France Presidential Race: All About Emotions
Like Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy swept to power on a wave of hope for change. Sarkozy’s wave crashed on the global financial crisis and his own failings. On Sunday, the French leader faces a tough fight against nine challengers in presidential elections awash in fear and anger.
This has been a race of negative emotion and nostalgia for a more protected past: One of the world’s top tourist destinations and biggest economies, France is feeling down about its debts, its immigrants, its stagnant paychecks, and above all its future.
To voters, the conservative Sarkozy gets much of the blame. While he’s likely to make it past Sunday’s first-round voting and into the decisive second round May 6, polls show his support waning.
They predict another man will trounce Sarkozy in the runoff and take over the Elysee Palace: Socialist Francois Hollande.
Under a quirk of French electoral rules, balloting got under way Saturday in France’s embassies and overseas holdings, starting in tiny Saint Pierre and Miquelon — islands south of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Campaigning and the release of poll data have been suspended until the first-round results come in Sunday evening.
Surprises may await, like a surge by the anti-immigrant far right or utopian far left. How votes for the other myriad candidates shake out Sunday will weigh heavily on the remainder of the campaign, on the makeup of the future government and on parliamentary elections in June.
And that will weigh on the fate of France — and a struggling Europe in which it plays a central role.