managed to win just under 20 percent of the vote, putting her in a strong position to influence the runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy two weeks from now, as well as the legislative elections in June. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the Front de Gauche, composed mainly of what's left of the French Communist Party, won fewer votes than expected, with a final count of about 11 percent.
Pre-election predictions had assumed about equal numbers of voters for Le Pen and for Mélenchon as a result of the general dissatisfaction with the major party candidates, and Le Pen's huge lead makes her an increasingly important player in French politics.
In the 2002 election Marine Le Pen's father, a far-right wing super-nationalist, made it into the runoff because many voters expressed their dissatisfaction with both major candidates by either staying home or voting for someone considered impossible to win. Frightened by what they had done, voters turned out en masse for the second round of voting and elected Jacques Chirac in a landslide.
Marine Le Pen took over leadership of the party from her father and has put a prettier face on their program, but it's still reminiscent of the US right wing in its anti-immigrant, back to the security of yesteryear stance. Appealing to many who see little difference between the major candidates, this Le Pen vote is different than 2002.
We were invited to an election party by a friend who publishes a magazine that leans rightward politically and I got into a bit of an argument with another guest about just how dangerous Marine Le Pen really is. She strikes me as a stealth demagogue, the kind of politician to whom people turn to lead them in difficult economic times because she promises a return to security and glory.
To me the Front National bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Marechal Petain and the collaborationist Vichy government. The person with whom I was discussing this insisted that as an American I couldn't really understand French politics. I hope that's true.