Sunday, April 29, 2007

Halfway to the Final Round

Today we're exactly one week after the first round of the French presidential elections and one week before the final runoff which will oppose the left-wing Ségolène Royal (PS) to the right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP).

A few important things happened this week. First, in the immediate aftermath of the first round, all the left wing candidates, who gathered together a rough 11% of the votes declared immediately their support for Mrs. Royal based on "anything but Sarkozy" while blaming the "useful vote" of the French electors for their low scores. On the other side of the political spectrum things are a lot less clear. Philippe de Villiers (MPF) with his 2.5% declared his support for Nicolas Sarkozy during this week, but Jean-Marie Le Pen, after losing 10% of the votes in favour of Mr. Sarkozy compared to 2002, hasn't made any statement yet. He will be expressing himself on the 1st of May and I'm not 100% sure that he will instruct his supporters (10% of the total number) to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy in the runoff.

But the star of the week was by far the centrist candidate, François Bayrou (UDF) with his precious 18% of the votes over which the two finalists are fighting using different tactics. Mrs. Royal challenged Mr. Bayrou to a public televised debate which finally took place yesterday on BFM TV after Canal+, the TV channel which was initially supposed to host the debate, backed out. It was an absolute premiere in the history of the French Fifth Republic. It was a relaxed discussion during which both the differences and the similarities between their two programs were pointed out. But Mrs. Royal made a faux-pas as JDCh put it, saying that "the ensurers make money off the poor", which reveals the traditional left-wing character of the Socialist candidate, opposed to the image of a reforming left-wing leader she tried to create at the beginning of the campaign. Mr. Sarkozy on the other had made no proposal for a debate with Mr. Bayrou, but instead reacted at Mrs. Royal proposal by saying that there is only one debate between the two rounds, the one between him and the Socialist candidate. Because of this he was accused of making pressures to impeach the debate by making pressures on Canal+. Mr. Sarkozy's strategy for winning Mr. Bayrou's votes is not oriented towards the leader of the party but towards his voters by rallying more and more UDF party members to his campaign. For the moment it seems that Mrs. Royal's strategy paid off better than Mr. Sarkozy's one, the Socialist candidate winning 35% of Mr. Bayrou's votes against 29% for the UMP candidate according to a recent poll. In the meantime it might be too late, since approximately 80% of the French voters are already decided for whom to vote in the next weekend's runoff.

But François Bayrou's major hit of the week was the speech he gave on Wednesday 25th during which he did two major things. First he bashed both Mrs. Royal and Mr. Sarkozy without giving his electors any indication of how to vote in the runoff. Afterwards he announced the creation of a new Democratic Party (and hence the death of his centrist UDF). It is absolutely clear that Mr. Bayrou already started the campaign for the parliamentary elections in June where he intends to play am important role, boosted by his high score in the first round of the presidential elections. But there is also a sign that Mr. Bayrou is already looking forward to the 2012 presidential elections which he intends to win with his new political party. It will not be a just simple rebranding of the centrist UDF, but the creation of a Social Democrat Party, or at least this is what it looks like, where he might gather members of the present Socialist Party like Bernard Kouchner, Michel Rocard or Dominique Strauss-Khan, politicians who are not satisfied with the radicalization of Mrs. Royal's position (it's the exact reflex I had after Mr. Bayrou's speech and others are thinking the same). In this perspective it is crystal clear why Mr. Bayrou accepted the televised debate with Mrs. Royal. For the runoff she might gain more of his votes than Mr. Sarkozy, but on the long run Mr. Bayrou's new party might win an important part of the Socialist electorate. And this will have the immense benefit of making a clear cut between the more radical left-wing and the Social Democrat one by separating them into distinct political entities. A very good perspective for the French politics.

To quote again JDCh, good job Mister Blayrou ! :)