Last Sunday, French voters, troubled by the Eurozone’s three-year-old debt crisis that threatens to cripple their economy and large Muslim minority that threatens to submerge their proud culture, trooped to the polls in record numbers. With a strong 80.2 percent turnout, they awarded 28.6 percent of their support to Socialist leader Francois Hollande, 27.1 percent to France’s incumbent center-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy, an all-time high of 18 percent to neo-fascist National Front leader Marine Le Pen, 11 percent to communist Jean-Luc Melenchon, and 9 percent to centrist Francois Bayrou.
Pictured above: President Sarkozy appears in a video grab from the France 2 TV program “Des Paroles et Des Actes,” on April 26, 2012.
The Socialist Party, in concert with the Communist Party, last controlled the French parliament between 1997 and 2002, even though center-rightist Jacques Chirac held the post of president at this time. More ominously, in this weekend’s election nearly one in three French voters cast their ballot for two extremist candidates, Le Pen and Melenchon. Marine Le Pen is the daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has retired from the day-to-day administration of his anti-immigrant Eurosceptic party. Just like the Great Depression era, the French in particular and Europeans in general are again looking for stability in the promises of far left and far right leaders.
With two weeks until the May 6 run-off vote, President Sarkozy has been forced into a position where he must attract a large number of neo-fascist and centrists voters in order to whip Hollande and retain his office in Elysee Palace. “Today, I return to the campaign trail,” Sarkozy said in a statement. “I will continue to uphold our values and commitments: respect for our borders, the fight against factories moving abroad, controlling immigration, the security of our families.”
On Sunday, opinion polls showed Hollande, who has vowed to “temper” austerity measures with “greater social justice,” would likely win the second round of voting with between 53 and 56 percent. Parliamentary elections slated for June could also change France’s political landscape, ousting Sarkozy’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). “After five years of leading the world’s fifth largest economy, a nuclear power, and activist UN. Security Council member,” opines Canada’s National Post, “Sarkozy could go the way of 10 other euro zone leaders swept from office since the start of the crisis in late 2009.”
In the 2007 presidential election, which propelled him into the political limelight, Sarkozy trounced Hollande’s “domestic partner,” Ségolène Royal, who was the Socialist candidate at that time.
According to the French media, Le Pen’s strong showing offers Sarkozy an “unexpected ray of hope.” “The breakthrough by Marine Le Pen throws the second round wide open,” ran the headline in right-leaning Le Figaro newspaper, while left-of-center Liberation blared: “Hollande in front. Le Pen the killjoy.” Polls taken on Sunday by three institutes suggest that between 48 and 60 percent of Le Pen voters plan to swing their support to the French president, while Bayrou’s backers split almost evenly between the two finalists, with one third undecided.
“Nothing will be the same again,” Le Pen, 43, told cheering supporters on Sunday. Marine, who wants France to abandon the euro currency, wrote off Sarkozy as a “departing president that would leave his party in ruins,” and championed the National Front as the only party capable of uniting right-wing voters. On Monday, FN Vice-President Louis Alliot stated that Le Pen would endorse neither Sarkozy nor Hollande. “Based on the ideas in our program, neither one defends or develops them, so it seems unlikely,” he said.
Financial market analysts predict that whoever wins the French presidential election will have to impose tougher austerity measures than either candidate has admitted during the campaign, cutting public spending as well as raising taxes to cut the budget deficit. This prognostication does not bode well for France. Over the past five years, when President Sarkozy attempted to impose his anti-statist views upon his countrymen, leftists reacted violently and took to the streets in protest.
“We’ve got a vote that is much more uncertain than we thought it would be,” said Dominique Barbet, economist at BNP Paribas. “There’s going to be some pretty hard campaigning, and the markets aren’t going to like that. It’s not going to be a very pro-European campaign.”
Sarkozy has challenged Hollande to three television debates over the next two weeks instead of the traditional one. Hollande, who has no ministerial experience and is a “less accomplished television performer” than Sarkozy, had indicated that he will accept only one prime-time live debate before May 6. “The game is getting very difficult for Nicolas Sarkozy,” Jerome Saint-Marie of CSA polling agency told i>TELE. “There’s a genuine demand for social justice, precisely because times are hard and voters see sacrifices will have to be made … What they want is that this pain is fairly shared.”
Communist leader 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 did not specifically mention Hollande, suggesting that the Left is still divided. For her part, Green candidate Eva Joly endorsed Hollande, who can also count on the modest votes of two Trotskyist parties.
If Hollande wins, joining a small minority of left-wing governments in the European Union, he has vowed to renegotiate the EU’s budget discipline treaty signed by Sarkozy. This promise could portend tension with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made the pact a condition for further assistance to troubled Eurozone states.
If Hollande wins, moreover, he will enjoy the endorsement of Russian Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov, who hailed Hollande’s first-round election win as a sign that French voters were once again embracing the Left. “France is tired of Sarkozy and the first round vividly demonstrated that most voters want a turn to the left, which is being increasingly embraced the world over,” Interfax quoted Zyuganov as saying.
Chairman Zyuganov also predicted “closer ties” between Russia and France under Hollande. “This would be mutually beneficial and useful for both our countries,” said Zyuganov, who has headed the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) since 1993. The CPRF is the legal successor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Zyuganov, 67, has mounted four unsuccessful presidential campaigns (1996, 2000, 2008, 2012), but has never seen his party win more than a quarter of the vote in any State Duma ballot. This past March, Zyuganov officially won 17 percent of the vote in Russia’s presidential election, at which time “ex”-communist Prime Minister Vladimir Putin secured his return to a third presidential term.
With the exception of the communist policy of implementing an extensive Soviet-style social safety net, the CPRF and potemkin ruling party United Russia have a similar appreciation for Russia’s Soviet legacy and the country’s destiny as a Eurasian superpower. Under Putin, a form of fascism—characterized by belligerent nationalism, state capitalism (soft socialism), intimidation of the public by the state security apparatus (KGB/FSB), and significant societal regimentation, especially in the form of Kremlin-sponsored youth movements (e.g., Nashi)—has prevailed in Russia since 1999.
Unlike the CPRF platform, however, industrial nationalization in “post”-Soviet Russia has not taken place “in the name of the people” or the world workers’ movement. Thus, full-blown communism has yet to resurrect in Russia.