Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen captured 18 percent of the vote yesterday. How her supporters vote in the runoff could be the deciding factor between President Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told roaring crowds last night that it is “crunch time” now that the presidential election has been narrowed down to a May 6 runoff between him and Socialist challenger François Hollande, to whom he lost by one point in the first round of elections yesterday.
A high 81 percent turnout rate in national elections combined, unusually, with low voter enthusiasm captured something of the political disillusionment. But also the high stakes for the future at a time when five governments in Europe have collapsed over fallout from the ongoing debt crisis.
Mr. Hollande captured 27 percent of the vote, with Mr. Sarkozy just behind at 26 percent. The election has become a referendum on how the No. 2 economy in Europe – which the International Monetary Fund hinted has the potential to drag down the world economy – will deal with the eurozone crisis going forward. Hollande campaigned for stronger growth policies while Sarkozy has hitched his wagon to the austerity prescription favored by Berlin for the past year.
Yesterday was the first time in modern France a challenger defeated an incumbent in round one. Yet the thunder created by the intelligent, mild-mannered Hollande was largely stolen by the far right candidate Marine Le Pen, who took 18 percent of the vote in a country where anger and disillusion are rife.