French left at all time low: Is electorate shifting to right?

18th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 18, 2007 (AFP) - Four days ahead of the first round of presidential elections, France's political left is facing an awkward realisation: not since nearly 40 years ago has its combined vote been so low in the opinion polls.

PARIS, April 18, 2007 (AFP) - Four days ahead of the first round of presidential elections, France's political left is facing an awkward realisation: not since nearly 40 years ago has its combined vote been so low in the opinion polls.

While the socialist Segolene Royal can count on around 25 percent of votes on April 22, support for six minor candidates adds up to just ten percent -- an overall of no more than 35 percent for personalities campaigning on the ideas of the left.

The last time the left scored as badly was in the election that followed Charles de Gaulle's resignation in 1969 -- when the combined Communist, Socialist and Trotskyite support came to some 31 percent. That election was won by the right-winger Georges Pompidou.

The figures do not make it inevitable that right-wing favourite Nicolas Sarkozy will win in the run-off on May 6 -- other factors, notably Sarkozy's personality, will be at issue -- but they do raise the question whether the French electorate has taken this year a historic turn to the right.

"In normal times France leans to the right, but it is generally of the order of 55 percent to 45. If these figures are correct, then it is not just a swing -- it is a tsunami," said Jean-Philippe Roy, politics professor at Tours university in central France.

"In politics there is a concept which we call a 'critical election' -- an election in which the left-right balance makes a dramatic shift and taboos are broken. Nothing is the same again. Maybe we are heading for one here," he said.

However Roy said he was sceptical of the surveys, noting that the public's most pressing concerns -- as expressed to pollsters -- are themes traditionally linked to the left, such as unemployment, income levels and education.

"Either the public has decided the left's answers to these issues are not credible, or the estimations are wrong," he said.

According to most surveys, Sarkozy can count on some 28 percent on Sunday and the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen around 15.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou stands at around 19 percent, suggesting that he is attracting a good many votes from the left. However Bayrou's Union for French Democracy (UDF) party is certainly not a left-wing party, having been in almost permanent alliance with the right since its creation.

Royal herself appears to have recognised a rightward move among the electorate, and many of her campaign proposals clearly mark her difference from the traditional left: her call for boot-camps for young delinquents, for instance, and for national flags in every home.

Sarkozy has also moved to the right ahead of Sunday's vote -- calling for a ministry of immigration and national identity for example -- and makes no secret of his intention to poach far-right voters, who he says have been unfairly demonised.

Oddly only Le Pen has apparently moved leftwards, appealing for the first time in his party's history for the votes of Muslim immigrants.

"The shift to the right was already visible in the 2002 election, when law-and-order came to dominate the campaign," said Dominique Reynie, a professor at the Paris School of Political Sciences.

"Since then we've had globalisation, September 11, immigration has become a major issue. The Socialists had to choose someone like Segolene Royal, because she speaks about these issues in a non-naive way. In this day and age, a 'nice' candidate is not going to succeed. You have to be tough," he said.

Another theme that has been taken up by other candidates is Sarkozy's insistence on the rehabilitation of the work ethic -- the public clearly approving of calls for an end to welfare dependency.

"People think there should be less dependence on the state -- that they should take back control of their lives. In France that's a right-wing idea -- elsewhere it's just common sense," said Reynie.

"Work, homeland, family -- never in a presidential campaign have we spoken so much about these themes," said France-Soir columnist Gerard Carreyrou. "(Wartime Vichy leader) Marshal Petain must be celebrating in his tomb."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article