Most of you are doubtless unfamiliar with France and French politics. You've perhaps heard of Nicolas Sarkozy, but that's probably about it. On April 22nd, the first round of voting in the French Presidential election will begin. It's going to be very interesting.
The French Presidential election is a direct vote (they abandoned the electoral college in 1962). The people vote for candidates who qualified for the election and, if no candidate receives a majority, a run-off occurs between the two candidates who received the highest percentage of the votes.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the current President of France, despite trailing in many early polls, has now pulled into a slight lead, polling at 28% of voters staying him as a preference. He leads the UMP, France's center-right party. He's not terribly popular, but then, there aren't many terribly popular candidates in this election
François Hollande is the primary contender. Polling at 27%, he was nominated for the Presidency by the French Socialist and Radical Left (who are, curiously, moderate center-left) parties. Unlike some other countries I could name, being "left" is France is normal and people have no problem with the idea that others may have different points of view.
Hollande's major problem is that he's somewhat perceived as the Mitt Romney of France: he's so boring that paint watches him dry.
Moving back to the right, we have Marine Le Pen, who has desperately tried to hide her neo-Nazi credentials. She's been successful enough that she's now polling at 16%.
You may recall that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the French Presidential election in 2002. This led to the curious situation of even socialists campaigning for the right-wing candidate, Jacques Chirac. Chirac won with 82% of the vote, the largest Presidential electoral win in the history of the French Fifth Republic.
And finally on the left, we have Jean-Luc Mélenchon, trailing at 13%. The candidate of the Left Party, he's possibly doing better than one might have expected. He appears to be one of the more electrifying speakers on the campaign and he's getting very interesting press.
I suspect he's going to a force in French politics.
Along with: Nathalie Arthaud 1%, François Bayrou 10%, Jacques Cheminade 0%, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 1%, Eva Joly 3%, Philippe Poutou 1%
For quite some time, people said that Hollande was going to be the next President of France. The polls, however, have now tipped slightly in Sarkozy's favor, but well within the margin of error. In fact, enough people report themselves as undecided that this race is very much in the air. In particular, many French have expressed a concern over a repeat of the 2002 debacle, where the left candidate ran such a weak campaign that Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to make it to the second round. This wasn't because he French liked Le Pen, but because they were protest voting the major candidates.
If, somehow, Marine Le Pen made it to the second round, she would get trounced by her opponent. After all, pretty hate-mongers are still hate-mongers. However, she's toned down some of the hate speech, is trying to make friends with Israel, is rallying French around Islamaphobia and an anti-immigrant platform. Unfortunately, people often turn to extremists in times of crisis. There's less than a week to find out if France is going to shame itself on the international stage again.