Replay of 2017 in French Presidential elections

Macron benefits from vertical split in French society

Politics

April 12, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Replay of 2017 in French Presidential elections

President Emmanuel Macron sails into round two of presidential elections 2022

No surprises in first round of Presidential elections in France as President Emmanuel Macron sails into round two where he faces far right leader Marine Le Pen, in a replay of the elections in 2017, when both the key parties fell by the wayside hollowed out by Macron.

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If there was one surprising outcome of the first round of the French Presidential elections on Sunday, it was just how strongly Jean Luc Mélenchon performed, ending up in a respectable third position with 21.95 pc votes, just behind far right leader Marine Le Pen, who was the runner up with 23.15 pc votes.

Ever since the campaign began about six months ago, Mélenchon, head of far-left La France Insoumise (Unbowed France), has been rising in popularity, taking crucial votes away from other left-wing parties, notably the Socialists and the Greens, both of which ended ignominiously with under 5 pc of votes.

Far-left leader Jean Luc Mélenchon has surprised with strong finish to his campaign

Mélenchon’s rise has been spectacular from October, when he was fighting for the 6th spot with barely 8 pc support. Since then, the populist leader has managed to continuously increase his popularity to ultimately end up just 1.2 pc behind Le Pen, the closest that a far-left leader has come to going through to the second round.

Macron completes decimation of centre

Besides the fact that the run-off vote will take place between Macron and Le Pen, another startling similarity between the two elections of 2017 and 2022 is the complete decimation of the centre-right Republicans and centre-left Socialists, the two parties that had completely dominated the French politics for over 60 years. With numerous leaders of both the parties joining Macron from 2016 onwards, the two parties were already facing an existential challenge.

For a while it seemed that Valerie Pécresse, the candidate of the Republican party, had managed to revive the party and it seemed to be enroute to a come-back of sorts. Even earlier on in the campaign, in December, Pécresse had managed a sharp jump in support and got on to second position, displacing Le Pen. However, the cheer was short-lived as deep divisions within the party ensured that not a single prominent Republican leader, notably Nicholas Sarkozy, endorsed Pécresse’s candidature. As a result, she ended with a poor 4.78 pc, the worst performance in the party’s history.

The fate of the Socialist candidate and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo turned out to be even more disastrous as she ended with 1.75 pc, hardly better than any marginal, independent candidate.

The fate of both the parties was sealed by Macron who has usurped the position of Centre in French politics and ensured that the two parties did not have a ground to stand on.

Closer than before

Far right leader Marine Le Pen is preparing for the final bout to be held in under two weeks (Photo:Twitter)

As both the remaining candidates, Macron and Le Pen, prepare for the final bout in under two weeks, one can see numerous deals being struck with parties or candidates calling their supporters to vote for one or the other candidate.

Here, Le Pen starts out with a distinct and inherent disadvantage. For the past several decades, it has been the norm and an unwritten rule in France that all the parties, even the fiercest of rivals, band together to ensure that far right (Le Pen) is kept away from the Elysée Palace. Hence, over the course of next few days, one can expect calls by parties other than Macron’s or Le Pen’s to support Macron’s candidature.

Melenchon has already set the tenor by calling his supporters to never vote for Le Pen. One can expect similar stance by other politicians and this morning Sarkozy said that he would vote for Macron. As things stand today, Macron leads the second-round polls by 52 pc, with Le Pen at 48.

Only far right candidate and rival till recently, Eric Zemmour has urged his supporters to vote for Le Pen and offered her party his full support. There have been calls to integrate Zemmour into Le Pen campaign, something that Le Pen has at least officially declined, for now.

Though she may have an inbuilt disadvantage, Le Pen is far from being a write off yet as there is a strong anti-Macron sentiment in France and at times, it has been as high or even more than anti-Le Pen sentiment. For instance, on his campaign trail, Macron has had to face vitriolic attacks by voters who accuse him of having increased inequality as well as poverty in France, while taking care of his ‘rich banker friends’. Some analysts point that with far right and far-left, there are at least 52 pc voters who strongly dislike Macron.

If Le Pen manages to neutralise some of the voters who would be voting against her and manages to gain a slice of the anti-Macron voters, she can ensure that the outcome on April 24 will be far closer than what the polls are currently suggesting.

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