Well, I called it. That is, I called my inability to call anything. With a record turnout (40-odd million, or roughly 75 percent) France chose right-leaning candidate Nicholas Sarkozy (31.1 percent) and Socialist Segolene Royal (25.8)to be their candidates for president.
It was ultra-nationalist Le Pen that tanked, coming in with ten percent while centrist François Bayrou came in with 18.5 percent. None of the other fringe candidates even managed the five percent they require to be reimbursed for their expenses.
In Alsace Sego’s near local-girl credentials got her nowhere: she pulled in 17 percent to Sarkozy’s 36 percent here. Both Bayrou and LePen also did better here than in France overall, with 21 and 13 percent, respectively.
Both the Dernier Nouvelles d’Alsace (DNA) and Le Monde attributed these results to the Le Pen effect: No one wanted a “humiliating” repeat of the 2002 election, where he made it into the second round and voters were confronted with a choice between the right-leaning and ineffectual Chirac and the ultra-right Le Pen.
The right-leaning DNA put a positive spin on it: under an editorial titled “Au revoir le XXieme siecle!” (Goodbye, twentieth century!” they hailed the development as historic for France. The Socialists, they wrote, have never been weaker, Le Pen repudiated and the centrist Bayrou who claimed to beyond the old left-right divide (and who has, as yet, endorsed no one) “though eliminated, will be at the heart” of the second round of campaigning.
His endorsement will be key: one can presume Le Pen boosters, will go to Sarkozy, even as the latter tacks more to the centre in the second round. Segolene has picked up the endorsement of all the leftist candidates, though their combined tally of ten percent of the vote isn’t enough on its own. It’s a measure of how disliked Sarkozy is, as a person, that no party to the right of him (including Le Pen) has endorsed him.
As usual when elections approach, I am in the “a pox on both their houses” category. In addition to a general fuzziness on policy, several foreign policy mis-steps (including endorsing Quebec separatism, not that it did the PQ any good) Royal has called for mandatory singing of le Marseillaises for immigrants and giving a French tricolour to every household. What is this, 1848? Sarkozy, for his part, has chased after LePen’s cadre of troglodytes with unseemly enthusiasm, saying things to immigrants along the lines of “If you don’t like it here, you can just leave.”
Unbowed, I will post another prediction here as we get closer to May 6, the second polling day. I fully expect said prediction to be wrong. However, you’re welcome to throw brickbats my way, or post speculation of your own here.