French President Nicolas Sarkozy has come out fighting in his attempt to secure a second term. Although beaten into second place after the first round of voting, he issued a strong declaration to his supporters that 'the fight begins now'. He will need to galvanise his support as there had been fears amongst his party that he would be knocked out in the first round.
His share of the vote (27.1%) was only marginally behind that of the winner, the Socialist party candidate, François Hollande who polled at 28.6%. Speaking to his supporters after the results had been announced, he said, 'The French have expressed a crisis vote, one that testifies to their worries, their suffering and their anxiety faced with this new world which is taking shape. I understand these anxieties, this suffering. It concerns the respect of our borders, the battle against companies relocating abroad, it's about controlling immigration, valuing jobs, protecting families. I know that in a fast moving world, our compatriots are worried about preserving their way of life and that is the central question of this election.'
Sarkozy then challenged Hollande to three debates but the frontrunner is only interested in one, saying it would last 'as long as it takes.' Hollande will benefit from the 11% of the votes cast for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the representative for the Left Front Party who has now been eliminated. Mélenchon has asked his supporters to back Hollande saying, 'I call on you to meet again on 6th May, without demanding anything in exchange, on 6th May to beat Sarkozy. I ask you to mobilise yourselves as if it was a case of making me president.'
Yet in spite of the support given by Mélenchon, it appears as if it will be another party who will decide the way in which the second round will be decided. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, doubled the proportion of votes won by her father's party in 2007 with 17.9%. Her success has been ascribed to anti-establishment sentiment with a common refrain of National Front voters that those in the Champs-Elysee Palace are out of touch with the common man.
In a time of financial austerity, Sarkozy's 'bling-bling' lifestyle along with a supermodel wife does not chime with the wider concerns of the voting public. If Sarkozy is to make up ground on Hollande in the two weeks that separate the first and second rounds of voting, he will have to address the perception of him being removed from the problems that much of the French population is facing.
His quandry is a difficult one; does he appeal to the centre, using the debate to press Hollande on the finer points of his manifesto in the hope that the Socialist will reveal himself to be lightweight and lacking in detail? Or does he go after those on the right, many of whom who used their vote as a means to protest against Sarkozy himself who they see as having betrayed their values? The good news for Sarkozy is that opinion polls suggest that 48-60% of those who voted for Le Pen will switch their allegiance to him in the second round. However, those same polls indicate a large intention to abstain leaving Sarkozy scrambling round for more votes.
If Sarkozy chooses to go down the route of charming those on the right, he faces a difficult task as he is compromised through his alliance with German Chancellor Angel Merkel. Themes of immigration and anti-EU sentiment have helped both Le Pen and Hollande find sympathy with voters. In addition, Sarkozy is seen as being unreliable on the economy with France losing its AAA rating this year and France's national debt rising from 64% of GDP to 86% since Sarkozy became president. Unemployment is currently at a 12-year high with both candidates stressing that they are the ones to find a way of getting people back into work.
The current polls suggest that François Hollande is the favourite to secure the second of voting with 54% compared to Sarkozy's 46%. But not everything is guaranteed for the Socialist candidate. The first round of voting revealed a large proportion of the voting public who are angry and discontented. It is now up to Sarkozy to show that he is receptive to their frustration.