Charles de Gaulle, who ushered in the country’s Fifth Republic, believed in a strong presidency. The constitution he and his allies implemented called for direct general elections for the presidency in two rounds.
In this way, the executive branch could be isolated from parliamentary and party politics. The second-round runoff would also likely help protect the Republic from extremist challengers who, in theory, could never win a majority of votes in a two-person contest.
That logic could still apply more than six decades later, as French voters await the April 24 second-round runoff between the presidents Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine LePen. But it’s not allowed.
Le Pen – who, as expected, finished second in Sunday’s first round of voting, three points behind Macron – is unlikely to suffer the same landslide defeat Macron conceded to her five years ago in two weeks’ time.
Macron had emerged as a young centrist loner fighting on a “neither left nor right” platform.
In 2017, a grand coalition of voters from across the political spectrum banded together to give him a resounding runoff victory over Le Pen, the scion of a movement once rooted in neo-fascism and anti-democratic violence.
Polls are now pointing to much closer competition, with many on the French right and possibly even some voters on the extreme left voting for Le Pen. Abstentions from a growing number of people disillusioned with their options and weary of Macron could also boost Le Pen’s chances.
Far from being an outsider revitalizing the French state, Macron appears to many of his opponents as the aloof agent of a wealthy elite establishment and guardian of a fragile status quo in need of reform.
Le Pen worked hard to detoxify her and her party’s image by portraying herself as an empathetic corporate populist. It was also backed by a competing far-right bid from ultra-nationalist brakeman Eric Zemmour, whose inflammatory rhetoric served to cast it even more dovishly.
“Le Pen has largely avoided emphasizing her most controversial proposals, instead focusing on echoing popular concerns about the economy and rising inflation,” said my colleague Rick Noack. “But in essence, many of Le Pen’s positions are just as radical as they were five years ago. Last week she promised to fine Muslims who wear headscarves in public.”
That Guardian‘s Kim Willsher, who is on track with the far-right candidate, wrote: “For many French people, the Le Pen name is no longer held in contempt. Macron will have to face the biggest political battle of his career to keep them out of the Elysee.”
Le Pen’s apparent rehabilitation is also due to Macron’s own political development. While the country’s traditional mainstream factions — the center-left Socialists and the center-right Republicans — remain relevant in local and municipal votes, they have been humiliated on the national stage, losing most of their constituents to Macron and his movement. They were wiped out in the presidential election, garnering less than 7 percent of the vote.
“A complete reconfiguration of French politics is imminent,” said Tara Varma, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an email. “It started in 2017 but is now being accomplished.”
Meanwhile, more than half of French voters opted for candidates from the anti-establishment extremists, including Le Pen, Zemmour and far-left arsonist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished just ahead of Le Pen.
“What is happening is that the moderate left and right are disappearing,” said Pierre Mathiot, the director of Sciences Po Lille. “Macron is crushing the center of politics, but the more he crushes it, the more he gives space to the radical wings.”
Other analysts argue that Macron is a centre-right politician himself. He “has systematically said goodbye [the mainstream right’s] Key positions including retirement at 65, work requirements for welfare recipients and inheritance tax relief. This amounts to a sweeping takeover of the French centre-right,” wrote Daniel Cohen, President of the Paris School of Economics Board of Directors.
“If Macron is re-elected, he will lead an impressive main party, and Republicans will be left with crumbs, wedged between a resurgent far right and a ruling party bent on engulfing them.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/disenchanted-voters-may-yet-boost-le-pens-chances-41543610.html Disillusioned voters could increase Le Pen’s chances even further