PARIS - With the results of Sunday's first round of presidential voting, the French electorate has called for change.
Three main points confirm this fact. First, voters rejected Nicolas Sarkozy, who finished with 27.18% of the ballots, behind his main rival, François Hollande (28.63%), in the initial round of balloting. Secondly, they handed third place to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (17.9%), a choice that will destabilize the right and its ability to bring in centrist voters. And finally, they have given Hollande a very real opportunity to become the next president of France.
Of course, if Le Pens tally had been lower, Hollande could be more confident about victory on May 6, when he will face off against Sarkozy.
As a standing president, Sarkozy ended up with historically poor first-round results, but his showing was still credible within the context of the serious economic crisis. Still, it's impossible not to notice that the center-right candidate lost his ability to attract support outside of his own party. The French seem tired of his promises and missteps, irritated by a president who constantly fires off new proposals, lacks coherence and loses credibility with each new day.
In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was a man of promise, of hope, of disruption. In 2012, the voters see a president without a project for governing.
And then there is François Hollande, who has run a campaign with hardly a false step. It allowed him to take and keep an early lead from his impatient and agitated rival. No, Hollande does not arouse fervor and passion, but he reassures a France that feels abused by the powers-that-be.
He also knows that he can rely upon the supporters of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished the first round in fourth place. Alhough the Front de Gauche candidate did not explicitly cite François Hollande by name during remarks he made Sunday evening, Mélenchon's endorsement of the Socialist Party candidate seems sincere and will probably guarantee most of his supporters' votes.
All eyes on Le Pen
It is all the more important because Mélenchon fears Marine Le Pens popularity. The latters result is the real surprise of Sunday's vote. The rightest National Front leader is the key to the second round in two weeks. She wont spare Nicolas Sarkozy. On the contrary, she introduced herself as the leader of the opposition on Sunday, in the face of a Socialist Party on its way to victory.
Nicolas Sarkozy had succeeded in weakening the far right thanks to his tough speech on immigration and security. But he is now an easy prey for Marine Le Pen. The traditional right is weakened and Marine Le Pen will do anything to step into the vacuum and become the anti-left heroine.
To sum up, François Hollande is in a strong position to become the next president of a France whose divisions are too deep to make clear choices. The country is going through a deep economic and moral crisis. The first round of the 2012 election is a bad omen for Frances future. The country that desperately needs reforms could grow increasingly unstable and unpredictable.
Read the original article in French