French Presidential Election: Second Round

I recently wrote the night before the French electorate took to the polls to vote in the first round of the Presidential election. I thought I would write an update post following the outcome of the first round of voting.

As predicted, no candidate won a majority. The pollsters were vindicated. Consequently, a run-off election between the top two candidates, Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! and Marine Le Pen of the National Front will be held on the 7th May 2017.

Macron, a pro-European centrist, took first place with 24.01% of the first round voting, while the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Le Pen came second on 21.30%, according to final results released Monday by the French Interior Ministry. This marks highest-ever voting tally for the National Front party – Le Pen’s advancement to the second round is not without precedent as her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to a runoff against the then-incumbent Jacques Chirac in 2002.

After their respective eliminations in the first round, both François Fillon and Benoît Hamon called to vote for Emmanuel Macron, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to pronounce in favour of either candidate, preferring to first consult activists from his movement. He has since issued a suggestion that his voters do not vote for Le Pen. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, however, has since endorsed Le Pen during the evening of 28 April. He was subsequently revealed as her choice for Prime Minister the following day.

The key take-away message? Out with the old, in with the new. France opted to dump its political establishment in a collective spirit of ‘now for something completely different’.

France’s two major parties — the Républicains and the ruling Socialists — were relegated to third and fifth place respectively. The Socialists, who just five years ago controlled every level of the French government, managed to get only over 6% of the vote.

It is the first time since the establishment of the fifth French Republic in 1958 that no candidate from the two main political parties of the left and right has made it into the second round of the Presidential vote.

Evidently, the majority of the French electorate sent a clear signal of their intent to see change. In Macron, they are now also a step away from putting a cosmopolitan, pro-EU, economically liberal non-politician into the Élysée.

Macron goes through to the second round as the clear frontrunner, with most voters expected to switch to him from mainstream defeated candidates. Le Pen, meanwhile, faces an uphill struggle.

Yet… concern remains with Le Pen’s candidacy. It is no surprise that European political leaders, including German ministers, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, all broke with tradition, and either congratulated Macron or called on the French to vote for him. Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, urged his voters to vote for Macron, reminding them that there is a difference between a political rival, and “an enemy of the Republic”.

Going forward, Macron will continue to build on his pro-European, centrist message whilst Le Pen has made it clear she would intensify the nationalist, anti-Islamist rhetoric that propelled her into the second round. Interestingly, the Monday after the first round, she announced she was taking a leave of absence as leader of the National Front party to focus on the election campaign. (Clearly in the hope to appeal to voters with less extremist views.)

And don’t forget, whoever wins will have to work alongside the French Parliament. There’s a big question over whether either candidate is capable of achieving a parliamentary majority when that vote takes place in June.

Today, May Day, saw thousands of people marching in Paris in rival political rallies. Le Pen and Macron held overlapping rallies in the French capital at the same time as nationwide May Day union marches.

Currently, opinion polls are predicting Macron will win around 60% of the vote on Sunday. Le Pen is expected to claim around 40%. The race is on, and it is too early to call.

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