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Sunday, April 22, 2012 9:25 PM

Hollande Wins Round One But Euroskeptic Le Pen Steals the Show; Strange Bedfellows; Can Sarkozy Win Round Two?

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As expected Francois Hollande and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy will square off on May 6 in round two of the French presidential elections.

However, there was a huge surprise in spot number 3 as extreme right wing candidate Marine Le Pen pulled in 18% of the vote running on a dump-the-euro platform.

First Round Totals

  • Hollande: 28.6%
  • Sarkozy: 27.1%
  • Le Pen: 18%

Please consider Le Pen voters to arbitrate Hollande-Sarkozy duel
The centre-left Hollande narrowly beat the conservative Sarkozy in Sunday's 10-candidate first round by 28.6 percent to 27.1 percent, the Interior Ministry said with 99 percent of votes counted, but Le Pen stole the show by surging to 18.0 percent, the biggest result for a far-right candidate.

Her breakthrough mirrored advances by anti-establishment Euroskeptical populists from Amsterdam and Vienna to Helsinki and Athens as anger over austerity, unemployment and bailout fatigue deepen due to the euro zone's grinding debt crisis.

"The battle of France has only just begun," Le Pen, 43, daughter of former paratrooper and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, told cheering supporters. Declaring that her wave of support was "shaking the system" of mainstream consensus politics, she said: "We are now the only real opposition."

The gravel-voiced blonde, who wants France to abandon the euro currency, said she would give her view on the runoff at a May Day rally in Paris next week. But she saved most venom for Sarkozy, aiming to pick up the pieces in any recomposition of the right and hoping the Front can enter parliament in June.

More than one third of French voters cast their ballots for protest candidates outside the political mainstream.

The deeply unpopular Sarkozy, the first sitting president to be forced into second place in the first round of a re-election bid, will have to do the splits to attract both far-right and centrist voters he needs to win the May 6 runoff.


Sarkozy struck a defiant tone after his setback, steering to the right to try to attract Le Pen voters by vowing to tighten border controls, stop factories leaving France, make work pay and uphold law and order, rather than reaching out to centrists.

He challenged Hollande to three live television debates over the next two weeks instead of the customary one. But Socialist aides said Hollande, who has no ministerial experience and is a less accomplished television performer than Sarkozy, had made clear he will accept only one prime-time debate, on May 2.

Polls taken on Sunday by three institutes suggested that between 48 and 60 percent of Le Pen voters planned to switch to the president, while Bayrou's backers split almost evenly between the two finalists, with one third undecided.

Melenchon, whose fiery calls for a "citizens' revolution" drew tens of thousands to open air rallies, urged his followers to turn out massively on May 6 to defeat Sarkozy, but he could not bring himself to mention Hollande by name.

Greens candidate Eva Joly endorsed Hollande, who can also count on the modest votes of two Trotskyist also-rans.

"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," said political scientist Stephane Rozes of the CAP think-tank.

If Hollande wins, joining a small minority of left-wing governments in Europe, he has promised to renegotiate a European budget discipline treaty signed by Sarkozy. That could presage tension with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made the pact a condition for further assistance to troubled euro zone states.
Can Sarkozy Win Round Two?

Unlikely, unless Hollande makes a major gaffe in the debate. He avoided the first major mistake already by only agreeing to one debate, just 4 days before the election, perhaps as most minds are already made up.

Given that Le Pen took the opportunity to blast Sarkozy it appears likely that her votes will splinter, probably far more than the far-left candidates.

Strange Bedfellows

On an issue-by-issue basis it would seem to make more sense for Le Pen to back Sarkozy than Hollande. Certainly Sarkozy is courting Le Pen voters. So what is her game?

I think it's easy to spot. The eurozone is likely to splinter apart faster and easier with Hollande as president than with Sarkozy back at the helm.

Thus, backing Hollande, and perhaps even winning some real concessions (as opposed to lies from Sarkozy), makes more long-term strategic sense as well as short-term tactical sense.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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