Opinions - 24.04.2012 - 00:00 

Round one of the elections

For now, the spectacle is over. The French are disappointed with President Nicolas Sarkozy. A commentary by Prof. Dr. Vincent Kaufmann on the first round of the French presidential elections.
Source: HSG Newsroom

23 April 2012. The results of the first round of the French presidential elections largely match the expectations stirred up by the polls. Socialist François Hollande (about 29% of the votes) barely prevailed over current President Nicolas Sarkozy (27%). In third place is the delegate of the Front National, Marine Le Pen with 18%, further ahead of the candidate of the anti-capitalist Left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (11%), than expected. The center-(right) candidate François Bayrou (18.5% in 2007) suffered a serious setback with only 9% of the vote: After this third attempt, he will most likely be knocked out of the competition as a reliable alternative to the endless duels between the right-wing UMP and the SP once and for all.

The left and the right margins

There can be no talk of a surprise with those results. After the Front National had done badly in 2007, it is now, with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter and a slightly modernized performance, back where it was between 1990 and 2002. It is no longer a European exception, either, since in many countries the radical right fronts have become important political players. Neither does Mélenchon’s success come as much of a surprise: the difference between this and earlier elections lies in the fact that the radical proto-communist left (almost) did not dissipate this time and it has a charismatic personality in Mélenchon. The French anti-capitalist tradition, with a potential of 10-15% of the votes, is nothing new, even though it is a veritable exception in the European context: Even the French (Gaullist) right-wing parties have committed themselves to the free market only reluctantly.

Little hope for Sarkozy
It is mainly the bad showing of Nicolas Sarkozy that is remarkable and leaves him little hope for the runoff election in two weeks – it is the worst result of a sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic. Too much promised and too little delivered. Which politician could survive the economic and financial crisis going on since 2008? In Sarkozy’s case, it is also a question of style: too much gesticulation, too few actions, too much media presence, too little presence of the government on the field. Was there even a government? Did anyone ever see François Fillon, the prime minister? Or the rather experienced and competent foreign minister Alain Juppé? During his term of office, a president usually burns through at least two prime ministers, whose political careers then come to a dead end. Sarkozy’s political egocentrism ironically only leads to himself getting burned. From today on, Fillon and Juppé rank among the favorites as candidates for the presidential election of 2017.

The relation between the media and political power
And what a lesson concerning the relation between the media and political power! Thanks to government control and close friends in the private media companies (Dassault, Lagardère, Arnault, Bouygues, all of them owners of media companies as well as companies dependent on government orders) Sarkozy has it all in hand – it was said five years ago. He can manipulate the public like no one before him. And five years later most of the media have distanced themselves from him to make sure not to risk their credibility with the support of a potential “loser” who the French no longer want.

That is how democracy and the public work: no one can confiscate it. There is a “collective wisdom” here, and not just in the social media. In the end, the honeymoon of Sarkozy and the media has hardly lasted longer than his honeymoon with Carla Bruni, which was widely staged in the media as a revenge on his ex-wife, Cecilia. Since the French apparently want a divorce from Sarkozy the only question remaining is when Carla Bruni resolves upon one, too. In any case, the spectacle is over for now.

Bild: Vente. / Photocase