French Election: Macron vs. Le Pen – the battle for the Presidency

Marine le Pen Emmanuel Macron French Election
Defaced election posters of Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron outside the town hall in Saint Mandé, a Paris suburb.

And then there were two.

After a long campaign blighted by scandal, terrorist attacks, and flour, it was confirmed on Sunday evening (23/04) that Emmanuel Macron, the centrist leader of the En Marche! (roughly ‘Ongoing!’) movement, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, will compete to be named France’s next President in the second round run-off on May 7th.

It signals the end of a disastrous campaign for the two main parties.

François Fillon, the right-wing Républicains’ candidate, ­never recovered from a series of financial scandals that saw him become the focal point of the anti-elite sentiment that has been bubbling up for some time.

François Fillon
François Fillon, candidate for Les Républicains

He ended up on 19.9%, left to rue a missed opportunity: Fillon started as the bookies’ favourite.

The left-wing Parti Socialiste (PS) candidate, Benoît Hamon, who got just 6.4% of votes, was squeezed out by Emmanuel Macron, and the far-left leader of the ‘Unbowed France’ movement, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

It seems quite likely that this awful showing will spell the end of the PS, at least in its current incarnation.

Benoît Hamon
Benoît Hamon, who lead the Parti Socialiste to a historically low share of the national vote

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a firebrand whose dynamic campaign included holograms and video games, finished strongly and ended up on 19.3%.

Jean Luc Mélenchon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left ‘Unbowed France’ candidate

The final leg will see xenophobic, protectionist, anti-immigration, anti-EU Le Pen – who got 21.4% of the vote – face off against the cosmopolitan, Pro-EU, economically liberal Macron, who finished on 23.9%, said Politico.

‘The best analogy is the country will now get to choose between its Barack Obama and its Donald Trump.’

The result was good news for pollsters, who – much maligned for getting it wrong about US President Donald Trump’s election victory and the Brexit vote – had been predicting a Macron vs. Le Pen second round for some weeks.

The only thing they got wrong, said Politico, was voter turnout, which was higher than expected at 78%.

To keep Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace, the French Presidential residence, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon have both urged their supporters to vote tactically in favour of the former Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron.

Outgoing French President François Hollande has also come out in favour of Macron, but Jean-Luc Mélenchon has so far declined to support the En Marche! candidate.

While a snap poll conducted on Sunday had Macron 24 points ahead of Le Pen, commentators have warned against complacency in the second round. Many see abstention, especially by Mélenchon supporters, as a way in which Le Pen could win it on the day.

Despite the FN being ‘incompatible with [French] values, history and identity,’ according to Jérome Fenoglio in Le Monde, only a fool would assume that Le Pen can’t win because of the so-called ‘Republican Front,’ the name given to the ‘anyone but Le Pen’ tactical voting principle that kept her father Jean-Marie out of office in 2002 when he went up against Jacques Chirac.

Macron begins this second round with 62% of voter intentions, Fenoglio argued, whereas Chirac won with 82.2% of the vote: ‘twenty points have evaporated in fifteen years.’

So what he mustn’t do, argued Fenoglio, is make the same mistake as Hillary Clinton, whose campaign never accommodated for reticent Bernie Sanders supporters.

‘Don’t forget that the democratic candidate was down as a sure-fire winner against Donald Trump two weeks before the American election.’

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders
Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Will Macron learn from Clinton’s mistakes?

The key to Macron’s success, argued Chris Bickerton in Prospect is the demise of the PS, which in just 5 years has gone from ruling party to winning just 6.4% of the national vote.

It is an ominous sign for the party’s future.

With the PS no longer politically relevant, and the French party system on the verge of collapse, abstention looks set to be high in runoff in 2 weeks’ time, he argued.

‘Those congratulating themselves after Macron’s first round victory should think a bit harder about what exactly is happening in France. Macron is a symptom of the country’s problems, not a solution to them.’