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French elections and what they portend
May 6, 2017, 3:17 pm
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Second round of French presidential election on Sunday, pits Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front, against Emmanuel Macron, a centrist running as independent, is a rebuke to established political parties and reveals the deep disconnect between French political elite and people of the Fifth Republic that they are supposed to represent and serve

More than a victory of the challengers, the second round reveals the public’s deep disenchantment with the two mainstream parties. In the first round, the Republicans on the right and Socialists on the left together represented only 26 percent of the total votes — the lowest cumulated score for France's two main parties in the history of the Fifth Republic.

So how did this dichotomy from public sentiment happen for the two parties that have fashioned French political life for much of time of the Fifth Republic? Some blame France’s weak economy for voters’ rebellion against the establishment candidates. Others blame the European Union for its seeming aloofness and incompetence. Both parties are perceived by large section of voters as being disconnected from citizens, not delivering on their promises and conducting similar policies when in power.

Frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, 39, who launched his own movement ‘En Marche’ just last year, was previously an economic minister under the socialist government of outgoing President Francois Hollande. His 48-year-old rival Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right, who recently stepped down from the National Front (FN) party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1942, is attempting to distance herself from the racist roots of the party.

Both candidates are at either ends of the spectrum when it comes most issues of importance to voters. Macron is a great supporter of the EU, while Le Pen rails against it at every opportunity. She has promised a referendum on France's membership in the European organization and is calling for a ‘Frexit’ in line with the British Brexit vote. Other hot topics in the campaign have included: unemployment, security of the economy, workers' rights, globalization, immigration, refugees and secularism.

In the first round on 23 April, Macron won 23.9 percent of the vote compared with Le Pen's 21.4 percent. Polls before the campaign blackout on Sunday's vote showed Macron winning to the tune of around 65 percent of the electorate. Macron is likely to attract voters who cast their ballots for the traditional left and right candidates in the first round. Both losers, Socialist’s Benoit Hamon and the Republicans’ Francois Fillon have urged their supporters to vote for Macron. In the short term, if Macron wins, there is expected to be a greater sense of calm and security on the streets than if Le Pen wins the presidency.

However, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far-left candidate, who won more support from the left than Hamon in the initial round, has refused to call on his supporters to back Macron. Some believe that Melenchon’s fans could cast blank votes, others may vote for Le Pen. An unlikely victory for Le Pen victory could very well lead to the downfall of the European Union, an organization of which France is a founding member. Even if she fails to win, Le Pen has already won in many ways, forever polarizing French discourse and populace on so many issues.

The last time the far right made it this close to running France was in 2002, when Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was up against the right-wing Jacques Chirac, who ultimately won. Back then, the senior Le Pen won just 18 percent of the vote as millions rushed to keep the extreme right out. Many fear that a boycott or blank vote by a similar million voters could very well see Ms. Le Pen sweep into Élysée Palace.

 

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