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Centrist François Bayrou returns for another presidential fight

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2012-03-06

“I’m in it to win it,” declared French centrist François Bayrou when announcing his candidacy for France’s 2012 presidential election on Wednesday. But can the head of the centrist “Modem” party do better than in 2007? FRANCE 24 takes a closer look.

Francois Bayrou, the head of France’s centrist Democratic Movement (or “Modem”) party who placed third in the 2007 election with 18.5 percent of the vote, announced that he would be throwing his hat into the ring once more in the 2012 presidential race. He called on the French to “begin writing a new chapter of their history”, and vowed to get at least as many votes as he got in 2007.

But will he be able to pull it off?

At 60 years old, this will be Bayrou’s third consecutive presidential bid. On Wednesday, Bayrou said he was the only candidate who would be able to build “a new majority” uniting moderates from both the right and the left around a common goal: waging “war” against the economic crisis and “reconquering the markets” by improving the French label and encouraging customers to “buy French”.

Room for the centre?

According to a survey carried out by BVA polling agency in November, Bayrou has a shot. According to the results, 47 percent of the French want neither Socialist candidate Francois Hollande nor incumbent centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy to win, and 43 percent say they’d rather another candidate win. “There’s never been so much room for the center,” said Francois-Xavier Penicaud, president of the Young Democrats.

Several other polls have already indicated that Bayrou is the most credible centrist, assed Celine Bracq, assistant director of BVA. He currently gets 9 percent of the vote in polls, which is a 3-point gain in only a few weeks.

“He could do as well as he did in 2007, but it’s going to be very difficult,” said Pierre Taribo, the author of an upcoming book on Bayrou. The reason for that, according to Celine Bracq, is that “Bayrou has lost a lot of potential supporters. In 2006, 43 percent of the French said they would consider voting for him; today that number stands at only 29 percent.

Since 2007, Bayrou has made a handful of strategic errors and suffered a few setbacks. When he failed to make it to the second round of the 2007 presidential vote, he refused to endorse either Sarkozy or Socialist opponent Segolene Royal – he ended up submitting an empty ballot. The move was seen as leaving Bayrou’s voters in the lurch, and alienating Bayrou from the other political parties. The next year, Bayrou lost the mayoral election in the southwestern city of Pau, and in 2009 ran a disastrous campaign to be a deputy in European Parliament. In addition to that, several Modem officials left the party to join the New Centre or Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP.

But Bayrou stepped back into the spotlight in August of this year with the release of his book, “2012, State of Emergency”, which details his policy proposals – and points out that fighting debt was a major theme of his 2007 presidential campaign. Announcing his 2012 presidential candidacy on Wednesday, Bayrou revealed a brash streak: “I’m in it to win it,” he said.

Competition from the far right

According to the last poll published on December 3, the competition is stiff. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen gets between 15 and 20 percent of the vote. “For the moment, she’s his biggest rival,” Céline Bracq said.

Bayrou can nevertheless hope for an honourable showing in the election, “if he targets the weaknesses of his rivals, Sarkozy, Hollande, and Le Pen,” she added. “He can particularly attract disillusioned Sarkozy supporters, and centre-right voters who don’t agree with the president’s positions on security and immigration.

But Sarkozy’s UMP party isn’t worried about Bayrou. “When I’m on the campaign trail, I feel the [far-right] National Front threat more than Bayrou’s potential,” said Chantal Brunel, a UMP deputy, who admits that Bayrou’s discourse on the deficit has been strong. Still, she thinks the centre-right electorate will choose Sarkozy over Bayrou in order to fend off the far right.

Aiming for a cabinet position?

To maximise his chances, Bayrou is expected to focus on issues he considers important, like debt and Europe. “If he makes these his trademark issues, he could chip away at Francois Hollande’s support,” Celine Braq assessed. “The slightest misstep by Hollande could benefit Bayrou.”

Meanwhile, Hollande has called on the Modem leader to pick sides right away. “I won’t disqualify anyone [from consideration for a job in my cabinet], as long as the person asks his supporters to vote for me in the second round,” Hollande has said, in what has been interpreted as a gesture toward Bayrou.

Hollande’s statement is proof that Bayrou still matters on the French political scene, according to Pierre Taribo. “This is doubtless his last presidential bid, but his results will determine whether or not he’ll have a role to play in French politics,” Taribo said. “I think Bayou is aiming for a cabinet position. He might be able to get there if he gets at least 10 percent of the vote.”

Date created : 2011-12-09


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