France buries the ghost of 2002 shock election

24th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - France gave itself a pat on the back on Monday after high voter turnout and the poor showing of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen turned round one of the presidential election into an antidote to the 2002 poll upset that shocked the nation.

PARIS, April 24, 2007 (AFP) - France gave itself a pat on the back on Monday after high voter turnout and the poor showing of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen turned round one of the presidential election into an antidote to the 2002 poll upset that shocked the nation.

Five years ago, France woke up to a political earthquake when Le Pen won enough votes to move into the runoff against Jacques Chirac, propelled by a  record abstention rate and a splintering of the vote on the left.

For the first time since 1969, the left was absent from the second round after Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin scored a humiliating 16.18 percent of the vote, behind Le Pen.

But France breathed a collective sigh of relief after Socialist Segolene Royal won a spot in the May 6 runoff against rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy, capping weeks of campaigning that had been haunted by the "cataclysm" of 2002.

"The affront of April 21, 2002 has been erased," commented the left-leaning newspaper Liberation on Monday.

"The memory of that episode was enough to prevent a repeat," said the right-leaning Figaro newspaper.

Jean-Marie Colombani, editor-in-chief of Le Monde newspaper, said the mass turnout amounted to a "democratic awakening" that reflected a national desire to "wipe out the memory" of the first round vote five years ago.

Royal, the 53-year-old former adviser to president Francois Mitterrand, had called on voters on the left to cast a "useful vote" for her, instead of squandering it on one of the six candidates of the hard-left.

Fears of a repeat of the 2002 shock success by the far-right jolted many voters out of their apathy, notably the youth and residents of the high-immigrant suburbs who came out en masse to vote.

The result was a turnout of 84 percent, the highest participation rate since the 1965 election won by Charles de Gaulle.

Stephane Rozes of the CSA polling institute said the high turnout was a sign that "the country wanted to get back control of its future."

Rightwinger Nicolas Sarkozy took the first place in voting on Sunday with nearly 32 percent and Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, garnered nearly 26 percent.

Le Pen, who had predicted a "tsunami" to carry him to victory, won less than 11 percent, the lowest score of his five election campaigns.

The candidates of the radical left also paid a heavy price as voters chose to bury the ghost of 2002, with a combined showing of nine percent, well below the 14 percent of votes they took in the last election.

"The hammering of the message over the useful vote was very efficient," commented Green candidate Dominique Voynet, who scored a dismal 1.57 percent of the vote.

Interest in the election that is set to usher in a new generation of leaders after 12 years of rule under Jacques Chirac was intense.

For months political chat shows and prime-time debates have dominated the airwaves, as polls showed the election was French people's number one topic of conversation.

Some 44.5 million voters had registered to cast a ballot, a jump of 7.5 percent from 2002.

The poor showing by Le Pen was as much due to the high turnout as it was to Sarkozy's strategy of courting his voters, noted political scientist Jean-Yves Camus.

"It payed off," said Camus.

Le Pen did not hide his bitterness at losing one million votes from 2002, denouncing the "blindness of the French" and railing that he had not suffered defeat but rather "an absence of victory."


Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

0 Comments To This Article