PARIS – France has now conducted its ninth presidential election under direct universal suffrage. And, for the first time in 17 years, after three consecutive defeats, the left – embodied in the Socialist candidate, François Hollande – will return to Élysée Palace. Indeed, the first implication of this unquestionably significant election is that it confirms a return to stability.
France is the largest country in Europe to have so much trouble finding its balance. Its revolution in 1789 initiated a long period of profound instability, featuring two empires, three monarchies, and five republics. The French have gone through 13 constitutions in less than 200 years.
At 54 years old, the current Fifth Republic is the second longest-lasting regime since the revolution. At times, there has been talk of a Sixth Republic, which would address limited but real concerns and difficulties. But voter turnout in the latest presidential election (80% in the first round, and 81% in the second round) leaves no doubt: our current system is strong, and we French are attached to it.
But the primary importance of the election result is the left’s return to power for only the second time in 31 years. In fact, when François Mitterand was elected in 1981, the left had been out of power since 1957.