Three months before the first ballot, it is the economic and social questions which are the central issues, and they come together in the debate around the public debt. Popular sovereignty, the nature of the different powers, the place of politics and policy and the future of democracy have also become concrete issues.
In addition to Nicolas Sarkozy, not yet officially a candidate but who under the guise of his current presidential mandate frequently intervenes as if he were, there are 14 other candidates. Only six of them can hope for a significant score. The others are there to have media access or to finance their parties.
The two candidates currently topping the polls hardly arouse enthusiasm or cause people to have illusions. Nicolas Sarkozy clearly appears as the man who has increased social injustice and unemployment, attacked social protection, devaluated labour… The loss of the triple-A rating which he was at pains to maintain makes it difficult for him to play the role of president-protector. François Hollande, Socialist Party candidate and the clear winner of the second ballot according to the polls, is betting on the rejection of Sarkozyism but was not able to invoke an alternative project and a really different direction. In his view, it is necessary to adapt to a difficult economic situation and win back the trust of the financial markets; thus his rarely uttered left-wing propositions seem implausible: for example, how to defend public services without attacking the markets?
On the extreme Right, Marine Le Pen, the Front National’s candidate, is building her offensive on the distress and social divisions which feed the crisis and socially regressive policies and in so doing is nearing 20 % in the polls. The fourth candidate (12 % in the polls), the centre-right François Bayrou, offers solidly right-wing policies and extols the virtues of budget austerity. In the second ballot he is being strongly courted by the Right and the Socialist Party.
In fifth position, the candidate of the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is being presented by seven organisations including the Communist Party and the Parti de Gauche. He is gaining the support of an increasing number of trade unionists, community activists and citizens. He is now pulling 8 % in the polls.1 An increasing number of citizens who had given up on politics are getting involved in the campaign. The first campaign gathering, on 13 January, brought together 6,000 people in the provincial city of Nantes. The boldness with which the Front de Gauche’s candidate frontally opposes the domination of the financial markets, calls for “striking blows at the capitalist system” and proposes a politics breaking with the current logic, hits a bull’s eye and contrasts sharply with the prevailing consensual landscape. In a recent broadcast seen by 3.2 million television viewers, the commentators pointed out that he was one of the rare people who really formulated proposals. The programme “The Human First”, with 300,000 copies sold, has become a bestseller. Don’t capitulate to the dictates of the financial markets, power to the people, human development, revive purchasing power and stable employment to exit from the crisis, lower interest rates, tax justice, ecological planning, refound the EU – these are the messages put out by the Front de Gauche. Its discourse is anti-capitalist without being limited to protest; it clearly expresses the wish to change the ruling power structure, obtain a majority and become the first force on the Left. It is receiving a growing echo in public opinion and contrasts with the extreme Left whose two candidates2 this time are inexistent, while Eva Joly, candidate of Europe Ecologie Les Verts (Europe Ecology – the Greens) is hardly audible and is limited to 3 % in the polls.
The Front de Gauche is addressing popular sectors abandoned by the Socialist Party. Its goal is also to reduce the dynamic of Marine Le Pen, whom it attacks as being the “watchdog of the system” and the “right hand of capital”. We can say that the Front de Gauche has successfully met the first challenge of bringing the question of a real break with current policies into the presidential debate. Now the challenge is significantly to broaden the popular dynamic. The Front de Gauche candidates in the June legislative elections will in each electoral district be the transmission belts for this campaign which has brought back a number of activists who had led the campaign around the European referendum in 2005.