France Elections 2012 Preview: Will Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande Win?


The end is nigh, the die is cast; indeed one could almost say “Les jeux sont faits.” After the Lord of the Rings finale, the French electorate is now within sight of the electoral volcano of Mordor-France, into whose fiery abyss they may consign their terribly unpopular incumbent President.

Actually – for those of you unfamiliar with the French electoral process – this is merely election 1.0, with version 2.0 another two weeks around the corner. In order to win in France you must secure over 50% of the popular vote – this election is conducted by direct suffrage – and if no one can achieve this in the upcoming election, then the two top polling candidates go through to a second election to be held on May 6. No tedious electoral colleges or endless primaries for the French.

With a showdown between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy invariably scheduled for two weeks from now; why are we watching this election? Well, it is a very pertinent indicator of where France stands politically, and will give an insight into who will likely triumph on May 6. Equally, it will demonstrate the power of minority candidates such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front) and Marine Le Pen (National Front – Far Right), who will hold sway in the second round by telling their supporters who to vote for.  

The most likely scenario is that Hollande will win this round with about 28% of the vote to Sarkozy’s 24%, and go on to win the overall election. However, the question is: Is he the right man for the job?

This is a key concern. There is such widespread – and frequently misplaced – animosity towards Nicolas Sarkozy, that any Socialist candidate could potentially win this election by virtue of not being Sarkozy. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the policies espoused by Hollande, some of which would merit closer scrutiny.

Admittedly, Hollande is calm and controlled where Sarkozy is impulsive and controlling; he builds consensus whereas Sarkozy is famed for his divisiveness. But Hollande is critically inexperienced (he has never held high office of any kind), economically untested and has a rhetoric that talks little about core economic issues facing France.

In fact, this lack of serious economic debate is the striking thing about France’s election. None of the candidates has attempted to roll out a policy programme to address the socio-economic tsunami slowly rolling towards the country. They have collectively failed to make this election about the future; rather they have chosen to ground it in the political squabbling and in the anti-incumbent fever gripping the nation.

As tomorrow’s election gets underway there is the chance of an upset. Polling data – after all – is never wholly accurate nor does it allow for people’s minds to change. Therefore Sarkozy may scrape through with enough momentum to carry through to the second round. This is what he is desperately hoping for but remains to be seen.

One thing is dead certain though; that the crowded election field will narrow down, but the ideas being spun, the policies being talked about and the rhetoric created will not go any deeper.  France is in dire economic and social straits but no single serious candidate has taken those issues on. Rather it has been a mirage election about fictional issues pertaining to a dream country and unrealistic policies that can never be enacted. No wonder therefore, that it was referred to by The Economist as ‘The West’s most Frivolous Election’ and with concrete reason.

Whatever the result; winter is coming and the French have not even begun a serious debate on long-term reforms needed to weather it.

What – I wonder – would Gandalf say?