In the first round of voting for the French presidency, fringe candidates are expected to win an inflated share of the votes. Meanwhile, the campaigns of the two real contenders -- Sarkozy and Hollande -- are doing little more than limping along. Unfortunately, absurdist theater doesn't make for good politics.
François Hollande's victory over Nicolas Sarkozy in this weekend's presidential election seems so certain that the French press has already moved on to speculating about the legislative elections that will take place in June. In those, fringe candidates will win some victories, setting the tone for French and European politics.
Gloomy economic forecasts abound in Paris. (DomiKetu / flickr)
Divining the result of French elections is a notoriously hazardous affair. No one in France forgets 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing National Front candidate, pulled off a surprise upset in the first round, knocking Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of the running and securing a place in the runoff election against Jacques Chirac.
A decade later, there are no fewer than ten candidates on the ballot for the first round of voting on April 22. Polls indicate that Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president, and François Hollande, the Socialist Party challenger, are in a virtual tie at 28 and 27 percent of the vote, respectively. They alone will likely go on to the runoff election on May 6. Even so, voters will still signal strong support for a trio of second-tier candidates who have positioned themselves as more or less radical alternatives to the status quo. According to a new poll by Ifop-Fiducial, a major French polling outfit, 16 percent of voters say they will vote for Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in the first round, 11.5 percent for François Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement party, and 13.5 percent for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, whose support until recently hovered in the low single digits.
These numbers reflect the unhappiness of the vast majority of French voters. France is reeling from Europe's widespread economic woes. In January, Standard and Poor's stripped the country of its AAA credit rating. France's national bureau of statistics projects no economic growth for the next 18 months. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects unemployment, already at a 12-year high of 9.3 percent, to reach 10.7 percent by the end of the year. France's economic floundering has many citizens worried that their children will not have the same opportunities or the same high-quality social benefits as they did during the Trente Glorieuses, the three decades of postwar prosperity that provided the French with a comfortable standard of living and a strong social safety net.