In a year of important presidential elections and power turnovers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is up for re-election.
Like his American counterpart Barack Obama, Monsieur Sarkozy faces a serious uphill battle to remain in power.
Beset by various issues, including a worsening economy and rising unemployment, Sarkozy's chances of staying at the Élysée Palace for another five-year term seem rather bleak. For one thing, polls show that he is widely unpopular across a broad swath of the French public.
Reluctant to forego his duties as president to campaign for re-election, the incumbent has not yet delivered his bid for the candidacy. Although Sarkozy does have until March 16 to officially declare himself a candidate, it is a foregone conclusion that he will indeed run and face two formidable challengers: Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, and the extreme right-winger, Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant National Front.
If Sarkozy does indeed lose the election, he will be the first incumbent French president to relinquish his office since 1981 when Francois Mitterrand defeated the one-term President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Indeed, there is even doubt as to whether Sarkozy will make it past the first round of polls which are scheduled for April 22. A second run-off will then take place in early May.
The recent Ifop-Fiducial poll results for French newspaper Paris Match showed Sarkozy with a popularity rating of 24 percent, well behind Hollande, who leads with 30.5 percent. More alarming, Sarkozy is only about 4 points ahead of Le Pen, the National Front leader who many feel is unelectable due to her party's extremist views on various issues.
France's Economic Plight Sarkozy's principal obstacle to re-election is France's fragile economic state plight - a direct result of the euro zone financial crisis that has spilled across the continent.
In December 2011, the number of unemployed people in France reached 2.85-million, a twelve-year high, or 9.9 percent of the workforce, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Jobless claims have also leapt by 5.6 percent over the past year.
The financial daily newspaper Les Echos reported that almost nine-hundred French factories have been shut down since the economic crisis of 2008, costing some 100,000 jobs in France alone.
France is also overwhelmed with a public debt of some 1.69-trillion euros, which takes up about 85 percent of GDP. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), government officials expect that debt to climb to 89.1 percent of GDP this year and 89.3 percent of output next year.
The government has instituted two debt-cutting packages since August which are designed to save 72-billion euros, although Sarkozy has also promised no further austerity measures ahead of the April-May elections.
With France deeply ensnared in the euro zone debt crisis, the country keeps piling on more public debt as it contributes to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a program created by the European Union (EU) to help bail out EU states such as Greece. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has stated that the ESM would total some 500 billion euros, through a mix of paid-in capital, callable capital and guarantees.
Furthermore, the country's trade deficit reached an all-time high of 69.6 billion euros at the end of last year, according to AFP, highlighting France's eroding share of global trade and its lack of competitive advantage.
Even worse, Paris is forecasting a tepid 0.5 percent growth in GDP this year, down from the government's prior 1.0 percent projection.
All these issues may have culminated with France's credit downgrade by ratings agency Standard & Poor's from the coveted AAA to AA+ last month. S&P cited, among other things, that politicians in Europe have not addressed systemic stresses in the euro zone. (Incidentally, Sarkozy shrugged off the downgrade as a non-event).
What does all this mean for Sarkozy? Probably, an unhappy and weary pool of French voters, desperate for change and an improved economy.
Pressure from the Extreme Right The French public's deep discontent with the economy may push many voters to the extreme right of the political spectrum -- namely, Marine Le Pen of the National Front who may pose the greatest threat to Sarkozy in the first round of elections.
By nakedly appealing to French nationalism and xenophobia, Le Pen, the daughter of the notorious Jean-Marie Le Pen, advocates, among other things, France's withdrawal from the euro, according to the British newspaper, the Guardian.
The National Front's party line has been to blame the EU for dragging France into the euro zone debt crisis and for creating the seemingly insurmountable unemployment problems. The right-wing group has also long demonized France's Muslim immigrant population -- which now numbers some 5-million people, making it the largest Islamic presence of any European country.
Sarkozy came in with fresh hopes in his 2007 election victory - as a beacon of national renewal and transformation. Since then, the French have felt let down and disillusioned by Sarkozy's empty promises.
Besides increasing the retirement age limit from 60 to 62, and by trying to impose other unpopular labor reforms, Sarkozy has alienated a large base of voters.
Is Re-Election Even a Possibility? Although Sarkozy's chances at re-election are looking thinner than slim, he can point to some successes, most notably the triumphant NATO mission in Libya, which overthrew the former dictator of that country, Moammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy was at the forefront in pursuing a military campaign in Libya and in recognizing the Libyan Transitional Council. Sarkozy's actions in Libya were widely admired and supported in France.
Indeed, Sarkozy has made a name for himself in international politics
He has also received an endorsement from German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, but unfortunately, Merkel cannot vote in France.
However, it will mostly come down to whether the French want leadership or change. The economy is the biggest factor that will affect the French vote -- but whether Socialist Hollande or National Front Le Pen could do a better job is still debatable.