French presidential election, 2012

For those interested in politics and international relations, 2012 is an important year, even exciting, as there will be changes in leadership, or the incumbant leaders face re-elections in many countries. Russia has already had its presidential election, and Mr Putin is back in power, not without controversy. The US will be electing its president later this year, even if he assumes the office in the following year, and it is speculated that a transfer of power will begin this year in China from Mr Hu to Mr Xi. In this busy year of political changes, the most immediate contest is in France, where Mr Sarkozy is seeking his re-election.

To put this busy year in context, this year can lead to a change of the leaders in four out of the five permanent members of the UNSC. And if the coalition government in the UK were to fall, an unlikely event but nevertheless a possibility, and triggering a general election in Britain, then that would be 5 out of 5. While I don’t think international relations or politics or history is determined solely by great men and women of these five countries, I think it’s foolish to think that leaders do not matter or that what happens in these five states do not have profound effects and repercussions in many other countries. I believe they – the leaders of these five states – do matter, and it matters that they get along.

I’m an ignorant, but an interested, observer of French politics: I’m not particularly surprised by the revival of Mr Sarkozy’s fortunes. People who know more about French politics have told me not to write off Mr Sarkozy, as he is a very good campaigner. According to the polls, Mr Sarkozy is neck-and-neck with Mr Hollande for the voting intentions in the first round at or just below 30%, however, and crucially, Mr Sarkozy is still trailing Mr Hollande in the second round by about 10% if these two were to progress from the first round of voting, even if the gap has narrowed. Ms Le Pen on the far right and Mr Mélenchon on the hard left are at around 15% and Mr Bayrou has the support of around 10%. Looking at the opinion polls, it looks as if Mr Hollande is losing support to Mr Mélenchon, but Mr Sarkozy is gaining votes from Ms Le Pen. The most striking feature of the polls is the increase in support for Mr Mélenchon. Mr Bayrou has been dropping in the polls, and it would be interesting to know to whom his support is heading.

Unless something drastic happens, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande will go through to the second round, and it will probably be a close contest between these two candidates.