Monday, April 23, 2012

The Morning After

OK, people, time to sober up. The first thing to say, as TexExile pointed out in comments, is that we should stop hyperventilating about the FN results. Yes, it's an historic high, but it's only 1 percentage point more than her father managed in 2002 (albeit on a significantly higher turnout, so this somewhat understates the FN's increased strength). But the Brown Shirts are not about to sit in the Chancellery. The initial reports of a 20% Le Pen vote did us all a disservice by distracting from the other historic event of the evening: the loss of a sitting president in the first round. This should have been the headline, and the bizarrerie of Sarko's supporters chanting "On a gagné!" when in fact they had suffered a crushing defeat should have attracted more derisory comment than it did.

Second, Hollande is well-placed to win in round 2. The Le Pen vote is not an anti-Socialist vote or a right-wing vote. It is an anti-Sarkozy vote. Buisson's strategy of droitisation dure only strengthened the extreme from which he sprang; it undermined Sarkozy's principal strength, which was and remains his experience. Hollande still has to traverse the minefield of the next two weeks without a major misstep, but he has shown that he knows how to play his own game and avoid forced errors.

Third, no matter which candidate wins, France will be difficult to govern. The constraints imposed by the state of the economy are severe. To be sure, the electorate's expectations are low. The deep divisions over globalization, Europe, and the euro revealed by the vote will remain, and a solution remains elusive and not within the power of the French president alone. There is much missionary work to be done, especially with Germany, and success is not assured. But Hollande's election will signal the need for change, and if the Germans are wise, they will recognize this.


TexExile said...

"...the other historic event of the evening: the loss of a sitting president in the first round."

Well, yes. Hollande topped the poll and I think he is a heavy favourite to win the presidency, but let's not exaggerate Sarko's plight. I keep hearing he is "the first incumbent not to top the poll in the first round" (it was repeated so often on the telly last night, it came to sound like a hare krishna mantra). Yet only three previous incumbents have stood for re-election in the history of the Fifth Republic. Sarko's vote was far higher than that of Chirac in 2002 and not much below that of Giscard in 1981 (following which Giscard did indeed go on to lose, but very narrowly). Only Mitterrand (with 34%+ in 1988 before cruising to an easy win in round 2) has had a much better time of it in round 1.

Sure, I am still betting on Hollande, but I wouldn't bet too much. That the first round was as close as it was is a testimony to the weakness of the PS candidate and his campaign. This ought to be a cakewalk.

Anonymous said...

Another perspective: I read somewhere that Sarko's #2 position for an incumbent had happened in 1910 and not ever since.

An English-speaking recap of international and national articles about the election results:

A working class guy speaking on France2 today (1 o'clock news) about his vote said of MLP "she won't solve me problems, but she talks to ME." (Elle me résoudra pas mes problèmes mais elle au moins elle me parle.")
I hope that Hollande is going to find a way to talk to this guy and his friends because what ails him isn't - as the local UMP's explained - "too many rules and regulations that #@&ç!' people" but if what I gathered today from talks locally - cf. earlier post- the post office hours, the school situation, the lack of police station, the cost of gas... isn't going to be solved by Sarkozy, as most of it's been caused by his policies. (I don't know whether Hollande has a solution to the RGPP but it sure sounds like a vote against it.)

Anonymous said...

Correction: thinking about it, haven't French people voted for their president since the 1960s only? If so, that 1910 figure ought to be wrong. Argh.

Sebastien Turban said...

However, in 2002, Bruno Megret had split from the FN and got 2.5%. The extreme right did better that year, even in terms of score.

Anonymous said...

In percentages the FN did just a little better than in 2002 and it is considering that their candidate is now a more sympathetic woman with much less crazy declarations. The protest vote is still there but Fascism is clearly not coming to town anytime soon.

FrédéricLN said...

We had a presidential election in 1848 and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte got an absolute majority at the first round. The next one has been in 1965. So, our presidential elections provide the statisticians with far less stuff that the American presidential elections do.

bernard said...

I tend to agree with Art on most of what he says, except perhaps for that last sentence: if the Germans are wise. I think the real sentence should read: if the Germans are pragmatisch, which they are.