French Presidential Election and Prospects of Change in Relations with Iran

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Pirooz Izadi
15 April 2012

The first round of French presidential election will be held on 22 April and if no candidate can gain the absolute majority of votes, the second round on 6 May will determine who the next French president is. The incumbent president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has failed to keep up his promises regarding solving the problem of unemployment, increasing purchasing power, reducing budget deficit, redressing negative trade balance and stimulating economic growth. In addition, Sarkozy's personal behavior has been very controversial provoking resentment among ordinary people who consider him as the friend of big capitalists and having a passion for luxury. All these factors have contributed to predictions suggesting that he will be loser in the forthcoming election.

Given above, although his main rival, the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, is not a charismatic figure, he is considered a default winner. Sarkozy has tried to make up his lag in polls by introducing the slogan "Powerful France" and exploiting his seemingly successes in the field of foreign policy including his mediation in Georgia's crisis, attack on Libya to implement UN Security Council resolution for protecting civil lives, participation in the overthrow of Ivory Coast's president who refused to abandon presidency after losing election, and persuasion of Germany to accept proposed mechanisms for saving euro.

Also, he tried to adopt the themes cherished by the National Front candidate, Marine Le Pen, to attract her followers to his camp. For this reason, he promised to introduce stricter laws on immigration and to revise Schengen treaty. On the other hand, he is portraying himself as a man who can save France in a crisis situation. His propaganda revolves around implying that changing leadership would be a dangerous course of action when the country is grappling with crisis. Therefore, it can be said that he is adopting a strategy called "discourse of leadership". But, it seems that these measures are not sufficient to provide him more popularity and to enhance his chance for reelection. Economic situation is usually the most determining factor in the voting behavior of French people. As recent polls show Hollande has a decisive advantage over his rival in the second round.

To confront Sarkozy and his policies, François Hollande has entered presidential campaign with a "discourse of change". In economic realm, he wants to take steps to lessen the burden of economic pressures on ordinary people and low income sections of the society. He tries to highlight Sarkozy's weaknesses in different fields and to open new prospects for desperate people who distrust political elites. The polls show that more than 30 per cent of people will abstain to participate in the election. However, it does not seem that he makes a significant change in foreign policy orientations. The only thing that we can say with regard to Iran is that Hollande lacks the aspirations of Sarkozy to play a pioneering role in taking initiatives against Iran or placing himself on the first line of opposition to Iran, despite the fact that he has announced he would maintain the tough line towards Iran followed since Jacques Chirac. While we should not expect that France under Hollande abandon the Western camp in dealing with Iran and extend friendship hand to Iran, we also should not dismiss any prospect for better relations between the two countries.  Therefore, there is some hope that relations between Iran and France will probably enter a new phase in which reconciliation would not be something impossible.