I'm still waiting for a firm vote count, some regional breakdowns, and so on, but what is clear at this moment is that the PS remains a deeply fragmented party without a clear direction. Arnaud Montebourg chose to run a campaign clearly marked to the left of the party, taking positions that could easily mesh with those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and he won his bet. His score, close to 20 percent, exceeded all expectations and puts him in a strong position to negotiate terms with one of the leading candidates, more likely than not Martine Aubry.
Hollande, despite winning the first round and finishing well ahead of Aubry, clearly did not convince a majority of the more than 2 million voters that his centrist positioning, designed to pick up as many disappointed right-wing and centrist voters as possible, has won favor with the left.
The biggest loser of the day is Manuel Valls, whose attempt to define a third way on the very right wing of the party failed to attract the kind of support that Montebourg's diametrically opposed strategy did. The other loser is Ségolène Royal, whose decline, long evident in the polls, has now been confirmed at the ballot box.
But an "all against Hollande" coalition now seems likely, and we know that even DSK, whose space Hollande tried to fill, voted for Aubry. What Aubry is prepared to offer Montebourg remains to be seen and will probably remain private, and whether Montebourg's voters will follow his consigne, if there is one, is of course never certain, but logic suggests that they are more likely to vote for Aubry than for Hollande. The same is true of Royal voters. So it would not be at all surprising to see a narrow Aubry victory in the second round, on the order of 52-48.
And that would make for an interesting ballgame, more interesting a priori than a Sarkozy-Hollande contest. But it will also make the next six months of European policymaking extremely difficult. An Aubry-Montebourg victory would make it very difficult for Merkel to know what to expect from France after May 2012, and if there is anything the hesitant and cautious Merkel does not need, it is more uncertainty to cope with. Furthermore, the famous markets will not be happy with this outcome, and that could complicate the task of trying to maintain confidence in the banks and the euro.
A very interesting Sunday, and proof yet again, if proof were needed, that the French people can never be taken for granted.