29th Mar 2023

France: Hollande leads, Le Pen shocks in third place

  • Hollande. The second round of the French elections will take place on 6 May (Photo: Francois Hollande)

Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy will go through to the second round of the French presidential elections following Sunday's vote which saw French voters flock to Belgian news outlets to get the news ahead of time.

According to the final results, Socialist Hollande led the field of 10 candidates gathering 28.63 percent of the vote.

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Centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy, hoping to avoid becoming the first single term presidency since 1981, received 27.18 percent.

But the biggest talking point of the evening was far-right Marine Le Pen's high-scoring third place. Her record-setting electoral debut saw her scoop 17.9 percent on the back of an anti-immigrant and anti-euro campaign. The result beat her father Jean Marie Le Pen's score of 16.8 percent in 2002.

The score, set to make her a force to reckoned with in domestic politics, will lead to political soul-searching in France.

Meanwhile, commentators are already wondering whether her supporters will transfer their allegiance to Sarkozy on 6 May.

Left-wing candidate Jean Luc Melenchon received 11.11 percent of the vote while centrist Francois Bayrou got 9.13 percent.

Without expressly mentioning Hollande's name, Melenchon called on his supporters to support the centre-left candidate in two week's time. He asked them to vote "against Sarkozy without asking for anything in exchange."

The highly anticipated election was also the source of controversy for another reason - how and when the results were published.

French media, obeying domestic law, had a preliminary results black out until 8pm when all polling booths were closed. But foreign media did not hold to the ban. Belgian news outlets starting publishing the results earlier in the evening leading to the odd situation of French voters flocking to Belgian outlets and Twitter to see what had become of their ballot result.

At one stage, Belgian's French-speaking public broadcaster RTBF noted an 80 percent increase in users, with 85 percent coming from France.

With a risk of being fined €75,000 by French authorities for violating the ban, some resorted to code on the microblogging site Twitter.

"Please don't quote me but, according to my sources, 'Help Me' (a reference to a previous quote by Sarkozy) is in need of help," tweeted one user.

"Dutch cheese at 27 euros, Tokai wine at 25 euros," said another tweet as preliminary results were published abroad, with Hollande being given the name Gouda after the cheese from Holland and Sarkozy having the moniker Tokai wine, which, like his father, comes from Hungary.

The decision by some foreign media to expose the results earlier caused a fierce debate. Some criticised outdated French laws in an age of instant communication and the internet while others pondered the implications for democracy.

"The real question is whether divulging the first numbers earlier is in the interests of the French population and democracy," wrote Dominique Wolton, a sociologist specialising in communication, in Belgian daily Le Soir.

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