Franceâs Presidential Election: The Anti-Sarkozy Vote
FAR from the giant rallies and big-screen showmanship of the final days of a presidential campaign, the sleepy town of Donzy in Burgundy feels untouched by politics. The talk in the bars is of the local fĂȘte and fishing. Only one campaign poster, for a fringe anti-capitalist, has been pasted to the municipal noticeboard. Yet this bellwether town is a pointer to how the French will vote in the election on April 22nd and May 6th: at every poll since 1981, it has gone for the winner.
In 1981 Donzy backed FranĂ§ois Mitterrand, a Socialist. In 2007 it swung behind Nicolas Sarkozy, on the Gaullist right. This time the little town, encircled by wheat fields and home to factories making plastic straws and umbrellas, looks likely to back FranĂ§ois Hollande, the Socialist. âMy bet is that Donzy will vote Hollande,â says Jean-Paul Jacob, the (independent) centre-right mayor. This is not out of enthusiasm for the man, as âpeople find him cold, thereâs no fervour about him.â Rather, the mayor thinks, it reflects disappointment with Mr Sarkozy. âHis personalityâ, he says wryly, âdoesnât leave people indifferent.â
Other locals concur. CĂ©cile Rebeillard, a retired statistician, reckons the mood is âmore a rejection of Sarkozyâ than zeal for Mr Hollande. âI think Sarkozy will be beaten,â agrees Thierry Flandin, a farmer and (independent) councillor for Donzy and nearby communes. âNot because of his policies, but his attitude. People here were shocked by his behaviour, his vulgarity, all the mistakes early on in his term. Itâs a rejection of the man.â
This yearâs presidential election is set to be historic in more ways than one. If Mr Hollande wins, as the polls suggest, he will become only the second Socialist president in the Fifth Republicâand the party will have its first presidential victory in 24 years. If, against the odds, Mr Sarkozy pulls off a last-minute victory, it would be a miraculous feat for a candidate who has throughout campaigned from behind. But if the polls are right, and he loses, Mr Sarkozy will go down as only the second presidentâafter ValĂ©ry Giscard dâEstaingâof the Fifth Republic to fail to win re-election.
It is perhaps natural that the French should want change. The Gaullists, under Mr Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, have held the presidency since 1995. Right across Europe in the euro-zone crisis, incumbents have been unseated by disgruntled voters. The French are fearful and restless and want something different. But the prospect of Mr Sarkozyâs defeat is still a remarkable one, in many ways. Unlike Mr Giscard dâEstaing, who had to run against Mr Chirac as well as facing Mitterrand, he has no centre-right rival. And he can reasonably claim to be the sort of authoritative leader to whom voters might turn in a crisis. Indeed, polls suggest the French rate Mr Sarkozy more highly than Mr Hollande for most traits to do with leadership. He scores better for having âthe authority of a head of stateâ (54%, next to 23% for Mr Hollande), for being âcapable of taking difficult decisionsâ (49 to 23%) and for being âcapable of taking the right decisions faced with the current economic and financial crisisâ (41 to 27%).