France elects a new president on April 22, with a runoff possible on May 6. As this date approaches, it would appear that incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy, of the right wing UMP or Union for a New Movement party, is going to have trouble holding on to power.
But Francois Holland, the candidate of the second-place Socialist Party, may not be the beneficiary of Sarkozy's decline in the polls as numbers are up for both both left and far right candidates: Jean Luc Melenchon, candidate of the left-wing Left Front which combines the French Communist Party, the Left, the Unitarian Left and others: and Marine le Pen, candidate of the far right and anti-immigrant National Front.
This is the lineup depicted by a voter preference poll conducted on by pollsters LH2 and Yahoo on Jan 14. The results show Sarkozy with 23.5 percent support and dropping, Hollande with 30 percent (also slightly down), and Francois Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement with 14 percent. Le Pen's score has jumped to 17 percent, while leftist Melenchon's figures have also increased, to 8.5 percent.
This bad news for Sarkozy came on top of an announcement by Standard and Poor's that they are lowering their rating of France's sovereign bonds from AAA to AA+, evidently because of the country's large budget deficit. Yet Sarkozy had justified his policies such as cutting the social welfare budget and increasing the retirement age on the basis of the urgent need to retain the AAA rating.
Hollande was tapped as the standard bearer of the Socialist Party last year when their favorite standard bearer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had to drop out after being arrested in New York for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel employee. Even though Hollande's overall support has not been advancing, it seems that he would win a one-on-one runoff election against Sarkozy.
Jen Luc Melenchon was active in the Socialist Party for years until recently resigning to form his own party out of dissatisfaction with what he considers the socialists' right-wing tendencies. He is an admirer of the left-wing group of Latin American leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
The French Communist Party (Parti Comuniste Francais) consists of the largest group in Melenchon's electoral "Left Front". There was some controversy about the choice of Melenchon to be the left's candidate as he formerly was a supporter of the European Union, but he has changed that position.
In response to the Standard and Poor's announcement, Melenchon denounced the rating agency but reiterated calls to make the banks pay to preserve the French people's social gains.
Praising Melenchon as the only one of the candidates who is calling for a clean break from big business dictated austerity and privatization policies, the French Communist Party called for mass demonstrations, a "social summit in the street" on January 17, 18 and 19 to demand:
- A moratorium on austerity measures.
- A reindustrialization policy with union wages and benefits.
- An end to the overweening power of banks and the stock exchange.
- Tax the corporations and the rich.
- Rebuild public services.
Marine Le Pen is the daughter of long time ultra rightist politician and anti-immigrant agitator Jean Marie Le Pen, founder of the party for whom she is the candidate. She shares his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant populist/nationalist philosophy. As in other Western European countries undergoing financial turmoil, some people who experience increasing economic and social insecurity are evidently taken in by this scapegoating game.