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As French Elections hang, Macron tries to strike a balance

PARIS – Rarely has a modern French leader embraced the power of the presidency as strongly as Emmanuel Macron. From his earliest days in power, Mr. Macron was dubbed “Jupiter” by the media, the king of the gods who ruled by throwing down lightning bolts.

But if that image helped Mr Macon get through his agenda, it also made him a special focus of anger among his opponents in an unusual way, even by the standards of a country where the power of the president is little comparable in other Western democracies. “Death to the king” has been a frequent cry in recent years during street protests, along with makeshift guillotines.

As elections unfold in April, that image also becomes a political liability and leaves Mr Macron struggling to strike a balance between quasi-king and electoral candidate in a mainstream culture. values ​​fluctuate between attachment to the monarchy and suicidal tendencies.

“I’m a pretty emotional person, but one that hides it,” the president said, lowering his eyes. The gilded ballroom of the Elysee Palace, in a recent two-hour television interview. “I believe I am a very human person,” he said.

Mr. Macron, Le Monde newspaper wrote, sought to “symbolically kill Jupiter.”

So far, however, Mr. Macron has taken full advantage of presidential prerogatives to avoid announcing his candidacy for a second term – although this is seen as a foregone conclusion. That has allowed him to delay abdicating the throne of the “republican monarch”, as the president is sometimes called, to engage in early battle with his opponents.

Instead, in the face of growing criticism, he ran a secret campaign for months, reaching out to voters and letting his challengers argue with each other.

Jean Garrigues, a leading historian of French political culture, said: “His goal was to show that he was a benevolent king, a human monarch, but with authority. . “The goal of his challengers is to present Macron as an impotent monarch, one who has the powers of a monarch, but is incapable of wielding them.”

“That is the great French paradox,” added Mr. Garrigues. “A people that regularly seek participatory democracy and, at the same time, expect everything from their monarch.”

The president of France as a “republican monarch” was the product of the father of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle. War hero and peacetime leader, through a controversial national referendum in 1962, transformed the presidency into a personalized, popularly elected office, a omnipotent providential figure.

“You have power around a man who is the most powerful politician in the system,” said Vincent Martigny, a professor of political science at the University of Nice and an expert on the leadership of democracies. his tradition in all Western countries. “There is no power equivalent to that of the president of the republic, whose checks are so weak.”

Under Mr Macron, parliament has become even less balanced. His party, La République en Marche, was the vehicle he created to run for office; many of its legislators, who had a majority in parliament, were beginners to despise him.

According to experts, Mr. Macron chose two weak prime ministers in an attempt to exercise direct control over the government, even replacing his first prime minister after he became too popular. At the same time, as president, Mr. Macron is not accountable to Parliament, unlike prime ministers.

“We should not mix the roles of president and prime minister,” said Philippe Bas, a centre-right senator who served as secretary general under President Jacques Chirac at the Élysée Palace. “What Macron has done is absorb the prime minister’s function, which is a problem because he can’t appear in Parliament to defend his bills.”

That imbalance has allowed Mr. Macron to push economic reform through Parliament, sometimes with little consultation – or no vote, in the case that overhauling France’s pension system has caused many. weeks of strikes and street protests, but were eventually suspended. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Macron oversaw a crackdown on Yellow Vest protesters that raised the issue of police violence to a national level. His anti-pandemic measures have been passed behind closed doors by a “defense council,” and include a state of emergency and one of the strictest lockdowns among democracies. He failed to fulfill his previous pledge to empower Parliament by introducing proportional representation.

Mr. Martigny said that Mr. Macron’s embrace of presidential prerogatives and his aloof image combined to expose the limits of France’s democratic institutions. The protesters, he added, have directed their anger at Mr Macron, because of the growing weakness of the National Assembly and the inability of other government institutions to address their concerns.

“Doubts about the presidency have become more prominent during Macron’s five years in office, especially during the Yellow Vest crisis, suggesting that there is a real problem with the system,” Martigny said.

He added that Mr. Macron had tried to work around institutional limits by experimenting with democracy. He has appeased Yellow Vest protests, which began with a petrol tax hike, by single-handedly participating in two months of city hall marathon events in a “big debate”. And he announced the creation of a citizens’ council to make climate change proposals.

But experiments simply show that power flows through the presidency, Mr. Martigny said. “The debate ended abruptly,” he said.

Brice Teinturier, director of the French election company Ipsos, said that Mr Macron, recognizing his Jupiterian image as a responsibility during the Yellow Vest crisis, has so far largely succeeded in turning the style around. Bonapartist” into his strong electoral advantage. He notes that 60 percent of voters said Mr Macron is of presidential stature, 20 percentage points ahead of his closest rivals.

“Even those who didn’t vote for him recognize this presidential dimension in him,” Teinturier said. “It’s based on a mix of personification, decision-making, a pompous, over-the-top style for some that gives him an image of arrogance that still sticks to him. But it dictates admiration. “

Outside of France, with a talk about a “start-up nation” and rising above traditional politics, Mr. Macron soon presented an image of modernity. But in France, even before running for president in 2016, he raised eyebrows at what historian Garrigues describes as an “almost reactionary conception” of the presidency.

Mr. Macron rejected the efforts of his two predecessors to modernize the institution, Mr. Garrigues said. In a 2015 interview with “Le 1” magazine, Mr. Macron said that democracies were incomplete. “In French politics,” he said, “the absent character is that of the king, who I think basically the French people don’t want to die.”

After being elected, Mr. Macron move to fill the supposed void – deliver his victory speech in front of the Louvre, the former royal residence, and visit the tombs of past kings at St.-Denis’ Basilica. His spokesman at the time even framed Mr Macron’s pressing on flesh in the crowd as a “form of transcendence”: “The king touches you, God heal you.”

Gaspard Koenig, a philosopher who began a bizarre presidential campaign, described de Gaulle’s transition to the presidency as a “democratic trauma” to France. The current system, he said, inspires unrealistic expectations among voters, who are increasingly disillusioned.

“One man must save everyone and bear the blame for all the wrongs of the country,” Mr. Koenig said.

Alexis Lévrier, a historian who has analyzed Mr. Macron’s relationship with the media, said that even as Mr. Macron tried to get rid of his Spaniards, in a recent interview, he still spoke from royal grandeur in the ballroom of the Élysée Palace. Mr. Lévrier added that he sometimes fell into the tone of a king addressing his people, though perhaps now more kindly than before.

Mr Macron admitted to saying hurtful things during his presidency, like describing society as divided between “successful people and nothing”. He learned, he said.

When the television camera took a close-up of Mr. Macron’s face, Mr said he had learned to “love better” the French“With tolerance, more benevolent.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/world/europe/france-election-emmanuel-macron.html As French Elections hang, Macron tries to strike a balance

Fry Electronics Team

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