There are only eight days left until the first ballot, which will decide whether French President Emmanuel Macron will receive another five-year term. And whether it’s taken in confidence or complacency, he’ll be holding his first election rally today in Paris.
Moreover, while elections around the world are mostly about election gifts, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon offers the opposite: he plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 by reforming the country’s complex pension system.
It’s an odd political version of a ‘Dutch auction’ where the bidding is negative. That means President Macron is serious about pension reforms and that gambling that promises lower taxes can appease voters.
Still, the 44-year-old is poised for victory, partly because of the split among the French left – which is fielding six candidates and completely split in support – and partly because of the general lack of opposition he faces.
But pollsters show that Macron’s lead is shrinking, and French voters love to surprise, as they did when they elected him as a total freshman in 2017.
In eight days, 12 names are on the ballot. But in reality, by a very friendly estimate, there are only four others with any sort of anti-Macron yell.
According to the French system, the contest ends when a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes on the first day. This unlikely result is not expected in the first round tomorrow week. Macron is expected to receive about 28 percent of the first-round vote and go into a runoff against the second-place candidate.
From today’s perspective, that stabbing competitor is likely to be right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen, who restructured the party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and tried to tame it by renaming it Rassemblement National or National Rally.
Ms Le Pen was hit hard in the earlier stages of the election campaign but the month of March was good for her as she recovered and was given 20 percent yesterday.
Macron vs. Le Pen in round two on April 24 would be a repeat of 2017. On that occasion, Macron won decisively, 66 to 33 percent.
Round two predictions still point to a Macron win – but by a narrower margin. New polls put Macron at 53% and Le Pen at 47%. Take a few points from Macron and it could go on.
Some pundits see the tighter margin as evidence of a tough second term. But in modern politics, when it comes to making and defending difficult decisions, every victory is seen as a blessing.
French voters quickly dismissed their two previous presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, refusing either of them a second term.
The other runners featured are far-right Eric Zemmour, a polemical broadcaster whose anti-migrant rhetoric has earned him hate speech convictions.
He disrupted Ms Le Pen’s election campaign for a time, by far overtaking her in polls by beating her migration rhetoric. But it appears to have peaked and declined in recent weeks and is now at 11 percent.
Another who burned bright for a while and seemed like a real contender was Valerie Pecresse of the Gaullist Les Republicains party. As the first female flag-bearer for that party, she has campaigned for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is her Macron-like policies, and now sits fifth on 10 percent.
The only left-wing candidate on display is Jean-Luc Melenchon, a defector from the Socialist Party of Francois Mitterrand, whose political cousins in Ireland are Labour. Melenchon is against the NATO military alliance and skeptical about the EU.
The leader of France Insoumise, or France Unbowed, currently shows up at 15pc and also speaks about the useful or useful voice for all shades of left-wing voters who have more in common with him than differences.
As Melenchon’s poll numbers improve, some see him as a potential dark horse – but that view seems a bit far-fetched.
After Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, all four candidates suffered in popularity. They had, to varying degrees, been extraordinarily supportive of Putin’s Russia over the years up to the recent past. Putin’s international pariah image has caused damage through association.
The French public appeared to give Macron credit for trying to dissuade Putin from the violence and brutality he had chosen, though he failed.
But, as is so often the case with elections, economic and domestic issues predominate in the final weeks of the campaign.
A poll on Thursday for the French business daily Les Echos showed that seven out of ten people are against raising the retirement age to 65. Half of them are described as “strongly against”.
Both Le Pen and Melenchon have made a lot of their idea of either maintaining the status quo — or improving it for prospective retirees.
We can expect to hear a lot more about this pension row as these French elections come to a close.
As someone who has followed this closely from the start, it still seems that only a major political earthquake can stop Emmanuel Macron from getting a second term.
All in all, this seems to be a good thing for both the European Union and Ireland.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/emmanuel-macron-still-leads-but-his-dutch-auction-on-pension-reform-plan-could-yet-backfire-at-french-ballot-boxes-41512599.html Emmanuel Macron still leads, but his ‘Dutch auction’ on the pension reform plan could yet backfire at the French ballot box