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Latest update : 2012-04-24

The first round of France's 2012 presidential election saw the left wing candidates gain the highest percentage of the vote since 1981. They now have one common goal - to oust French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the run-off vote on May 6.

Radical left-wing maverick Jean-Luc Melenchon believes he “holds the key” to who becomes the next president of France.

Melenchon polled 11.11% of the first round vote on Sunday, coming in fourth place behind Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.

The man, who previously called for a ‘citizen’s revolution’, left those supporters who packed into Paris’ Place Stalingrad for his election night rally in no doubt as to where their priorities now lie.

Targeting Sarkozy

Taking to the stage once the preliminary results had been announced just after 8pm, Melenchon told his boisterous followers to turn their votes against the incumbent French president.

“I call on you to meet again on the 6th of May, without demanding anything in exchange, to beat Sarkozy,” he cried. “I ask you to mobilise yourselves as if it was a case of making me president.”

At first, Melenchon refused to mention the name of Francois Hollande on Sunday but has since given a direct endorsement of the Socialist Party candidate.

“We hold the key to the result, I call on you consciously to assume responsibility,” he told supporters.

Melenchon’s team insist no deals will be done with the Socialist Party in exchange for publicly endorsing Hollande.

“The Left Front and the Socialist Party are two different movements,” Jacques Genereux, Melenchon’s economics adviser told FRANCE 24. “We don’t stand alongside them nor do we campaign with them. The one thing we do have in common is the desire to beat Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Despite Melenchon’s claim about holding the key to the presidency, the position of kingmaker for the second round vote appears more likely to be held by Le Pen, considering she polled just over 18% of the vote.

Unlike Le Pen and her supporters, however, it seems certain that the majority of far left voters will be lining up together in an effort to bring down Sarkozy.

Good omens for Hollande

A survey by polling agency BVA published in French daily Le Parisien on Monday suggests 90 per cent of Melenchon’s voters will switch to Hollande for the second round.

The way Le Pen’s voters will turn is less clear: the same poll suggests 57% will go to Sarkozy, and 20% to Hollande.

The omens are good for Hollande. Not since 1981, when socialist Francois Mitterand was elected president, has the left scored such a high percentage (43.87%) of the vote in the first round.

At Place Stalingrad on Sunday, Melenchon’s voters, who chanted “Resistance!” and booed TV images of Le Pen and Sarkozy, agreed that the left needed to unite behind Hollande.

“It’s essential to vote for Hollande now. We just have to get rid of Sarkozy,” Danielle Leroux, an assistant principal of a college told FRANCE 24.

But some of those flag-waving Front Gauche supporters milling around Place Stalingrad late on Sunday night suggested Hollande cannot count on the support of every left-leaning voter.

"I will almost certainly tear up my voting slip in the run off vote,” Isabel Nicolas, a teacher, told FRANCE 24. “If I vote for Hollande I might as well vote for Sarkozy because there is no difference between them. They both want to solve the financial crisis through austerity. Since Mitterrand through to Chirac and Sarkozy, nothing has changed; it just appears to have done so. They have all been the same."

Another disappointed Melenchon supporter Sabrina Elzouagha told FRANCE 24: “I will certainly not be voting for Francois Hollande. He is just like Sarkozy. Melenchon said we have to beat Sarkozy but he did not say vote for Hollande.”

Shock at the far right

Melenchon’s army of supporters were despondent on Sunday night not only because Melenchon gained less of the vote than opinion polls had predicted, but also because Marine Le Pen and their arch enemy the far right, had won historically strong support.

Melenchon had sparred with Le Pen in pre-election television appearances, and the battle between the two ‘fronts’ was one of the more compelling sub-plots of the presidential race.

At one stage, polls suggested Melenchon would defy the odds and take third place behind Sarkozy and Hollande, but Le Pen has doused those hopes, to the anger of those on the far left.

Jean-Luc Pillot, a 25-year-old civil servant at Place Stalingrad on Sunday, told France 24: “Tonight we are not proud to be French. It’s really shameful, and we just don’t understand how so many people could vote for [Le Pen]."

Date created : 2012-04-23


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