Presidential elections in France may be analyzed in their ideological context – by way of asking a question who should the moderate electors vote for. Unfortunately, the answer is not that easy. For the French had to deal with a classical dilemma for the modern politics, which is yet unknown to the Polish voters.
In recent years, the Polish politics revolve around the choice between the center-right-wing or right-wing politicians. Although, in case of parliamentary elections, the situation is more complicated due to the Left, which in 2007 saw a center-left coalition named the Left and Democrats (Lewica i Demokraci – LiD) and four years later witnessed the emergence of the Palikot’s Movement (Ruch Palikota – RP). Both initiatives, although attractive for a moderate voter, have become devoured by the rivalry of the two biggest political parties.
That is why the Polish voters practically do not know anything about the dilemma most frequent in the world politics – the choice between the Left and the Right. This dilemma proves especially difficult for the liberals (who, of course, form no unity, so this generalization may seem too simplistic), that are often associated with a center-left sensitivity and center-right economic views.
The Polish people were last confronted with this dilemma in 1995, when the candidate of the Right – Lech Wałęsa – lost to the candidate of the Left – Aleksander Kwaśniewski. However, that was not a choice dictated by political views, but by emotions that had not been cooled down enough just six years after the collapse of the communist regime. Therefore, instead of being separated into the left- and the right-wing, the Polish people had been divided into anti-communists and those, for whom, the communist history of the president (who was in fact elected twice) was not that crucial.
Later period in Polish politics was very chaotic for the most of the time. It is enough to remind that the period of the leftist government of Leszek Miller is generally considered as economically liberal, while conservative in its outlook – which has little in common with an encyclopedic definition of a left-wing party. Currently the political class made a clear distinction into two most important parties – the Right that is economically caring and the watered-down centre-right (in relation to their outlook and economic approach). That is the reason why these two forces fight the greatest battles in the middle of the political battleground, trying to convince as many moderate voters as possible.
As opposed to Donald Tusk and Jarosław Kaczyński, Hollande and Sarkozy have competed mainly for mobilization of radical electorate. There was quite a lot to fight over – there had been 18% of votes cast on nationalist Marine Le Pen and 11% on the communizing Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Hollande and Sarkozy, who made it to the runoff, valued these radical votes more than the 9% won by François Bayrou – the representative of the Democratic Movement (Mouvement démocrate – MoDem).
Therefore, on May 1, Sarkozy kept promising his supporters the restoration of borders and immigration control – this way he appealed to classic postulates of nationalist French parties. Hollande had satisfied all desires of the most leftist French, by means of promising an increase in bureaucracy and implementation of a 75% tax for the wealthiest. All these promises contain elements of political science-fiction – Sarkozy knows all too well, that changing of law is not dependent on his will – especially concerning such troublesome issues as immigration and borders. Hollande, on the other hand, made effective use of the difference in perspectives between the presidential candidate and an actual president, whose decisions are based on scrupulous economic calculations.
However, even though the moderate voters are keenly aware of the fact that the pre-election promises are rarely followed by real actions, this kind of rhetoric must have been highly discouraging to them. Anti-immigration and nationalistic postulates of the former president of France have nothing to do with liberalism. Also, the populist and utopian economic solutions of the president-elect do not resemble such leaders as Tony Blair – who has won the sympathy of the center of a political scene.
In canvassing for radical electorate Hollande has proven more effective – almost right after the first round of the elections, he received support from the leader of the Left Front (Front de gauche) – Jean-Luc Mélenchon (we should also not forget the support of Eva Joly, of the Green Party, who got over 2% of votes). Nicolas Sarkozy counted on a similar gesture from Marie Le Pen. However, the leader of the National Front (Front National) has declared to cast an empty vote, making Sarkozy lose some of her six million strong electorate.
Although the former president has lost this battle, he decided not to calm down on his rhetoric, hoping to convince the electorate of Marie Le Pen. That is the reason why he failed once again – this time losing the center of political scene. A couple days before the runoff, François Hollande got support from the liberals’ candidate, his namesake – François Bayrou. This was shocking in a way, because Bayrou’s party has historic connections (established in the 1980s) with the Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire – UMP), whose candidate was Nicolas Sarkozy. The fact that the leader of the Democratic Movement chose to cast his vote for Holland was determined probably by the Sarkozy’s flirt with Marie Le Pen’s electorate, which was clearly criticized by Bayrou.
It may be that Hollande would have won the presidential elections even if he had lost both battles: for the radical electorate and for the center of a political scene. This cannot be verified and we can be only glad that a liberal, moderate candidate has turned out to be an important element of the French political puzzle. The candidate, who he eventually supported, will be the next president of one of the most important European states.
So far the Polish political scene does not force us listen to radical leftist and rightist postulates before the elections. However, we are likely to face it in a few years. Therefore, every one of us should already try to answer the following questions: Hollande or Sarkozy? Zapatero or Rajoy? And soon, the Polish people will be faced with another important test: Obama or Romney?
Translation: Aleksandra Sobocińska