Sarkozy at Dusk

PARIS – And the next French President will be…the Socialist Party’s candidate François Hollande. A month ago, any prediction uttered with such certainty would have sounded imprudent, if not foolish. Uncertainty prevailed. Four candidates dominated the competition, and no one would have dared to predict which two will make it to the second-round run-off. Indeed, the race looked more open than ever in recent memory.

Suddenly, something happened – not an event in itself (though it started with Hollande’s first great public rally in mid-January), but rather something that may resemble an irresistible process that can be summarized as follows: a majority of the French want to punish a president who has fallen from their graces.

They might not have dared to do so had they not found a reasonably credible alternative. Hollande, by appearing more sound and determined than most French voters thought he was, has given a voice (and a face) to a widespread desire to reject the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.

That is not to say that Hollande is charismatic. On the contrary, there remain lingering doubts about his gravitas, not to mention serious concerns about the realism or the wisdom of his program. But, unlike his former companion, Ségolène Royal, who challenged Sarkozy for the presidency in 2007, he looks and sounds “real.”