Socialist challenger François Hollande came out on top in the first round of the French presidential election. But editorialists for top national and regional newspapers were just as struck by far-right Marine Le Pen’s stunning electoral coup.
“France is no longer bipolar,” Philippe Palat of southern daily newspaper Le Midi Libre wrote on Monday, the morning after the first round of France’s much anticipated presidential election. “Its electorate has exploded into five political segments making up one angry country.”
Palat was referring to Socialist François Hollande and centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy (running close at roughly 29 and 27%, respectively), far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen (18%) and her far-left counterpart Jean-Luc Mélenchon (11%), and centrist François Bayrou (9%).
But for the majority of French editorialists on Monday, French politics – at least for the next two weeks - boils down to three players: Hollande, Sarkozy, and Le Pen, who beat her father’s record electoral score and now carries unprecedented influence going into the second round.
“Once more, the day after the first round of the presidential election, France is waking up with a slight hangover,” wrote Jean-Francis Pécresse of daily business newspaper Les Echos.
“[Marine Le Pen] has decisively arrived on the political scene and obliterated [far-left candidate] Mélenchon,” noted Didier Louis of Northern daily Le Courrier Picard expressing a similar sentiment. Bruno Dive, of Bordeaux-based daily Sud-Ouest, was in agreement. “The National Front has once again established itself as an unavoidable force,” he wrote.
According to left-leaning daily Le Monde, perhaps the most prestigious of France’s newspapers, Le Pen’s accomplishment is significant. “Her personality, style, and proposals have allowed the daughter of the ex-National Front leader to achieve the goal of un-demonising the party, which she has been working toward for several years,” the editorial analysed. “Whoever wins on May 6 will have to take that into account.”
Left-wing daily Libération offered a more visceral assessment, comparing the result to 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine’s father) beat out Socialist Lionel Jospin for a spot in the second round: “This first round is reminiscent of April 21  – not as tragic as ten years ago, but just as worrisome. If not more.”
Hollande’s lead not so secure?
Depending on a particular publication’s political orientation, editorials offered different slants on the results and hinted at different predictions for the final outcome.
Left-wing Libération emphasised “the clear victory of François Hollande”, while southern daily La Dépeche du Midi zeroed in on “the harsh disavowal” of Sarkozy.
Right-leaning daily Le Figaro offered that Hollande’s advantage going into the second round is “not decisive, considering the disappointing score of [far-left candidate] Jean-Luc Mélenchon”. The fiery Mélenchon was expected to win a larger share of the anti-establishment votes. But it was Le Pen who profited most clearly from the French public’s desire for a political force other than the two main parties that have dominated French politics for so long.
A warning came from northeastern daily le Républicain Lorrain. “The advantage, for the moment, is François Hollande’s. Nicolas Sarkozy’s back is up against the wall,” the editorial read. “But it’s in these situations that he is the most dangerous for his opponents.