It is that time again, when, on April 22nd, and again on May 6th, 2012, French citizens will rush to deserted schools and sport halls to hide in what looks like a changing room and slip a small envelope in a box.
In the envelope, a paper, with a name on it. The name of the person they have decided would or should be our next president. For a large part of the near 45 million electors, it might just be the name of the person they deem less potentially dangerous as a head of the Republic.
In France, the presidential elections have two rounds. If a candidate receives the absolute majority (50% + 1 vote) in the first round, he is elected. Because the election is a direct suffrage, no candidate has ever been elected after the first round. The number of candidates plays a part in the scores that each candidate can obtain proportionally, and it is so important to take this into account, because even the most popular candidate can be eliminated as it was the case for Edouard Balladur in 1995 to the benefit of the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin.
This time around, voters have been presented 10 candidates:
– Eva Joly (left, ecology)
– Marine Le Pen (extreme right, FN)
– Nicolas Sarkozy (right, UMP)
– Jean-Luc Melenchon (joined left)
– Philippe Poutou (extreme left, anticapitalist)
– Nathalie Arthaud (extreme left, working class)
– Jacques Cheminade (left, resistance to finance fascism)
– François Bayrou (center, democrat)
– Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (right, Gaullist)
– François Hollande (left, socialist)
As you can see with the color coding, there are more left party representatives than right-wing candidates. This means that the left-wing voters will see their votes explode between the candidates. As a result, unless there is a really highly popular left-wing candidate (which François Hollande might be), the second round will probably take place between 2 right-wing candidates.
The actual president Nicolas Sarkozy, despite the 53% of votes he collected in 2007, is not popular. His penchant for the European economical balance and his actions towards the protection of national security have created a conflicting atmosphere. At this point, his party tries to collect voters from Le Pen’s growing extreme right, by showing a firm hand on immigration and delinquency. The recent dramatic terrorist actions in the south of France is helping him in doing so.
On the other hand, and more importantly, the right-wing parties find weak opponents against them. The left-wing parties are many and diverse, splitting up the strength of their voters. Left wing politicians are well-known to ponder, think and reflect, apologize for their mistakes, while the right take action.
The main challenge for the candidates however, is to bring voters to exercise their right. In 2002, 28.40% of abstention crippled the election and in 2007, 16.23% of the potential voters did not show up. Prognostics evaluate the abstention to 30% this April.