Outgoing French head of state Nicolas Sarkozy has plumbed the electoral depths as the first incumbent president under the Fifth Republic set up by General de Gaulle in 1958 to lose the initial round of his re-election bid.
His first-round defeat by Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande confirms widespread personal antipathy towards this conservative politician, who has also plumbed political depths by adopting the racist and Islamophobic rhetoric of the National Front.
He competed with National Front leader Marine Le Pen in milking electoral advantage from last month's murders of soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse by fulminating against "radical Islam."
In playing the race and religion cards, Sarkozy acknowledged the paucity of votes to be won from spotlighting his role, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, of imposing an austerity agenda throughout the European Union.
Mass demonstrations and general strikes have testified to French workers' opposition to this deflationary formula for axing jobs, destroying public services and undermining pension entitlements.
Le Pen felt secure in her grip on the racist vote to expand her repertoire to include opportunist attacks on the banks, bringing her party its highest ever share of the vote in a presidential election.
With Hollande concentrating his fire on Sarkozy, it was left to Left Front nominee Jean-Luc Melenchon to expose the hate-filled rhetoric of Le Pen's campaign.
The freshly reinvigorated French Communist Party provided the bulk of Melenchon's electoral footsoldiers, along with members of his own Left Party and smaller left-wing and environmental groups.
Despite registering an opinion poll rating of just 4 per cent at the onset of the presidential campaign, an increasingly well-received message that pulled no punches on the class issues underlying the economic crisis brought a result of nearly three times that amount.
That was in the face of the usual jibes about a vote to the left of the Socialist Party being "wasted."
Far from that being the case, the huge Left Front rallies - 120,000 turning out for instance on a tourist beach in Marseille - served not only to enthuse and extend its own support but also to affect Hollande's campaign.
The Socialist candidate, who had previously promised electors little apart from not being Sarkozy, has since fished in the left's pond, pledging to renegotiate the EU fiscal pact that imposes a public debt limit on all eurozone economies and demanding higher taxes on the wealthy.
It's now game on with, as Melenchon pointed out in an interview with the French Communist Party daily Humanite at the weekend, the real possibility of inflicting the first defeat on the right in a major European economy for years.
"If Sarkozy is beaten, the Sarkozy-Merkel axis collapses. We thereby open a space for all of Europe," he declared, pointing out that elections will follow in Greece and then Germany, which could herald a new political situation across Europe.
However, the victory is not yet won and there can be little doubt that Sarkozy will sink further into the political sewer in a bid to attract all who voted for Le Pen in the first round.
The goal of the Left Front now will be to mobilise its voters to deliver a knockout blow to Sarkozy and to further influence the political direction adopted by Hollande, including convening a Sixth Republic constituent assembly to promote a deepening of political and economic democracy.
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