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I, for one, am quite surprised. The polls showed François Holland and Nicholas Sarkozy practically neck and neck throughout the whole campaign. But after a poor performance in the only televised debate, coupled with economic fears and rising concerns over planned austerity measures (not to mention a growing national distaste for the man himself) Nicholas Sarkozy announced his concession and called for the nation to rally around their new leader.
Early analysis suggests that many of those casting their votes for the “Parti Socialiste” (the PS) were actually doing so less as an act of support for their policies but as a referendum against the Presidential incumbent. Shortly after the election The Washington Post called Hollande the “accidental president” who seemed sure to lose just a few months ago.
Francois Hollande secured his nomination as the Socialist candidate only after the highly-favored front runner was forced to drop out. Dominique Strass-Kahn led party opinion polls by double digits over Hollande, until he found himself arrested and charged with sexual assault by the NYPD. The headlines were just too much to overcome for DSK. He withdrew from the race almost upon returning to France.
Hollande was then able to clinch the nomination with 56% of the party vote – not a landslide but just enough to win. The whole party then fell right behind him, including his former partner, and ‘07 candidate for President, Segolene Royal. Jacques Chirac would later announce his endorsement but given his post-presidency convictions on fraud and embezzlement during his tenure as Mayor of Paris it is unclear whether or not his support was helpful or even wanted.
The first round of voting was scheduled for April 22nd. A total of 10 candidates qualified for the ballot, including the far-right “Front Nationale” (FN).
The FN has managed to garner quite an amount of political support over the last decade, especially in the rural and suburban regions of the country. Their 2002 candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen placed second in the first round of voting. His daughter Marine Le Pen placed third last April with 12% of the vote: a shocking amount when you take into account many of Le Pen’s public statements on immigration and French minorities. Their party is becoming an effective spoiler for each new election season.
After advancing from the first round with Sarkozy, Hollande led many nationwide polls but never by more than the percentage of error. His victory in the second round was a combination of effective campaigning and personality politics.
So what does a Socialist President mean for France? What does it mean for the European Union? What does it say about public reaction towards an administration focused on spending cuts, or about the popularity of Socialism as a political ideology?
Many of the answers will come into sharp focus over the coming months. Hollande has already announced he wants a renegotiation of the European Fiscal Treaty. This will immediately put his government at odds with EU leadership in Brussels, not to mention neighbouring Germany. The future of the Euro will again be placed under the spotlight, as will the impossibility of maintaining a common currency without a common monetary policy. But the French election results point to something much larger than the future stability of the EU.
Francois Hollande’s victory signals a shift in European electoral politics. With few exceptions, the continent’s penchant for conservative, free-market capitalist politicians had been steadily growing since beginning of this century. Christian Democrat and Centre-Right parties like Germany’s CDU, Italy’s PdL, Czech Republic’s ODS and France’s UMP had enjoyed success at the ballot boxes year after year. Even the European Parliament itself is led by the conservative EPP Group. Their governments typically required a ruling coalition but they’ve always remained the ruling party. That trend seems to be slowing.
The new order seems to reward politicians who appeal to the economic frustrations of the populace.
We saw Czech voters punish the ODS for cuts to public programs by stripping them of 28 parliamentary seats in 2010. Belgium has recently cobbled together a 6 part coalition led by the Walloni Socialist, Elio de Rupo. Since being elected PM of Sweden in 2006, subsequent elections have forced Fredrik Reinfeldt to expand his coalition to offset gains by the opposition Social Democrats and Swedish Greens. Finally, Angela Merkel is watching one German state election after the other chip away at her coalition partners. At this rate the CDU (hovering around 34% of parliament seats) won’t have the support it needs to form a government following the next federal elections (slated for October 2013). A German Social Democrat / Greens coalition is widely predicted.
In every one of these examples there is one recurring theme – the electorate is growing frightened of conservative politicians in the age of austerity. The message of “things are difficult and they’re only going to get worse” is a tough sell compared to “we know who made things this way, now let’s make them pay for it”.
The Socialist message is one of unification, like barring the doors and hunkering down before the storm. It’s based on an interdependence of abilities and resources. The fact is that conservative fiscal policies trim off the stragglers. Those who didn’t have the foresight to buy a lifeboat are going to drown. This is a very difficult message to build support around.
The election of François Hollande is less an affirmation for French Socialism than it is a response by a frightened electorate. Justifiably frightened, to be sure, but irrationally acting on instinct just the same. The coming decade will likely bring similar electoral results as Europe struggles to redefine itself.
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
- Christmas Lunch in the Cotswolds on December 7, 2013 12:30 pm
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