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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 April 2007

France: Record turnout sees Royal and Sarkozy go through to second round

THE FIRST round of the French presidential elections last Sunday left capitalist commentators in an almost jubilant mood. A record turnout of 84% produced two clear winners for the second round in two weeks time. The right wing candidate of the UMP (union for a popular movement) Nicolas Sarkozy got 31.2% of the votes, ahead of the candidate for the ex-social democratic Socialist Party (PS) Ségolène Royal with 25.8% of the vote.

Karl Debbaut, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

"The only surprise", said one commentator in the French media, "is that this election produced no surprises". In one sense he is right; the pollsters' predictions were accurate, although they overestimated the support for the far-right candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In 2002, Le Pen plunged the French establishment into a political crisis by reaching the second round with 16.9%, beating the PS candidate Jospin into third place. That someone who describes the Nazi concentration camps as "a detail in history" could get this result sent shockwaves throughout Europe.

But on Sunday, Le Pen's Front National lost 1 million votes in comparison with 2002.

However, this does not mean that the results reflect a "vote for democracy and a vote for moderation" as is claimed by the press in Europe.

Whilst one element in the high turnout (and also the squeezing of the vote of the radical left) was the general fear of a repetition of 2002, it is not the only element. The centre-right candidate Sarkozy, with neo-liberal policies reminiscent of 'Thatcherism', mobilised the right-wing vote and layers of the middle class and working class who think that France needs a 'hard man' to push through change.

In the last days of the campaign Sarkozy tried to win over a layer of workers to accept longer working hours and less social protection to stop an economic implosion. The idea being that the only defence against globalisation and international capitalism is to adapt oneself to the demands of the multinationals and make sacrifices in return for economic growth. This would lead to a further decline in workers' living standards.

The late surge for Ségolène Royal in the vote is largely explained by a strong anti-Sarkozy and anti-Le Pen mood rather than by genuine enthusiasm for her programme. The youth and immigrant vote in the poor urban areas or "banlieues" went overwhelmingly to Ségolène Royal, even though many would undoubtedly have preferred to vote for more radical left-wing candidates.

Tactical voting

Up to the day of voting over 30% of the electorate had not made up its mind about who to vote for. This wavering, especially amongst women, youth and poor, represented the lack of any real alternative for the working class and people weighing up if they could afford to vote for the radical left or if they should vote "tactically" against Sarkozy or Le Pen.

Ségolène Royal spoke of the need to change France and follow the Swedish political model in which "both unions and business would be prepared to make sacrifices if they were assured of medium and long term gains". Sweden's social democratic governments in the 1990s received high praise from the European Commission because they privatised more, deregulated more and made more cuts in social provisions that any other European country!

The policies of Royal would be a continuation of the 1997-2002 'gauche plurielle' government ('plural left' of the PS, Communists and Greens) who privatised more than the right-wing government before it.

Whilst the votes of the PCF (French Communist Party) and LO (a Trotskyist formation - 'workers' struggle') got squeezed by the anti-Sarkozy vote and their own lack of appeal, Olivier Besancenot of the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League, another Trotskyist party) received around 1.5 million votes (4.11%), some 280,000 votes more than in 2002.

Referendum

The second round will inevitably be turned into a national referendum on Nicolas Sarkozy. While we would understand people voting against Sarkozy and for Royal, this is not going to stop anti-working class policies being implemented.

What is needed is to prepare to organise the struggle against these policies in the street and in the factories. This involves building a mass fighting party on an anti-capitalist and genuine socialist programme as an alternative to the mainstream parties.

Unlike LO, the LCR has made some declarations about this subject but has unfortunately, like in the past, not taken any practical steps. In 2002 the combined vote of LO and the LCR surpassed 9% and a real opportunity to build a new force then was missed.

A new party cannot simply be built from above. The 1 May demonstrations could be a starting point in building action and struggle committees and start the process of building a new formation.


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