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PARIS – Emmanuel Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen again in the country’s presidential election, a repeat of the 2017 fight.
The French will vote in the runoff on April 24 after Macron and Le Pen emerged as the top two candidates in the first round on April 10.
While no incumbent president has been re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002 – both conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist François Hollande have been elected only once – Macron is the front-runner this year. But the race is also looking much closer than 2017, as all polls show far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to do much better than five years ago.
Here’s what you need to know to follow the election like a pro.
How does the two round system work?
On April 10, the French voted in the first round of presidential elections. They chose Macron and Le Pen from twelve candidates – including veteran politicians and newcomers.
Macron and Le Pen, the two candidates with the most votes, now face a final runoff election this Sunday to decide who will be at the Elysée for the next five years.
A media blackout begins at midnight on Friday and ends on Sunday when the last polling station closes at 8 p.m. During this time, politicians are not allowed to publicly advertise or speak. Newspapers and TV stations will have to wait until the media lockdown is lifted to show polls or broadcast voting results so as not to influence citizens who have not yet voted.
The first vote estimates from leading polling firms – usually close to the final result – will be released at 8pm on Sunday, with the official results being released later that night.
who is running
president Emmanuel Macron seeks re-election. The presidential candidate has been pushing a reformist agenda at home, including some very controversial labor law ideas, and has rolled out a major economic package to deal with the COVID crisis. He has assumed a dominant role on the international stage — though not always successfully, as evidenced by his efforts to stop Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The National Rally Marine LePen hinted that this presidential campaign will be her last — and it looks like she’s making it count. Her campaign, centered on the cost of living and economic hardship, struck a chord with skyrocketing energy prices caused by the Ukraine war. She has also managed to partially sweep under the rug her longstanding support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, eclipsing her far-right rival, TV pundit and politician Eric Zemmour, who failed to qualify for the second round . While she has withdrawn her more radical proposals to leave the euro and the EU since her 2017 tenure, much of her program – including drastic changes to the single market – is largely inconsistent with the current bloc and would deal a dramatic blow to the EU.
For more survey data from across Europe, see POLITICS poll of polls.
Who has a real chance of winning?
Emmanuel Macron is expected to win on Sunday. According to POLITICO’s poll, Macron could win re-election with 55 percent of the vote in the second round, 10 points ahead of Le Pen.
This is a big change from 2017, when Macron won with 66 percent of the vote and Le Pen received just 33 percent.
The French president entered the political arena at the last minute this year and his lackluster campaign has failed to get the sparks flying. Recent revelations about the state’s over-reliance on consulting firms have also weighed on his re-election.
The gap between the two candidates narrowed significantly before the first round. But since then, support for Macron has increased again.
FRANCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION POLL
For more survey data from across Europe, see POLITICS poll of polls.
What happened between the two rounds?
More campaigning and a TV debate.
For the past two weeks, Macron and Le Pen have tried to persuade those who did not vote for them in the first round or who did not vote.
Macron made a series of campaign visits to key constituencies and gave a range of interviews, from legacy radio station France Inter to a website specializing in rap music. Continuing with an agenda packed with excursions, Le Pen spent the final day of her campaign in the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France.
But the most iconic moment was the traditional televised debate between the two finalists on Wednesday.
The debate was considered one of the highlights of the campaign and used to be very popular with viewers. Only 16.5 million French saw it this time, the worst Viewership since the beginning of the debate.
Le Pen fared much better than in 2017 when her disastrous performance led to one steep descent in the polls and damaged their credibility on economic issues. But Macron insisted on attacking the far-right candidate on her economic program and her proposal to ban the headscarf in public and accusing her of being on Putin’s payroll. Le Pen criticized Macron’s first mandate and his pension reform.
The highlights of the debate can be found here.
The TV duel has been a tradition since 1974 but not a legal requirement – in 2002 Jacques Chirac refused to take on far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, who had made it to the second round for the first time in an upset victory , which is still alive in France’s collective psyche.
Will people actually show up?
The French are usually fairly diligent voters, having achieved a turnout of around 80 percent in the last presidential election. In the first round earlier this month, 26 percent of voters opted to stay at home, a fairly high abstention given the way the presidential election went, but less than the polls predicted.
Still, the French are worn down by the coronavirus crisis and the war in Ukraine. And the perception of Macron as the inevitable winner, as well as his low-key campaign, didn’t help. Both rounds also coincide with school holidays in different parts of the country
For Macron, who faces his biggest challenges from the far right and far left, voter apathy poses a threat of its own. Not only might it favor his challenger, who can count on motivated bases to stand for her; it offers his opponents the opportunity to present his expected re-election as illegitimate.
Has Ukraine changed anything?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February overshadowed the French presidential election campaign and explained why turnout was quite low.
It benefited Macron in his early days, as far-right and far-left candidates had to explain or justify previous comments praising Putin, while the French president portrayed himself as a wartime leader who can protect Europe.
Overall, the war has shifted the political conversation in France from identity issues and COVID to energy and spending power – which is actually the most important issue for voters.
Why should I care ?
What is at stake is the name of the person who will rule France for the next five years and as such is likely to have a crucial influence on the EU. The election will also shape the country’s political landscape for years to come.
Needless to say, Le Pen’s victory in Brussels is viewed as a nightmare. Even if the right-wing candidate softened some of her Eurosceptic positions, many of her proposals would concretely push France out of the Union.
As in 2017, the first round left its mark on domestic politics.
Traditional left-centre and right-centre parties performed disastrously in the first round. In parallel, the left-wing movement France Unbowed, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, recorded an unprecedented 22 percent. Mélenchon finished third after Macron and Le Pen and dreams of revenge in June’s general election he referred to as the “third round”. and one capable of making him prime minister.
I heard there’s another election coming up… is that right?
Yes. While parties have been bickering over constituencies, strategies and alliances for weeks, France’s political class is already preparing for the next electoral milestone: June’s general election, which will determine the majority in the National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament.
Voter turnout is traditionally lower in parliamentary elections also take place every five years. Voters tend to choose MPs from the same political family as the President they just elected.
Should Macron nevertheless win, it could prove more difficult to secure an outright majority in the National Assembly compared to 2017, as his potential victory will certainly be much narrower than it was five years ago. In the meantime, he must consolidate alliances with powerful internal rivals like heavyweight former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who wants to expand his own political movement – dubbed Horizons.
https://www.politico.eu/article/french-presidential-election-runoff-marine-le-pen-emmanuel-macron/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication How to Follow the French Presidential Election Like a Pro - POLITICO