Wed Apr 18th, 2012 at 03:16:49 AM EST
Not that there was ever much doubt. Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in 2007 thanks to posturing as the xenophobic hard man of the moment, siphoning part of the Front National's electorate and winning with the support of the over-65s. He promised to clean up the cités (sink estates, housing projects) with a pressure hose. His administration and its mouthpieces proceeded to continue with the talk and the gesticulation, stigmatising youth, immigrants, and Muslims, which alienated part of centrist opinion while being insufficient to guarantee the loyalty of the extreme right. French contributors to ET have said this again and again: every time Sarko pandered to that electorate, he was working for the Front National.
Now it's payback time. He is forced to run to the right to have any chance of winning, and so has raised the xenophobia and anti-Muslim bidding (halal, Schengen, etc), the effect of which keeps him out of the centre where a good proportion of voters are not scared of Hollande. He has never been more frantic in his jumping from one lead to another (from the far right to ludicrous attempts to curry favour in the centre by letting it be known he would consider François Bayrou as Prime Minister, to the silly talk slapped down by Germany about how growth should be part of the ECB's remit) and in dramatising the stakes: the end of the world as we know it if Hollande wins; channeling John-Paul II with the repeated injunction "Do not be afraid" at the mass rally on Sunday... Twitching, gesticulating, in a genuine danse macabre... Because he's going to lose.
UPDATE 18 April : the latest poll (CSA) gives Hollande 29% Sarkozy 24% in Round One, 58-42 in Round Two.
From six months out, when polling on the second round indicated Hollande 60%, Sarkozy 40%, it was obvious he needed a huge drive to make up the lost ground. For a time, after the Toulouse shootings, the polls gave him a slight lead over Hollande in Round One. The curves have now crossed again, see the latest week's polling here
(even Ifop! which has consistently polled more to the right than the other pollsters). As for the second round, the lowest the gap became for a short time was 6 points in Hollande's favour, and it is now trending wider again, at 10 or 11 points, well beyond the error margin.
It is pointed out that low turnout (possibly <70%) favours Sarko because the older people always vote. But the polls are based on those who say they are sure to vote, and a big swing from that is unlikely. So Sarkozy's chances now repose on a massive fail by all the polling institutes, or a deus ex machina of the Strauss-Kahn variety (unlikely with Hollande) or the Mohamed Merah variety (who knows?). In other words, his chances are excessively slim - he just doesn't have time to win back all that ground.
What one can hope for is that the trend continues and that Sarkozy, the political gambits he has played, and the monolithic rightwing party he created, suffer a debilitating defeat. One can also reasonably hope that François Hollande will be a better president of France than Sarkozy has been. This is a reasonable expectation on the institutional score, where Sarkozy has accelerated the drift towards centralised personal power, and where Hollande is likely to pull in the contrary direction. In which case, the choice of Prime Minister under Hollande will be of greater importance than under Sarkozy. The oracles tend to predict Martine Aubry for PM, especially in the case of a clear victory of the left ie Hollande wins by a comfortable margin and Mélenchon gets a good score. Less interventionism from the Elysée, an energetic Prime Minister more to the left than the president, pressure from an organised left - this is not a desperately bad perspective.
As to what will happen with regard to Europe, the euro, the Physcal Compacte of Leechynge and Blood-Lettynge, to what extent Hollande will fight for renegotiation is uncertain. The threat he can use is refusal or delay on ratification, but on the austerity side they can point a big finger of blame for precipitating the end of the euro and of Europe. A new president is likely to fight shy of this psychodrama (though if I'm wrong and he fights, he'll show the kind of statesmanship we need). But the situation is not static. Rule-based austerity can't and won't work. The government bonds crisis is with us again (because of the impossible deficit-reduction demands placed on Spain). Facts on the ground will stimulate more criticism (that the media will be less and less able to ignore). It will doubtless not be indifferent that the government of France should have a different attitude to that of Merkel's outgoing poodle.
The other dynamic aspect is the political situation in France. For reasons of new constituency layout, (see article in Le Monde), the PS is unlikely to get a majority in the legislative elections to follow the presidential, but will need to compose with smaller groups on the left, including EELV but also the sovereignists of MRC (Chevènement) and perhaps the Front de Gauche. Given that not all Socialists are centrists either, the potential is there for pressure on the government, relayed by protests, union action, and general civil society movements.
In that context, it's hard to see how TINA can hold out as a narrative. The media will have to shift to the blame game, but at least it'll be more of an open fight.
At least, that's my optimistic take. There are, of course, less optimistic ones. I'll leave them to the less optimistic among us.