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France Prepares to Elect a New President

The far-right Marine Le Pen is expected to place third in initial round

Marc Tracy
April 20, 2012
François Hollande campaigning yesterday.(Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

François Hollande campaigning yesterday.(Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

The first round of France’s presidential elections are Sunday, and things are not looking good for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. The centrist Socialist François Hollande is the front-runner, both in the first round and in the likely subsequent run-off between the top two contenders—if no candidate clears the 50 percent hurdle, the two with the most votes will go tête-à-tête on May 6. Cousin-of-The Scroll Art Goldhammer predicts a Hollande-Sarkozy run-off and a Hollande victory.

If Sarkozy gets more than expected, one group to credit might be Europe’s largest Jewish community, which is expected to throw him even more support than in 2007 based on what is seen as his effective response to the Toulouse massacre.

Haaretz’ Adar Primor asks the relevant question, with the requisite sense of irony. And it turns out both Sarkozy and Hollande are “good for the Jews”—Sarkozy perhaps the strongest advocate for Israel ever to occupy the French presidency, and Hollande a remarkably pro-Israel Socialist. (Hollande does not share Sarkozy’s distant Jewish background.)

Meanwhile, what seems less likely to happen is what happened in 2002, when the center-right Gaullist incumbent, in that case Jacques Chirac, took first place, but failed to secure a majority, and second place went to the far-right Front National candidate, in that case Jean-Marie Le Pen. A revived and somewhat reformed FN, led by Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen (who shares her father’s disdain for foreigners but not his anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial), is expected to finish in third or perhaps fourth.

Yet one shouldn’t feel too complacent, either. Le Pen will be competing for third place not with a centrist like François Bayrou but with Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is nearly as left as Le Pen is right. And personally I was disturbed to learn from John Vinocur: “Le Monde’s lead story on April 10 reported that more 18- to 24-year-olds (26 percent) would vote for her than any other presidential candidate.” Tablet Magazine contributor Michael Moynihan noted that Brigitte Bardot plans to vote for Le Pen, too. Radical chic indeed.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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