The second round of French Presidential poll is on May 7th. In the first round, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and central-left candidate Emmanuel Macron have come out on top. The top two spots have gone to protest candidates as they are both critical of traditional elites, even though from different perspectives. They are being called outsiders despite Emmanuel being France’s former economy minister and Le Pen being a current member of European Parliament. This is the first time that the two mainstream parties, the Socialist Party and the Republican Party are out of the Presidential race. The road ahead for the next President of France would be tough, given that the French electorate’s scepticism about its political leadership, worries about unemployment, the effect of globalisation on country’s economy and identity and their attitude to Europe, have taken a front seat. The French Presidential election is on May 7th, it is not a referendum on the European Union, however, its outcome will have a serious implication on the future of EU. Le Pen’s position is anti-European Union, while Macron is an ardent pro-European. As of now, the opinion polls show that Macron is ahead of Le Pen for the final round.
The electorate of France forwarded a fragmented mandate where the four leading candidates garnered between 19 to 24 percent votes. A simple breakdown of vote shares reveals that both the proponents and opponents of globalisation are equally divided in the elections. Curiously enough, the French far-right and the far-left are in agreement with respects of dealing with the European Union. The choice may not be as easy as it seems for the French electorate. The lead between the two, which was initially projected as 60:40 (Macron: Pen), is now narrowing down due to Pen’s consolidation of support from various quarters.
Emmanuel Macron does not have any mainstream party behind him and he is totally inexperienced, so he might find it very difficult to forge a centre-left coalition in his favour. On the other hand, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s positions could lead to ‘Frexit’ and she could turn the relationship of France with Germany upside down and revive pre-war positions, to think in worst terms. Therefore, either way, it is not a good augur for the future of both France and Europe.
Macron does not have an established political party, so he has to pitch his appeal at a different level where he shows himself as centrist but his foreign and economic policies are liberal. Moreover, Emmanuel Macron was the Economy minister in Francois Hollande Government for less than two years. Hollande has become extremely unpopular, hence, the anti-incumbency that Hollande currently holds is somewhat shared by him with Macron because of his earlier involvement in the Government.
Most of the traditional politicians, including Francois Hollande have endorsed Macron for the position of President of France. In terms of winning the elections, naturally he will gain public support, but in terms of his image in long term, he will face a major hurdle because a fragmented Parliament would present a roadblock for Macron to realise his reformative ambitions for the French economy and its relationship with the EU.
It is to be seen if En Marche (Macron’s political party) is a political movement or a political party. In case it is merely a political movement, then it is inevitable that the 577-member Parliament will continue to be dominated by the Socialists and Republicans, the two mainstream parties.
In 2002, when Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the second round, all the traditional parties came together to roundly trounce him. But this time, his daughter Marine Le Pen has transformed the National Front party and she is trying to poach some of Francois Fillon’s support base, besides mobilising her own support base, so that it turns out to be a large number.
Marine Le Pen has been successful in rebranding her party in the sense of moving it away from pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic image. She has succeeded in mainstreaming the National Front to a fair extent. In the three major issues that dominated the French elections, i.e. terrorism, migration and unemployment, Marine Le Pen has been successful in presenting a kind of nationalist or conservative perspective back to the French politics, which has actually helped her in her rebranding exercise.
Besides the result of the French elections, the upcoming elections in Germany (in September) would hold a key to the European project. If the elections in both France and Germany goes on a development oriented plank i.e. in strong support of ‘Europeanism’, then the issues like Brexit and relationship with US and Russia would be effectively dealt by the European Union.
The reality test conveys us that it is immaterial who wins the Presidential elections in France because both Macron and Le Pen faces the same issue of inability to secure a majority in Parliament. The traditional political parties are not losing their grip over the legislature anytime soon. Hence, the face-off will continue and ultimately the people of France would lose the opportunity of ‘good governance’ that they seem to be voting for this week.