French Elections 2012: Marine Le Pen Will Decide If Sarkozy Wins

If ever a song were to define France’s very soul, it would have to be Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No Regrets), encapsulating the country’s carefree and often quasi-libertine ways. It is, however, safe to say Nicolas Sarkozy was not humming the tune or mouthing the words to it on Monday morning. There must be no end to his regrets.

Indeed, Sarkozy’s re-election campaign is in deep trouble following the first round voting of last night. In the poll, he came second to Francois Hollande’s 28.6% of the vote, with 27.1%. That does not look like much of a difference, but it is. This result has deprived Sarkozy of a critical momentum needed to steer his campaign into the second round; it has taken the wind out of his sails.

Admittedly, it is still possible for “Super Sarko” to stage a historic comeback but the odds are heavily stacked against him. No incumbent president in a French election has ever come second in this first round of voting. Arguably, he is faced with an impossible task, as many opinion polls put him behind Hollande, and no candidate in a French presidential election has ever come from this far behind and at such a late stage, to clinch victory.

Other candidates also polled well in Sunday’s election. Marine Le Pen (Far Right – National Front) won close to 20% of the vote, whereas Jean-Luc Melenchon squeaked into fourth place with 12%. Between them, the two minority candidates now have the opportunity to influence final voting proceedings. They hold the metaphorical key to the very real Elysee Palace. Already Melenchon is urging his numerous followers to vote out Sarkozy; but Marine Le Pen is more pragmatic. If Sarkozy were willing to work with her and conceded on certain key issues pertaining to immigration and national identity matters, then he may still have hope. However, to win re-election on the back of the far right would be somewhat unsavory.

Sarkozy now stands on the edge of electoral wipeout. So far in the course of the campaign he has expressed a deep remorse for his early mistakes as president. His love of the high life; a celebrity style divorce and marriage and his supposed taste for expensive status symbols such as Rolex watches, have not endeared him to voters. Nor has the popular image as a brash, uncultivated and highly materialistic character been an asset; he is frequently referred to as “President Bling Bling.”

In 2007 he was deemed a breath of fresh air, elected to make tough reforms and choices on the back of a large popular mandate. His reforms petered out and his leadership style was often critiqued as being too inflexible, too controlling, too “Anglo-Saxon.” To many French people he was not “their” president but ‘the’ president, a figure removed from their daily lives and a source of much mockery or frequent opprobrium.

There are still two weeks left of this race – if you can call it that. Sarkozy will undoubtedly keep fighting to the last, but chances are that his boat is already sinking. The most likely scenario is that Francois Hollande will triumph as the first socialist in 31 years to become president of France; faced with an array of problems.

So, on this Monday morning I very much doubt Nicolas Sarkozy is in a good mood. He’s probably wondering how something that started off so well, ended up going so wrong.