Saturday, May 6, 2017

French Elections - Macron Holds Solid Lead Over LePen, But Will That Be Enough?

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

La tour Eiffel illuminée en bleu blanc rouge - Fluctuat nec Mergitur - Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Here we go again.

This is a familiar story, right? There is one politician, representing the extreme right, who the media does not like, who starts off red hot but is dismissed by many who feel that this early success will fade out, but who nevertheless keeps lingering, and keeps surviving. That candidate blames foreigners for eroding not only law and order, but also taking jobs from citizens, and seems to want to see the European Union disbanded. Then, there is the other politician who at least claims to be far more leftist, but people feel disgusted with that politician's too close ties to big banks and corporations, and a seemingly wishy-washy, centrist political stance. That politician leads in the presidential polls against the extremist candidate late until very late, but suddenly, his campaign's accounts are hacked, and a whole bunch of compromising emails are released. 

Well, if you thought that was a description of last year's American presidential elections, you could easily be forgiven. But, in fact, it is also a description of what apparently is going on right now in the French presidential elections.

Last year, it was Donald Trump who was considered the extremist and dangerously unhinged candidate, while Hillary Clinton was the wish-washy centrist with the uncomfortable ties to major Wall Street firms and "too big to fail" banks. 

Now this year, across the pond in France, Marine LePen is considered by many to be the extremist candidate, threatening to end France's association with the European Union (what is already being called "Frexit") and blaming foreigners for eroding law and order in France, and taking jobs away from French citizens. Like with Donald Trump, she has a clear anti-Islamic bent, and many feel that she is strong when it comes to issues of security, which is one of the key issues in a country that has seen many terrorist attacks in recent years.

Macron is not seen as nearly as strong on national security, at least by many people who feel that they have had it with terror attacks. There are also concerns that Macron would be a continuation of economic and social policies that have not been much to the benefit of the country for many years now. There are concerns that the best he can do is hobble together a weak coalition to try to retain France in the European Union, and that the popular wave of nationalism that has swept through much of the West, and was most in evidence last year with the Brexit and Trump votes, can only be temporarily suppressed in France, even if Macron wins.

Indeed, it is difficult to gauge how France will react should Macron win, and with a LePen loss. And that is the expected result, with Macron having held a solid lead ever since the second round began, and even expanding that lead in recent months. However, there is that controversial email hacking story coming out. And we should not forget that many French citizens feel that they cannot bring themselves to vote for either candidate, much like millions of Americans felt that they could not bring themselves to vote for either major party candidate last year. Could this seeming voter antipathy tip the balance in LePen's favor? Admittedly, the over 20 percent lead that Macron currently holds would be a lot to make up, as Hillary Clinton never held anywhere near that kind of a lead against Trump in last year's American presidential elections.

One way or the other, it has been a fascinating election in France, although sadly, it is one that I, being a French citizen, did not actively participate in. I did take part on the European Constitution referendum some years ago, as well as the 2012 presidential elections. However, my documents were not up to date this time around, sadly, and I do regret that. Next time, hopefully, I will be a little more careful to take care of all of that in a timely manner, so that this will not be an issue again. 


  1. As you've undoubtedly heard by now – it's past 8:30pm EST on Sunday as I type this, which means it's past 2:30am on Monday in France – Macron was elected with 65% of the votes, just under two thirds. I have mixed feelings: I'm relieved to see that Marine Le Pen was defeated, but A) the Front National remains a growing threat – long gone are the days where they fail to make it to the second round, or get defeated in a rout if they do make it, and B) like you – and like a lot of people – I'm far from convinced that Macron is going to be able to have much success lifting France out of the mire. Unemployment is high, racial/ethnic tensions are high as well, and I can't really fathom those divisions easing any time soon. The fact that terrorist violence seldom fails to make headlines in France for any great length of time anymore obviously fans the flames of extremism and exacerbates those divisions. The truth of the matter is I can't really fathom anyone dramatically improving things there any time soon. Sometimes it really feels as though France may ultimately be headed for civil war. I obviously hope I'm wrong, that I'm simply succumbing to alarmist, doomsday fatalism in saying such a thing. I can only hope that Macron dramatically exceeds expectations, and that he produces results sooner than later because patience and optimism are (understandably) in short supply, and therefore luxuries he simply doesn't have.

  2. It looks like I was off slightly: he actually got 66%. Anyway, here's hoping Macron lives up to what he said in his acceptance speech: "Le jeune centriste pro-européen Emmanuel Macron a assuré vouloir «tout faire» pour que les Français «n'aient plus aucune raison de voter pour les extrêmes», après sa large victoire à la présidentielle marquée par un score historique de l'extrême droite." TRANSLATION: "Pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron says he will 'do his utmost' to ensure that the French 'never again have any reason to vote for extremist candidates' following his large victory, which was marked by an unprecedented number of votes by a Far-Right candidate."
    I took that from one of Canada's major French-language newspapers:

  3. Well, I am pleased that Marcon won, rather than LePen. Had she won, France might have pulled out of the EU, and that very well might have derailed the whole thing, and greatly destabilized both France and Europe. Plus, she was kind of France's answer to Trump. However, Macron seemed to be a younger, male version of Hillary Clinton in some ways, with overly close ties to banks and corporations that may feel suspiciously close to corruption. But let's hope my cynicism is unwarranted and unfounded, and that he is a successful French President. Lord knows that France, and the world, has some huge challenges and problems, and it seemed like these were too much for Hollande. Seriously, you could see how overwhelmed he felt in his facial expressions after some of those terrorist incidents. Let's hope Macron succeeds where other French presidents have failed!

  4. I too am pleased – though Macron remains somewhat of an unknown quantity, I'm convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that his opponent would be an unmitigated disaster for France. That's why there's so much riding on his presidency, which if you can imagine begins this coming Sunday – you don't have drawn-out transition periods in Europe the way we do here. If he's able to give most French people the feeling that things are getting better and that there's hope, the Front National's numbers will inevitably decrease. If on the contrary he fails to do that, their numbers will increase, and the consequences would be severe and far-reaching.

    I'm struck by your comment about Hollande's facial expressions revealing a certain sense of feeling overwhelmed, of not being "l'homme de la situation" (which roughly translates to "up to the challenge/task") following terrorist attacks in France. There's certainly an element of truth to that. Politicians need to convey a certain sense of inner calm, confidence and resolve – it's kind of a prerequisite if they're to actually get anywhere in terms of successfully implementing their agendas and maintaining the people's support. Sadly, France went from a "little man with a Napoleon complex" – Sarkozy – to Hollande, who as you accurately point out always seemed bewildered and unsure of himself. People got tired of the former's brash, cocky grandstanding, much like they got tired of the latter's perceived weakness and ineffectuality. Hollande quickly became the object of ridicule, some of it legitimate, some of it not so much (i.e. cheap shots regarding his physical appearance, mannerisms, etc.) At any rate, I can only second your sentiment: here's hoping Macron succeeds where other French presidents have failed.