I spent election night at the Socialist party HQ, next to the Musee d’Orsay on Paris’ left bank, waiting to see whether voters would favour Segolene or Bayrou as the second choice to Sarkozy. Victory for Segolene would help her party heal its wounds after their humiliuating defeat in 2002 against Le Pen. Failure could well mean self combustion for the party that still has problems accepting the market economy – or at least admitting that it has.
Luckily for her, and perhaps women politicians in general, she did her party justice, coming second to Sarkozy with around 26 percent of the vote to his 30 percent – a difference of about 2 million voters. With the vote on the far right and left squeezed, the 6.6 million who ticked bayrou’s box will determine who becomes France’s next president.
By the time I arrived at 6 p.m., polls were already suggesting Segolene had a comfortable lead over Bayrou. Still, at 8 p.m. when the exit polls were announced, crowds engaged in the requisite cheering, screaming and flag waving.
`Victory is possible,’ rejoiced Jean-Luc Melenchon, a senator and Fabius supporter, who had briefly flirted with the far-left after Royal’s selection last year. He claimed Bayrou supporters would be more inclined to join the anti-Sarkozy movement than vote for the former interior minister’s scary ulta-liberal vision for France.
Royal left her supporters to celebrate by themselves for at least 90 minutes, allowing me to chat happily with Mr. X, who made no mention of the relevations in my book of his proposition eight months ago. Had he read the reviews? Or noted my recent absence from the campaign? I didn’t ask.
Eventually Madame popped up on television screens to make her victory speech from her rural constituency in Melle. In a stiff white suit, she used her hands to try and squish any jubilation from the crowds which she addressed like a school principal. She called for voters to help her “make France advance without brutilizing it.”
The immediate question: would she be seeking a deal with Bayrou?
`This is not a Scottish election,’ Patrick Menucci, one of her closest aides and a street-savy former car salesman from Marseilles, told me. `There is no proportionality. It’s a presidential election. We are not changing our line. We
are not negotiating with anyone.’
For how long I wonder?
Around 10.30 p.m. Hollande and other party grandees began trickling back from the television studios where they’d been defending their vision for France. Outside, Rue Solferino was full of young people, waving flags in line with Segolene’s patriotic wishes and being entertained by a DJ. When it began raining around 1 a.m., they transformed the cardboard campaign banners into hats and carried on dancing.
Four hours after her first victory speech, Segolene addressed the Paris crowd in the same white suit, though visibly more relaxed.
`Segolene Presidente,’ chanted the beer drinking youngsters.
`Ouiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, ouiiiiiiiiiiii, ouiiiiiiiiiiii, write it down, ouiiiiiiiiiiiiii,’ one screamed behind me as I scribbled on my notepad.
‘The battle starts tonight,’ she said from the DJ’s stage. ‘It’s time to bring people together, create a dynamic.’
Inside, the team that accompanied her from Melle were less enthusiastic. Having studied the numbers (An Ipsos poll conducted five minutes after polls closed gave sarkozy a clear 54-46 lead) they were worried about their ability to attract the traditionally right-leaning Bayrou supporters after Segolene’s campaign from the left.
‘We’ve done better than Jospin,’ urged Socialist party officials to boost flagging moral of Segolene’s staff. `Mitterrand didn’t do any better in 1981.’ Segolene’s people nodded weakly, picked up their suitcases, and wheeled them into the darkness to catch some valuable sleep before the gruelling second-round campaign trail begins.