First and foremost, Hollande’s election is a clear rebuff for the “President of the Rich” and the power of the oligarchy he embodies which has become stronger in the crisis.
In spite of the relief felt about Sarkozy having been voted out, the mood can by no means be compared to 1981 (Mitterand’s election). It is too uncertain what Hollande’s politics will consist of, if he will act against the causes of the crisis and challenge the neoliberal direction Europe is moving to. It is also quite uncertain which majority the parliamentary elections on 10 to 17 June will produce. In case of a left majority the weight of the representatives of the Front de Gauche will decide if the political orientation will shift to the Left.
In the first ballot Hollande received 28.7 % of the votes, with all left candidates together gaining 43.6 % (compared to 36% in 2007). The entire “Left of the Left” gained 13% in 2012 (8% in 2007), with the Front de Gauche (11.11%) representing a pole of a new quality.
The Front National (FN) has gained 17.9% (compared to 10.44 % in 2007 and 17% for FN and 2.5% for a splinter group in 2002). The (right) centre of Bayrou was weakened, the polarisation of Left / Right has increased, in particular under the impact of the offensive campaign of Front the Gauche (FG).
Altogether the weight has shifted from Right to Left, while at the same time Sarkozy himself became more “rightist“ and the FN stronger.
Many votes for Hollande were cast without enthusiasm, thus on the one hand, being regarded as votes against Sarkozy and at the same time as votes to prevent Le Pen. As opinion polls showed, J.-L. Mélenchon had to pay the price for this, since many potential voters decided in the very last moment to cast a “useful” vote.
Backed by her election result, Le Pen has announced that “the struggle for France is just beginning”, that in the future she wants to be the “party of the patriots on both the Right and the Left side”. In her endeavour to become the number one force on the Right, she recommended to the voters in the second election campaign not to vote for Sarkozy but to invalidate their ballot.
Although in opinion polls the majority of the French claim unemployment, the loss of purchasing power and the decreasing quality of the health care and education systems as their major concerns, with only a minority of 15 % saying that they are worried about the problems of integration, these play a disproportionately important role in the political debate, a fact which only serves the Front National. The FN pretends to be critical of the system without indeed tackling the core questions of the economic and social development. As a kind of “comfort devil” it also serves to keep the two-party-system alive.
In its campaign, the Front de Gauche (FG) had presented a new and further-reaching political ambition. On the one hand, by calling for voting Sarkozy out of office, while at the same time linking this up to the perspective of a political change instead of a mere change of majorities. With this position the Front de Gauche opened a broad debate reaching far beyond its own ranks, on what left politics could consist of in times of the Great Crisis.
It is interesting to observe that Le Pen’s ideological discourse only works as long as she does not have to answer to precise arguments. When that is the case (and only Mélenchon takes such an offensive position) it becomes visible that she is indeed positioned very far on the Right.
French society today is deeply divided: During Sarkozy’s time in office, unemployment has risen from 7.8% to 10.5%, unemployment among the youth to 23% and among migrants to 15.3%. Today, the number of poor people in France amounts to 8 million. That is what the alliance around J.-L. Mélenchon tries to respond to with a new conception of a society of solidarity and of mixtures (“société métissée”), the demand of participation embedded in the demand for a Sixth Republic, for a social re-foundation of the state, in which the people itself are seizing power – that is what it says in an election poster.
With well above 11% of the votes, the Left succeeded for the first time in politically uniting the once split camp of Communists, anti-globalists, left Socialists and left Radicals. In the parliamentary elections taking place early this summer, the SP and Hollande will supposedly not be able to win a majority of their own, thus depending on the Left Front. Therefore one of the major political challenges of the FG will consist in providing an answer to the question of which ways will lead to a Left which sets as its task to disarm the financial markets and to initiate a change of politics.
With the Front de Gauche (11.11%, almost 4 million votes) a new political force is presenting itself in which the constructive and radical Left are united. This is an alliance which does not understand itself as a coalition of parties, but rather as a partnership between left parties and social movements in which also citizens without any party-affiliation can join in. The political tradition and culture reach from the left wing of the Social Democracy to left radical movements. “We represent six parties and even more trends. No member of the alliance had to abandon anything, an approach which is constitutive of our identity. Our discourse lends a common perspective to each of us” (Mélenchon in Humanité, 20 April 2012).
The consequences at a European level of Hollande’s victory, to which the Left has contributed decisively, cannot yet be overlooked. The extent to which his suggestion for European growth will be able to challenge the power of the financial markets and of austerity politics, will also depend on the future movements and power relations in France and Europe. In any case the goal of the Front the Gauche is to put into question the Fiscal Pact and to mobilise against it in France and all over Europe.