By Jim Hayes
Following France’s presidential election has been instructive. Like in Australia, it is obvious that a large part of the population has lost faith in its politicians. This became marked 2017 with the rise of Emmanuel Macron and his new party La République En Marche (LREM). Macron won the presidential race then and he rest is now history.
The difference is that France’s loss of faith was more intense than Australia’s has been to date. Both Macron and Le Pen, who heads the ultra-right Rassemblement National (RN), rose on the near corpses of the traditional Republican and Socialist parties.
Marie Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron
Election 2022 and the contest between Macron and rival Marie Le Pen can’t be understood outside this context.
Here are some salient figures of the recent first-round results. Macron came out with just a hair off 28 percent of the vote. Le Pen just tipped 23 Percent. Hardly an earth-shattering result for either of them. Together they account for only 51 percent of the vote.
Often ignored by the media was the third runner, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, representing La France Insoumise (LFI), the working-class left-wing movement, which also rose out of the demise of the traditional parties, and the simultaneous collapse of the Communist Party support base. He managed to win a hair off 22 percent, almost as much as Le Pen.
Mélenchon’s importance is often underestimated – if not ignored. This does not change that he and his party have emerged as a real force, with a potential for further growth.
Photo from Bloomberg: Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Finally, there is the 25 percent of the population who chose not to vote for anyone. This part of France feels alienated from the political process. Many se it stacked up against them.
The reality is that the president that does finally emerge after the 24 April vote, will only really be with the genuine support of a minority of the population.
Since under France’s electoral law, when no candidate attracts more than half of the vote, there must be a second round of voting. This will take place on 24 April, and only the top two candidates will be on the ballot.
The stakes are stark. If Macron wins, France will continue much the same as for the last few years, with its political problems and divisions festering under a calm surface appearance. A victory for Le Pen will means a sharp shift towards her ultra-right vision, using the state as a vehicle for its implementation.
Consequently, the line has been drawn on whether to support or oppose this shift. Macron says he will do all he can to oppose it. Mélenchon has declared he will mobilise his support base behind Macron. Together they can pull 49.5 percent of the vote, and it should not be hard to pick what is needed to get over the 50 percent threshold.
But it may not be as easy as this. Many of the voters are angry over Macron promises that have not materialised, the rising autocracy, and failure on carbon emission reductions is also important to the French electorate. Most of all, the electorate had expected relief against a rising cost of living, and this has not materialised.
The discontent was in part behind the rise of the Yellow Vest movement, which is still there in the fabric of French politics, and now mostly behind Mélenchon. Macron is not popular here, and there is a potential for Le Pen to benefit by default. Ticking the box for Macron may be just too much to expect.
In June, France goes to parliamentary elections. Translate the result of the presidential election there and cobbling together a majority will be difficult for anyone to achieve. Politics will become more turbulent, the future less certain, and the prospect of further change real.