French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing an uphill battle to win a second term after a poor showing in Sunday’s vote, according to Swiss newspapers.
The unpopular president finished second with 27.08 per cent of votes behind Socialist candidate François Hollande on 28.63 per cent.
Meanwhile Marine Le Pen for the far-right National Front came third with 18.01 per cent – the best result in a presidential election in the party’s history – while the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melénchon came fourth with 11.13 per cent, also a record showing for the left alliance.
For many Swiss papers Sarkozy’s poor showing was a result of his having failed to deliver on key promises since his election in 2007 and French voters on Sunday had demonstrated a clear will for change.
Geneva dailies Le Temps and La Tribune de Genève both said the result represented a resounding disapproval of Sarkozy’s term in office.
“The French did not give him an exit bonus, confirming a rejection of his style and a balance sheet [of his term in office] judged to be insufficient,” wrote La Tribune de Genève.
“Sarkozy beat all records, none of his predecessors was more unpopular at the end of his mandate than he is,” wrote Le Temps. “The French yesterday demonstrated a strong will for change … it has given François Hollande a real option for victory in the second round.”
Needing a miracle
For the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich, Sarkozy’s failure to win a clear victory in the first round will only make it harder to create a “new dynamic” with which to beat his Socialist opponent in the run-off vote on May 6.
“Sometimes the most narrow of defeats is devastating, even if the final round is still pending,” the paper wrote. “Sarkozy on Sunday not only lost the first round but most likely his chance for re-election. He now needs a miracle – and a lot of voters from Marine Le Pen.”
For the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, “Sarkozy is in water up to his neck. He has clearly lost ground compared with the previous election and faces a much tougher challenge than in 2007”.
The Tribune de Genève also pointed out that Sarkozy was the first French president since the creation of a popularly elected president half a century ago not to win the first round of voting – something that would make his re-election chances even more “complex”.
Le Pen ascendant
The strong showing of Le Pen’s National Front was also seen by several papers as crucial to the outcome of the run-off contest between Hollande and Sarkozy.
“Without her, Sarkozy is lost!”, screamed the headline in the German-language tabloid Blick, which described Le Pen as “the real winner” of Sunday’s election.
“The 43-year-old [Le Pen] is likely to feel real satisfaction given the crucial role of her voters in the second round of elections on May 6,” the paper wrote, adding that “Sarkozy is especially dependent on the voters of Marine Le Pen” and was likely to pick up more votes from her than Hollande could count on from the far left.
But while acknowledging that Le Pen “holds the key” to the run-off election, Le Temps suggested wooing the votes from the far right might be easier said than done for Sarkozy.
“She will not give Sarkozy any gifts,” the paper said. “Nicolas Sarkozy, who successfully weakened the National Front by adopting strong language on immigration and security, is today an easy target for the head of the National Front.”
The Tribune de Genève noted that although polls suggest many far-right voters are loath to vote for Sarkozy after giving him their confidence five years ago, the Sarkozy camp believes it can pick up a substantial portion of Le Pen’s supporters.
Several papers suggested that the weak showing of centrist candidate and traditional ally of the right, François Bayrou, who took fifth position with 9.1 per cent of the vote, will add to Sarkozy’s difficulties.
“For Nicolas Sarkozy, convincing the centrist voters at the same time as those of the National Front which he siphoned off in 2007 will be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” wrote the Tribune de Genève.
The Berner Zeitung said that with voters on the extreme left and right of the spectrum so polarised, a “key question” was whether Bayrou would choose to support Sarkozy or Hollande in the second round.
“Both Sarkozy and Hollande are vying for his support,” it wrote.
However, for La Liberté, Bayrou’s weak showing meant he had “lost his position as president-maker”.
Papers were generally lukewarm in their enthusiasm for Hollande, suggesting that Sarkozy would rather lose the election than Hollande would win it.
“Hollande has benefited from the rise of Melénchon,” wrote La Liberté. “Accumulated votes from the left should really open Hollande’s path to the Elysée.”
“The Socialist is not a dream maker,” wrote the Tages-Anzeiger. “He lacks charisma. He will probably win the election, because his nemesis made it possible. He is also the opposite of Sarkozy: a balanced, nice, team player.”
“Hollande can hope to win in the second round but France is very divided, incapable of making clear choices,” noted Le Temps.