The number crunchers tell us that Marine Le Pen has a one in five chance of winning the French presidency in the final vote in eight days. Let’s remember that this compares to the rating a certain Donald Trump received in the US in 2016 – and let’s avoid thinking about how that ended.
Various opinion polls give outgoing President Emmanuel Macron a substantial lead, with a six-point gap between him and far-right National Rally flag-bearer Ms Le Pen. But take just three points from that 53 percent for Macron to Le Pen’s 47 percent, and you have the game running.
Many French voters often have a “hate-hate relationship” with the strong presidency created by the legendary Charles de Gaulle under his Fifth Republic in 1958. In the history of the presidency, only three have been re-elected for a second term – General de Gaulle, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.
Last re-elected in 1995, French voters have often looked unhappy and fragile for two decades, leading the country’s chief executives to feel their ire. Gaullist Nicolas Sarkozy was dropped in his 2012 re-election, and his Socialist successor, Francois Hollande, was so battered in the 2017 election that his party chose not to run him even for a second try.
It is also the third time in 20 years that a far-right candidate has made it to the runoff. Last Sunday’s vote was a tale of a polarized society, with 57 percent going to either the far-right or far-left voters, while the two traditional left-right blocs, the Gaullists and the Socialists, left only remnants.
So, like last time in 2017, it comes down to a one-on-one duel between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Given this attrition, President Macron’s supporters can be pleased with the result of the first round, which dropped 10 of the 12 candidates.
President Macron, who says that he and his Republic on the Move party are neither left nor right but are solely committed to modernizing France, came out on top with almost 28 percent of the vote. Marine Le Pen, who is leading a redesign of the Front National founded by her father, was just over 23 percent.
The Macron camp can console itself with four more points than last time in the first half of the season. It was also the highest first-round result achieved by an incumbent president since 1988, when Francois Mitterrand won his second term.
The big question for President Macron is how he will win the votes of workers and overcome his “president of the rich” taint and his determination to raise the retirement age from the current 62. The cost of living is the central theme and Marine Le Pen played that very well.
Last week, France Unbowed’s far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon finished a narrow third with nearly 22 percent, five points ahead of pollsters’ predictions just days earlier. He argued that he was just 400,000 votes short of making it through to the second round.
Immediately thereafter, Mr Melenchon repeatedly advised supporters not to vote for Le Pen in the second round, although he did not advise voting for Macron. At a protest rally this week outside Sorbonne University – the scene of the famous student riots of 1968 – protesters said they were tired of “choosing the least bad option” and many said they would abstain.
However, voters do not often take the advice of their first-round candidate. So the net question will be how many Melenchon voters will switch to Le Pen because of anti-authoritarian instincts and concerns about the rising cost of living.
Many more mainstream voters believe the differences between Macron and Le Pen are vast and complete, and will stand by the call to block the far-right candidate at all costs. Le Pen, a 53-year-old lawyer, has renamed her father’s original party to give it a softer touch – but retained nationalist policies of minimizing EU influence and curbing migration.
The campaign for the first round was slow and low-key, but it clearly captured voters’ imaginations when 75 percent of them went to the polls last Sunday. Compare that to a turnout of 63 per cent in Ireland’s last general election in February 2020.
Macron engaged in minimal campaigning and engaged in international diplomacy surrounding the Ukraine war, becoming known as a “Putin whisperer” for his unsuccessful efforts at peace.
In contrast, Le Pen fought really well and kept her cool when a similar far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, briefly stole the thunder from her. Focused on the cost of living and things like lowering the retirement age, she stylized herself as the “Champion of the Forgly”.
Micheál Martin will be among the EU leaders hoping for a Macron victory. Macron is very committed to EU cooperation on issues such as post-Covid economic development. Many of his ideas fit Ireland.
Le Pen as president would cause quarrels with Brussels every day and shake up the EU, of which France is a founding member. She wants to cut France’s EU contribution, give priority to local companies when bidding for French public construction projects and give national law priority over EU law.
These ideas violate the core values of the EU and the resulting instability would hurt the economies of all member states – including Ireland’s.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/with-eight-days-to-go-marine-le-pen-is-on-the-outside-track-but-that-might-be-her-trump-card-41557866.html With eight days to go, Marine Le Pen is out – but that could be her trump card.