The French Presidential election taking place amidst the turmoil and deprivation unleashed by the crash and failed austerity approach of the European leadership is turning into a very interesting contest. It would seem with only a week to go before the first round that Nicholas Sarkozy, the UMP candidate is likely to be beaten in the second round May 6th by the French socialist party candidate , François Hollande by a margin of about 54 to 46 %, if one is to believe the most recent polls.
But the results of round one promise to be very interesting as the surging strength of the likely third place finisher Jean -Luc Mélenchon who represents a union of left parties including the former communist party and several small far left parties has created a major stir in the campaign. Mélenchon with united support of the radical left and those left of the centre left Socialist party is scoring as high as 17% in some polls. This would be an astonishing recovery for these parties from their abysmal showing in the 2007 election. To their credit they have run a spirited anti-austerity campaign with mass rallies that have attracted as many as 100,000 people to a rally in Marseilles. M.Melenchon who is a former socialist party minister has rejected the policies of austerity and is advocating a heavy tax on those who earn more than 300,000 euros a year as well as an emphasis on major public spending to stimulate the economy. If as expected he shows well in the first round his policy stances may stiffen the resolve of the socialist party and candidate François Hollande to proceed with an anti- austerity program.
Up to now he has largely spoken only in general terms about this and at the same time has complained about the debt load that he argues Nicholas Sarkozy has imposed on France, thereby sending mixed messages about his intentions once in power.
Nicholas Sarkozy who is at 27 % in the polls for his part continues to distance himself from the austerity emphasis of Chancellor Merkel and is calling for the European Central Bank to forget its obsession with inflation and instead concentrate on promoting economic growth. Despite this sensible stance he remains unpopular among a wide swath of the French electorate and his progressive edge on monetary policy is weakened by his record of cuts to pensions and his apparent tilting in favour of anti-immigrant sentiment. For her part, Marine LePen of the FN continues to attract anti-immigrant far right support including unfortunately according to polls 25 % of those voters 18 to 24 roughly the same percentage of that vote held by Hollande who is at around 28-30 % in the overall polls. The polls suggest she will win about 15-16 % of the vote in the first round.
Other candidates include the Greens, led by Eva Joly at 3% in the polls, a progressive centrist independent François Bayrou and good speaker who is unfortunately a fiscal conservative but placing employment issues at the centre of his campaign who polls between 9 and 11% and one centre right Guaullist candidate Nicolas Dupont -Aignan who is a charismatic speaker and opposes ”euro domination” at 1 %and three other far left candidates who poll very small percentages.