Published Apr 26, 2012 9:04 PMVoters in the first round of France’s presidential election on April 22 reflected the impact of the capitalist economic crisis on the population. A high vote for the fascist National Front (FN) party raised a danger flag for the European working class. This was partly countered by the Left Front’s mass actions during the election campaign.
France’s incumbent center-right president Nikolas Sarkozy got 27 percent of the vote, two percentage points behind François Hollande, the candidate of the so-called Socialist Party, whose program is not much different from that of the U.S.’s Democratic Party. This is the first time an incumbent president has trailed a rival in the first round since the founding of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958.
While polls had indicated that a large number of voters intended to abstain, a record number actually voted.
Sarkozy and Hollande will run in a second round on May 6. The winner of that contest will become president, which is the most powerful post in the French government.
Ten parties ran in the first round. Marine Le Pen, candidate of France’s fascist FN, got 18 percent. The Left Front, whose candidate was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got around 11 percent. A centrist party got around 9 percent, and all the other parties, including two other small leftist parties, got 2 percent or less.
The highest-ever FN vote has led to calls from Sarkozy’s party, the Union for a Popular Movement, to campaign by appealing to the fascists. That would mean emphasizing his already-racist approach to foreigners, especially to Muslims and Africans.
The French Communist Party (PCF) did not run independently. It had a very close alliance with the Left Front, helping to coordinate its campaign.
Two major issues raised
In March a French citizen, born in France to Algerian immigrants, named Mohammed Merah, apparently killed three French paratroopers and in a later assault killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school.
While Sarkozy and Hollande stopped campaigning until after the funerals and condemned the killings unequivocally, both the PCF and the Left Front, while condemning these criminal acts, tried to put them in the context of the racist oppression of North African Muslims and expressed sympathy with the distress of Merah’s father.
Sarkozy tried to use the incident against Hollande and Mélenchon. A number of commentators on French blogs thought this incident cost Mélenchon votes.
The other issue that surfaced in the election was the economy. Sarkozy has pushed for a policy of austerity that he developed in conjunction with the German government. Hollande promoted higher taxes and for more economic expansion.
Sarkozy ran in 2007 on a platform of transforming the French economy to make it more like the U.S. economy. The level of productivity — the output per hour — is about the same in both countries. But in France, although Sarkozy’s government has chipped away at the benefits the French working class had won through hard struggles, workers still have guaranteed vacations, free day care and higher education, universal health care and a shorter work week. In the United States, the productivity gains of U.S. workers increased the profits of the 1%.
The Left Front ran on a platform of the fundamental reorganization of the French state and economy, withdrawing French troops from Afghanistan and France from the euro zone and NATO, and building a more just and humane society. The Left Front wants to defeat Sarkozy without making any deal with Hollande. More significant than its vote, however, was the Left Front’s ability to mobilize mass anti-capitalist and anti-racist demonstrations, the largest being 100,000 in Paris on March 18.