This year’s French Presidential election is turning out to be an extremely unpredictable race. After the surprise of Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S., nothing is certain in France.
The country is facing numerous challenges, from sclerotic economy and terrorist threats to problems of integration of immigrants into French society.
France, once a model of a secular republican democracy with a strong accent on robust social security, is now undergoing an identity crisis. Voters feel that the establishment has betrayed them. This becomes more than obvious when we realize that both the candidates of the Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, and the Republican Francois Fillon are set to lose in the first round.
For somebody with knowledge of French politics in the past decades, this indicates a true political earthquake. The Socialist and the Republicans were the parties that dominated the French political landscape, and although France was never a two-party democracy in the mould of the United States, French Presidents were usually elected from the ranks of two major parties.
But the 2017 election is poised to change that. Emmanuel Macron, former economy minister, who is now running as an independent candidate, is seen by the polls as the most likely candidate to win the election.
As a former investment banker and a minister in the socialist government, Macron is, without doubt, himself a member of the French political establishment, but not its typical representative.
His main rival in the election, Marin Le Pen, is a well-known figure of the European right. Front National, formerly a fringe party whom many regarded as being extremist, anti-Semitic and racist, nearly won the local election last year and Le Pen is now a serious contender for the Presidency.
Most polls have predicted that Macron and Le Pen would face each other in the run-off on May 7, and that Macron would comfortably beat Le Pen.
Yet, the unpredictability of the French election resulted in another twist: Jean-Luc Melenchon, a former Trotskyst and an outspoken critic of the EU and globalism, surged in the polls. The most recent IFOP poll puts Melenchon at 19 percent, just half a percent behind Francois Fillon, while Macron and Le Pen are at 23.5 and 22 percent respectively.
The unexpected rise of Melenchon in the very finish of the election race could completely change the dynamics of the election. The percent of undecided voters is still very high and the difference between the candidates is not at all significant.
While it could be said that the support for Fillon, damaged by corruption scandals, is stagnating and that he is unlikely to reach the run-off, Macron and Le Pen are no longer guaranteed to get past the first round.
Photo: New Statesman