The World From Berlin: Le Penâs Result âIs a Blemish on French Democracyâ
Socialist challenger FranĂ§ois Hollande may have got the biggest share of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election, but the real winner seems to be right-wing populist Marine Le Pen. German commentators argue that incumbentÂ Nicolas Sarkozy only has himself to blame for his poor showing.
The results of Sundayâs first round of the French presidential election had barely been announced when attention already began shifting to the runoff on May 6. Current President Nicolas Sarkozyâs chances of victory seem slimmer than ever, especially after the psychological blow of becoming the first incumbent president to lose in the first round since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
But Sarkozy isnât throwing in the towel yet, and the campaign over the next two weeks is expected to be a tough one. Observers were quick to point out that both Socialist Party candidate FranĂ§ois Hollande, who won the first round with 28.6 percent of the vote, and Sarkozy, who received 27.2 percent, will make efforts to woo supporters of the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen. She shocked France by getting almost 18 percent of the vote, the best-ever result for her National Front.
European politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President JosĂ© Manuel Barroso, also reacted to the National Frontâs good showing with concern. A spokesman for Merkel described the National Frontâs result as âalarmingâ but said that it would be âmore or less cancelled outâ in the second round. Barroso warned that the crisis in Europe had provided âpolitical ground for populism to develop.â
Sarkozy in particular is expected to try hard to win over Le Penâs supporters. âIâve heard you. Iâll draw all the consequences,â he said on Monday, addressing Le Penâs around 6.5 million voters. Observers expect Sarkozyâs campaign in the remaining two weeks to shift even further to the right. Already ahead of the first round, the incumbent had made clear overtures to the far-right camp with rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims.
Le Pen, for her part, is not expected to endorse either candidate in the runoff. She may even be hoping for a Hollande victory, which could cause Sarkozyâs conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) â which has only been held together by the desire to show unity during the election campaign â to split into separate factions.