Last Sunday the world witnessed a new French Revolution: During the 1st round of the presidential elections French voters ostrazised the political establishment which has more or less ruled France under changing banners and names since the end of WWII.
As a result, 2 outsiders emerged who could not be further apart from one another in terms of their agendas and personalities: Emmanuel Macron – independent-centrist, pro-European and political newbie, who only last year had launched a cross-party movement called “En March!” (translates as “let’s go” or “let’s move forward”), and Marine Le Pen, euro-sceptic European Member of Parliament, experienced political speaker, candidate in the 2012 election, leader of the far right Front National (until stepping down shortly after the 1st round).
My observations in summary ….
This revolution has only just started: Turnout of 77% was slightly below the 80% of the first round in the 2012 election but speaks of continued strong interest and desire to bring about change. This is an electorate which will keep taps on the next president regarding their election promises.
Who will emerge as President on 7 May: In the run-up to 20 April support for Macron has been steady around 23-25% since March and in step with similar slightly lower percentages for Le Pen. In the 2nd round all who had voted for other candidates in the 1st round will rally around him in opposition to the Front National. I feel this one is his to loose. My cautious forecast is backed up by a steep surge in polls predicting his election straight after the 1st round.
Which takes us to the next key event ….
Why the French Parliamentary Elections matter (11 & 18 June 2017):
A French president is only effective if his/ her selected prime minister is supported by a majority in the Assembleé Nationale.
Given that neither Macron nor Le Pen have a mainstream party machine behind them, they will have to make friends in parliament to get stuff done – which can amount to a challenging exercise if voters choose a parliament hostile to the presidential agenda.
The technical word for this concept is “Cohabitation” (translates as “living together”) and describes a power-sharing agreement between president and prime minister. Some famous examples: Socialist President Francois Mitterrand who had to work with a Republican PM Jacques Chirac, and a President Chirac who had too get along with Socialist PM Lionel Jospin (see this Politico article for more helpful context).
This is why Macron has been inviting candidates from all parties to run under banner of his movement “En March!” but established AN members have been slow to take up his offer as not to alienate their base. Meanwhile the Front National has been successful to get their members elected at a local level but despite its surge in popularity only ever achieved 2 seats in parliament.
My perception is that Emmanuel Macron’s strategy of building consensus and seeking progressive alliances beyond party boundaries has been appealing to a growing number of voters tired of party politics and polarisation, especially among the younger generation who are plugged in. Compared to his counterpart Marine Le Pen, he strikes me as projecting a more positive path forward when addressing how to take on issues voters are concerned with such as employment, education and social security. That said Marine Le Pen has been a vocal and eloquent catalyst for those who do not resonate with (or are afraid of) a multicultural interconnected world free of boundaries, see this interesting recording of her addressing the Oxford Union and answering questions by a very astute student audience.
It’s not my place to judge who would be a better president for France at this time but I will make a couple of wishes:
May this revolution be a peaceful and benevolent one.
May the outcome of this election serve the French people well, and in doing so, all of Europe.
Vive la France!
©️Judith Bogner 26 April 2017