French Elections: Hollande Wins First Round, But Far-Right Le Pen Scores ‘Unprecedented’ Showing

By : Subscribe to Palash's | April 23, 2012 6:15 PM IST

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After placing second in the first round of France’s presidential election, the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy will likely seek to siphon off votes from the extreme right wing, whose candidate, Marine Len Pen, scored an impressive vote tally herself, placing third.

This was the first time in French history that a sitting president failed to win the first round of voting.

Socialist challenger Francois Hollande won the first round of the poll with 28.6 percent of the vote, Sarkozy placed second at 27.1 percent, while Le Pen gained 18 percent, or about 6.3 million voters – the biggest showing ever for her extreme right National Front Party.

The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was endorsed by the Communist Party, came in fourth with 11.1 percent of the vote.

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Pre-election polls predicted a victory for Hollande, although Le Pen’s vibrant performance came as somewhat of a surprise. BBC reported that she gained a lot of support from the working-class and young voters – two segments of the electorate that Sarkozy will need desperately to topple Hollande. Indeed, polls taken on Sunday indicate that up to 60 percent of Le Pen’s supporters may switch to Sarkozy in the second round.

After the results came in, Melenchon asked his supporters to throw their weight behind Hollande in the second round.

Hollande is predicted to win the second round of voting, which will take place on May 6. In that event, he would become the first Socialist president of France since Francois Mitterrand’s second term ended in 1995.

"The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying president," the triumphant Hollande told supporters.

France's CAC-40 stock index is down more then 2 percent in Monday trading.

With conservatives running Britain and Germany, a Socialist-ruled France may hamper efforts by the euro zone to tackle the debt crisis. Hollande has called for raising taxes on the rich and for the removal or easing of austerity measures and to focus more on economic growth, while Sarkozy champions strict spending cuts to bring down the deficit.

The fragile French economy, which has an unemployment rate of 12 percent, was clearly the dominant issue among voters; although Le Pen’s impressive finish suggests immigration was also a key concern.

"I have heard you," Sarkozy told his supporters, but clearly referring to Le Pen’s voters as well. "There was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another -- an answer must be given to this crisis vote.”

French media mused at how Le Pen’s strong showing will impact the second round.

The Le Parisien newspaper called Le Pen’s results “unprecedented” and suggested that other European nations expect Sarkozy to lose the election ultimately.

Le Figaro reported that, generally speaking, younger voters favored Hollande, females supported Sarkozy, while the working class and rural voters moved to Le Pen.

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