Monday, April 23, 2012

The start of the week: The French go to the polls, and the results have commentators busy; both France and Greece will vote again on May 6

Yesterday's results in France can be seen as a either a danger warning to the banking establishment, or else a warning to all of democratic Europe.

The French system requires that the new President receive 50 percent of the vote plus one in order to be duly elected, so it was not a surprise that yesterday's vote count will require a run-off election on May 6. As expected the incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Socialist leader, Fran├žois Hollande, were the top two vote getters – Hollande coming out on top with around 28 percent of the vote, versus 27 percent for the Sarkozy.

But it was the third place finish by Marine Le Pen, head of the Front National (FN), that has many observers concerned. As the votes were being counted it appeared that Le Pen might hit 20 percent of the vote (she fell just short), and sorry commentary on the French electorate if you believe this reflects that one in five French are sympathetic to fascism.

Le Pen, the daughter of the party's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, campaigned on an anti-Euro, anti-immigrant platform that obviously found resonance with many French – though which part of that platform the voters may have liked may reveal the motivation behind the votes.

Sarkozy has, along with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, been the symbol of the Eurozone, and an advocate for austerity and financial control by the financial community. The anger at Merkozy, as the two of them are known in Europe, is widespread, but sometimes without popular representation. For instance, in the French election, Hollande may represent a break with Sarkozy, but the socialists are hardly anti-Euro, even if they are vocally critical of the role of finance in the affairs of France. This means those who want an end to the use of the Euro must find a home for their views, and Le Pen's FN may have been that home.

Most polls show that Hollande should win the run-off election on May 6. If these polls are correct, then many of those who supported FN yesterday can be expected to sit out the vote or split between the two candidates. For Sarkozy, his only chance at remaining President may be to move hard to the right to attract voters who think Le Pen an attractive choice. But even that might not work if it turns out that many who voted for Le Pen did so to protest five years of Sarkozy.

On the same day that the French return to the polls to choose between Sarkozy and Hollande, Greece will be voting. The Greek Parliamentary system will not require a party achieve the 50 percent plus one mark, of course, and so the party that gets the most votes will scramble to try and assemble a working government.

The last public poll prior to the election was released last week and it shows that New Democracy, the center-right party, had 21.9 percent support, while PASOK, the socialist party, was at 17.8 percent. Both parties are seen as pro-Euro, and supporters of the austerity measures that have made much of the populous angry.

But despite the two parties not reaching the 50 percent mark, if the results are as polled, New Democracy and PASOK would still reach a majority level in parliament – though barely. This result might be satisfying to those who are in favor of the Euro and the bailouts negotiated over the past year, but it could create a charged atmosphere where many who voted feel their voices have not been heard.

Adding to the situation, the extreme right-wing party, Golden Dawn, is polling at a level high enough that they may enter parliament for the first time, polling 5.5 percent in the final poll before the May 6 election.