Who is worthy of raising the tricolore?

Hannah Charbit - Who is worthy of raising the tricolore? - Ma Vie Francaise - My French Life - www.MyFrenchLife.org

In two and a half months, the French will go to the polls to elect their president. The race for the vote was launched on 15th February, when Nicolas Sarkozy officially announced that he would be running for election.

François Hollande’s race for the presidency has been truly under way for weeks. With an election campaign that was a bit insecure at the beginning, the socialist candidate reversed the situation by giving a successful presentation of his policies on 22nd January at Le Bourget in the department of Seine Saint-Denis (known for economic and social difficulties).

In his speech, he recalled what ‘presiding over the Republic’ means to him. He started by highlighting the cultural differences between France and the French overseas administrative departments. He recalled that, despite this, French citizens belong to the same nation, share the same values, the same principles, the same language and culture, and thus they are all yearning for the same future. Hollande clearly wants to mark a separation from right-wing ideologies and the more conservative parties that, for example, set themselves against voting rights for immigrants.


He then expanded upon his definition of ‘presiding over the Republic’, using precise characteristics to openly criticize Sarkozy. Not only did he allude to the head of state dismissing the journalist Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, who compared him to ‘a little boy’ in June 2008, but he also condemned the welcome extended to the Libyan president Muhamar Kadhafi in 2007 at the Elysée: “To preside over the Republic means to make sure everyone abides by the law … while protecting the freedom of the press … To preside over the Republic means not to royally receive dictators in Paris.”

He also mentioned François Mitterrand, the only left-wing president since the start of the French 5th Republic in 1958, who was in power from 1981 to 1995, and to whom Hollande was recently compared by some of the media. If 1981 represented a turning point for the Socialist Party, it still ended with bitter disappointment for the left. Indeed, “it changed very rapidly from being a party which had a programme clearly influenced by Marxism, to one which had fully embraced the politics of pragmatism, and in particular neo-liberal economic policy.”* Besides, François Mitterrand’s mandate was also marked by two periods of political cohabitation (1986-1988 and 1993-1995), when the French elected a majority of right-wing politicians. The indecisiveness of the French could, therefore, lead François Hollande to govern alongside a right-wing parliament and thus, a right-wing Prime Minister.

Eric Zemmour and Nicolas Domenach, two journalists who are quite famous in France, highlighted that the competition between F.Hollande and N. Sarkozy is very similar to the competition between François Mitterrand and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981:

If the French like François Hollande’s proposed plan to tax the rich and improve equality, they may also appreciate Nicolas Sarkozy’s effort to resolve the euro zone’s crisis alongside Angela Merkel. A large proportion of the population has not forgiven his errors in judgment, which is mainly the reason why polls suggest Mr Hollande will win. However, Sarkozy’s leadership experience, particularly during times of crisis, may indeed work in his favor at the end of the day.

No one can be sure until 6th May. Until then, let’s keep an eye on the different organized debates to find out about every candidate’s position and proposals. In this period politics is exciting, isn’t it?

* Modern French Politics, Analysing Conflict and Consensus since 1945, Nick Hewlett.

This article is one of a series that My French LifeTM will be publishing leading up to the French Presidential election.

Image credits:
1. Nicolas Sarkozy at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville, by Guillaume Paumier on Flickr
2. François Hollande-Le Bourget, 22nd January 2012

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Hannah Charbit

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  1. Elisabeth Donato Mar 13, 2012 at 11:21 PM - Reply

    I have been following this from afar also. Hollande may very well win, but his task will not be simple. I come, by the way, from a family that was staunchly anti-Gaullist, and we were elated when Mitterand finally won in 1981. Of course, that also led to some major disappointment later on.

  2. Valentine Camus Mar 15, 2012 at 9:39 AM - Reply

    Your article was so interesting Hannah! I agree, politics is really passionating right now. I think the choice won’t be easy in april…

  3. Suzanne Cavanagh Mar 15, 2012 at 1:35 PM - Reply

    A thought provoking article Hannah.
    Do you feel it may end up being a situation we sometimes see in Australia, of voting an unpopular leader out rather than REALLY voting the opponent in?
    Clearly Sarkozy is struggling to close the gap with voters between their initial buoyant expectations and his delivery.
    On the other hand Hollande was the Socialist party’s second choice (after DSK) with some question initially about his credentials for the job; a perception that he appears to have overcome admirably at Le Bourget in January

    Possibly it is now a case of the French electorate believing Sarkozy has blown his chance whilst being prepared to give François Hollande the ‘benefit of the doubt’?
    Roll on 6 May!

  4. Hannah Charbit Mar 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM - Reply

    Thank you all for your comments 🙂

    I really don’t know who will be elected. I was sure François Hollande would easily win since the public opinion seems to be against the actual president, but a recent statistical model of electoral forecast developped by two economists indicates N.Sarkozy would collect 50.3% at the second round.

    The French population seems to be very divided in two parts, and the results will probably be very close. On the one hand, I’m wondering if 5 years is enough for a president to reform a country and try to make it more competitive. On the other hand, the election on the left wing candidate could be a good thing as there would be less strikes blocking the country (as we saw it in 0ctober 2010),and less dissatisfaction among the French. However, we have to see if this politic would be good for the country on the long run, especially in this time of crisis.

  5. Suzanne Cavanagh Mar 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM - Reply

    Unfortunately if these figures are close to the electoral outcome it will mean a significant number of citizens will be unhappy no matter whether it’s a Sarkozy or Hollande win.

    I think you make a valid observation Hannah about the 5 year term also – so much time is spent settling a new government in,with it basking in the glow of its success and of course the final 14 or so months is focused on preparing for the major political contest – it certainly leaves little time for real reform!

  6. Fitz Mar 17, 2012 at 3:39 PM - Reply

    What are the strongest issues for you as a French person/voter in this election?
    What were Sarkozy’s main errors in judgement and what strengths does Hollande exhibit/has shown that might increase his chances of success?

  7. Fitz Mar 26, 2012 at 11:57 AM - Reply

    Je viens de lire quelque chose d’immonde. Je l’ai découvert après avoir fait une recherche sur Google, voulant voir des commentaires sur les effets politiques des évènements récents à Toulouse. Il parait que sur un site-campagne de Sarkozy/l’UMP on a fait publier une photo de hollande entouré de maghrébins en les déclarant ‘des terroristes’. Est-ce qu’il y a quelqu’un qui a vu ça?

  8. Marianne Kopf Apr 20, 2012 at 6:32 AM - Reply

    Today we are at D-Day -3… the French are getting nervous about this election 🙂 and the new debate here, all over the media, is the enforcement of the information black out until after 8PM on Sunday night… the Swiss and Belgian press promised to unveil the results at 6.30 PM… a true provocation for the French media who have to keep quiet… by law… So what did the government do : set up a special police task force that will hunt down anybody who would announce the elected candidate before 8PM… and the fine can go up to 75000 euros !!! How on Earth can they control twitter, facebook and other social networking? Ever heard about the global village? makes me smile.

  9. Fitz Apr 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM - Reply

    Oui, poursuivre chaque internaute de tous les réseautages sociaux, ça fera un boulot monstre pour n’importe quel détachement spécial. Emploi assuré jusqu’à la fin des siècles.

  10. Marianne Kopf Apr 20, 2012 at 4:07 PM - Reply

    Ils sont fous ces français ! affaire à suivre. Mais ouf, Ils vont enfin arrêter les vidéo clips de campagne électorale avec temps de parole réglementé of course… certains étaient pathétiques 🙂

  11. Marianne Kopf Apr 21, 2012 at 4:07 AM - Reply

    Tonight, Friday at midnight, finally no more speeches and election video clips on TV ! The latest surveys give François Hollande (the left candidate) as the favorite in the voting intentions. But this is only the first round, the French can be surprising! Hot topics of this campaign were the financial crisis and a possible exit from the Eurozone, unemployment, re-industrialisation of the country etc… be patient, you’ll here more Sunday night.

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