Socialist Francois Hollande has won the most votes in the first round of France’s presidential election, according to early estimates. Hollande won 28 percent of the vote, placing ahead of the 26 percent won by center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Far right leader Marine Le Pen was third, winning a shocking 20 percent of the vote and thereby besting the 17 percent her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won in 2002, a percentage which led him to a second-round runoff.
Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has the support of the Communist Party, came in fourth with 12 percent. Centrist Francois Bayrou received 9 percent. There were nine candidates in all in Sunday’s election and turnout was 80 percent of 44.5 million, a decline from 1974, when 84 percent voted in the presidential election.
The runoff election will be held on May 6. Early polls for the second round gave Hollande 58 percent and Sarkozy 42 percent: Should Hollande win, he will be France’s first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who was twice elected to seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995. Sarkozy, who has been president since 2007, would then become the first incumbent president not to win the second round since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981.
Hollande and Sarkozy have been sharply in dispute over economic issues. With unemployment at a 12-year-high in France, Hollande has called for higher taxes on the wealthy, including a 75 percent top tax rate on those whose income is more than 1 million euros ($1.32 million). He also wants to raise the minimum wage, hire 60,000 more teachers and lower the retirement age for some professions from 62 to 60 years. His critics have pointed out that Hollande represents the rural Corrèze, the most debt-ridden of France’s provinces. According to the Guardian, Corrèze was some 363 million euros (about $480 million) in debt in 2011 and needed an “exceptional” infusion of 11 million euros (about $14.5 million) from the French government.
The surprising results for Le Pen, leader of the far right, anti-immigration National Front party founded by her father, suggests the extent of disillusionment with the main parties. As the Guardian observes, her platform of “patriotism, protectionism, state regulation and the re-industrialization of France” won her broad support in the country’s northern industrial regions, where many blue collar workers are unemployed. Le Pen also stated that she would pull France out of the euro zone and reduce legal immigration to only 10,000 people a year. A poll taken before the election said that 48 percent of her supporters would vote for Sarkozy and 24 percent for Hollande.
Sarkozy has been forced to shift his positions towards the right to combat Le Pen; he has said he will impose tighter restrictions on immigration and more protection for French industries. He has also “mocked” Hollande for his promises of generous stimulus funds.
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