Last Sunday, in the first round of the French presidential election, voters returned Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen as the top two candidates. Macron came first in the poll with 23.8% of the votes, with Le Pen coming second with 21.5%, according to the final results announced by the French Interior Ministry.
Macron’s strongest support came from the Western regions of France, and Le Pen’s from the Mediterranean coastal regions and the northern regions along France’s border with Belgium. Both candidates now go into a second round run-off election on Sunday 7th May, pitting the two political outsiders against one another – an independent pro-business liberal against an anti-immigration and anti-EU right wing candidate
This result marks the rejection of the France’s political ruling class from the traditional left and right, neither of which parties has qualified for the deciding vote.
The Centre-Right candidate Francois Fillon ran a flawed campaign that was damaged by allegations that he stole state funds to give his wife and children taxpayer funded “fake jobs” as parliamentary assistants.
The Socialist Benoît Hamon came in fourth place calling the destruction of the left by the far-right for the second time in 15 years a “moral defeat”. He has described Le Pen as an “enemy of the Republic” and his party is now a natural ally to participate in any future coalition with Macron’s new party “En Marche”.
Ce soir je ne pense qu'à celles et ceux qui nous attendent. Je ne les abandonnerai jamais. Je ne déserterai jamais. https://t.co/jmPD9CoRMo
— Benoît Hamon (@benoithamon) April 23, 2017
Pollsters are forecasting that in the second round Macron is likely to win 61% of the votes, and Le Pen 39 %. If they are correct – and they have so far performed with commendable accuracy – then Emmanuel Macron will become France’s youngest President at the age of 39 years. He has never run for election before, and he is now one step away from the most senior elected role in the nation. Nevertheless polling errors in other countries facing key votes demands caution in assessing forecasts. The result is by no means a foregone conclusion and the “lady has yet to sing”; the remaining days of campaigning will contain unexpected twists and turns.
There have for example been credible reports of cyber attacks on the campaign offices of Emmanuel Macron. The attacks are alleged to carry digital “fingerprints” similar to the suspected Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and others in the 2016 US elections, according to an independent report by a security research group. More dirty tactics can be expected in the remaining days of the campaign.
But whoever now wins the Macron-Le Pen race, French politics is destined to change direction dramatically and forever. The presidential election will be followed in June by parliamentary elections for 577 seats in the National Assembly, which will determine how successfully the President will be able to govern. Although Le Pen is not favoured by the pollsters to win the presidency, her party currently only has 2 MPS in the Assembly and still hopes to increase that number.
If Macron is elected as predicted, then it is likely that he will need to form a coalition government between centre right and centre left which will be an altogether new political experience for France, and will test the ideology of some deputies.
A key policy issue that is still being fought in the election battlegrounds concerns immigration. This is where Le Pen and the centre right of Francois Fillon still share some common ground. Notably, both parties have spoken in favour of rapprochement with Russia, and have sent delegations to visit the illegally occupied territory of Crimea in breach of French national, EU and United Nations policy, thereby themselves committing international immigration offences.
These moral inconsistencies and other discrepancies in the declared positions of the established political parties in France will need to be flushed out in the weeks ahead, if the electorate is to be given a clear and unambiguous picture of the political ethics and policies that they can really expect from their deputies.