Getting weary of austerity

The results of the first round on April 22 of the French presidential election underlined that France’s economic stagnation caused by the 2008 Lehman Brothers shock and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis was an important factor. They point to people’s strong dissatisfaction with the austerity policy being pushed to tide over the current crisis.

In the history of the Fifth Republic introduced in 1958, President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first incumbent president seeking re-election to have failed to win a first-round vote. A runoff on May 6 will be a contest between the Socialist candidate Mr. Francois Hollande, who won by garnering 28.63 percent of the ballots cast, and Mr. Sarkozy, who finished with 27.18 percent.

In his five-year first term, Mr. Sarkozy called for working more and earning more and promised to lower the unemployment rate to less than 5 percent. But the current unemployment rate of 10.0 percent is the worst since 1999. The first-round election results show that Mr. Sarkozy failed in a vote of confidence.

Mr. Sarkozy, who has pushed austerity together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, vows to balance the French budget in 2016. Mr. Hollande plans to achieve the budgetary balance in 2017. But Mr. Hollande says that he will raise taxes only after increasing spending first to stimulate the economy and create jobs. His proposal to impose a 75 percent tax on income over €1 million appears to have helped him receive support from voters.

A surprising outcome in the first round of the election is that Ms. Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front garnered 17.9 percent of the vote — the largest ever vote for FN, topping the 16.86 percent her father Jean-Marie Le Pen received in the first round of the 2002 presidential election. Mr. Sarkozy’s attempt to woo voters on the far right by focusing on immigration apparently did not work. Mr. Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front grabbed 11.11 percent of the vote. The votes for Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Melenchon show that people’s dislike of Mr. Sarkozy’s policy is strong.

The result of the runoff will depend on moves by supporters of Ms. Le Pen and the centrist Mr. Francois Bayrou, who got 9.13 percent of the vote. If Mr. Hollande wins, he will have to tackle the difficult task of selling his policy aimed at economic growth and job creation to leaders of Germany and other EU member countries.