5 keys to analyze the elections in France

FILE PHOTO: Official campaign posters of French President and centrist LREM party candidate for re-election, Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen, leader of French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far -left opposition party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed – LFI) are displayed at France Affichage Plus dispatch hub in Mitry-Mory, outside Paris, France, March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo (BENOIT TESSIER/)

If the polls materialize, French voters will begin this Sunday, April 10, the two-stage process to choose a president.

Many things have changed since Emmanuel Macron became president in 2017: a global pandemic and a major conflagration in Europe top the list. However, the vote is likely to lead to another showdown between Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, despite the presence of new faces on the campaign trail. A second round of voting is expected on April 24.

The Conversation published a guide to what to watch for in elections by Garrett Martin of American University.

1- When a national vote is not enough

April 10 will be just the first of a series of votes that will take place in France in the coming weeks. In the first round of the presidential election, voters will decide between 12 official candidates, including favorites Macron and Le Pen.

If none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the vote – a result that is very likely – the two main candidates qualify for a second round that is scheduled for April 24. In that second round, the candidate with the most votes will become president.

But the vote will not end there. The French public will be called back to vote in two rounds of parliamentary elections currently scheduled for June 12 and 19..

These parliamentary elections are just as crucial as the election of the president. Whoever wins the presidency will depend on securing a majority of support in parliament to implement their program.

But if Macron wins re-election, he may be tempted to dissolve parliament the next day, which would mean holding the election two weeks earlier than planned. This could hypothetically give him the opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of the presidential elections to elect a parliament aligned with his agenda.

2- The disappearance of the mainstream

One key thing to watch in the first round of voting is how well – or poorly – France’s establishment parties do.

Until 2017, French politics was dominated by two parties: the left-wing Socialist Party and the conservative Les Républicains. Candidates from one or the other of these two parties have won every presidential election since 1958.

The candidates for the 2022 French presidential elections: Nathalie Arthaud, leader of the French political party Lutte Ouvriere (LO), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of the French political party Debout La France (DLF), Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and candidate for the Socialist Party (PS), Yannick Jadot, candidate of the French Greens party Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV), Jean Lassalle, candidate of the French party
The candidates for the 2022 French presidential election: Nathalie Arthaud, leader of the French political party Lutte Ouvriere (LO), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of the French political party Debout La France (DLF), Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and candidate for the Socialist Party (PS), Yannick Jadot, candidate of the French Greens party Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV), Jean Lassalle, candidate of the French party “Resistons !”, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right French party Rassemblement National, French President Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left political party La France Insoumise (Discohesion France – LFI), Valerie Pecresse, head of the Paris Île-de-France region and candidate of the right-wing party Les Republicains (LR), Philippe Poutou, candidate of the Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), Fabien Roussel, leader of the French Communist Party (PCF), Eric Zemmour, French far-right commentator and leader of the far-right party “Reconquest!”, after the official announcement in Paris, France (REUTERS) (STAFF /)

And then came the political earthquake of 2017. In those elections, neither party even qualified for the second round. The Les Républicains candidate was displaced to the second round by Le Pen and the Socialist candidate was barely able to gather more than 6% of the vote.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron prevailed in the first round and went through to the second. He did so at the head of a new party, La République En Marche. Macron positioned himself in the center of the political spectrum, sucking oxygen from the two established parties.

Five years later, the polls confirm the disappearance of these two hitherto dominant political parties. Except for a major surprise, the Socialist Party and Les Républicains will once again be out of the second round. Current forecasts suggest that less than 10% of voters will opt for Valérie Pécresse, from Les Républicains, and barely 2% for Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris.

A catastrophic result in the first round could mean the end of these two games.

3- And the rise of the extremes

Macron’s capture of the political center is only half the story. The disappearance of traditional parties in France has been favored by the growth of political extremeswith more voters gravitating to the far left and far right.

But for the first time in recent French political history, the far-right field is split between two candidates, veteran presidential candidate Le Pen and Eric Zemmoura TV pundit and journalist who has been running as the far-right insurgent candidate in the 2022 election.

In single-round votes, such a split could hurt the right’s chances of electoral success, but that’s not the case here. Polls suggest that Le Pen and Éric Zemmour together will attract about a third of the vote. And it is very likely that Le Pen will qualify for the second round against Macron, during which he can be expected to pick up the majority of Zemmour’s voters.

Zemmour’s campaign – with its fiery rhetoric and extreme views on migration – has helped in many ways, and not hurt Le Pen. He has reinforced Le Pen’s “normalization” strategy of recent years, with which he has tried to improve the party’s image of him and make him appear more respectable.

As Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at Sciences-Po University in Paris, explained in a recent article in The Guardian: “Eric Zemmour’s radicalism has softened the image of Marine Le Pen.”

The apparent success of Le Pen’s strategy is seen in the hardening of the race. Polls predict only a narrow lead for Macron in the event of a runoff against Le Pen. In 2017, by comparison, Macron rolled over Le Pen in the second round, getting 66% of the vote.

Meanwhile, on the left, the radical wing has also been on the rise. Political veteran Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in his third presidential campaign, is the clear standard-bearer of the left. With his focus on inequality and the rising cost of living, he has placed firmly in third place in the polls, with close to 17% of the expected vote.

Mélenchon is unlikely to displace Macron or Le Pen in the second round. But even so, a third-place finish will provide further proof that French voters are gravitating away from the political center.

4- The shadow of Putin

The French election is set against a backdrop of war in Europe, giving voters a chance to review the candidates’ record on Russia.

Leaving Macron aside, many of the leading candidates have shown a history of complacency towards Putin, prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Mélenchon, with his strong ideological animosity towards the United States, called Russia a partner in early 2022. For his part, Zemmour called Putin a “patriot” who defends Russian interests. And Le Pen featured a photo of herself with Putin in campaign brochures, in an apparent attempt to highlight his international stature.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, most of these candidates have somewhat changed their tone towards Russia and Putin, or turned to other issues. Le Pen, for example, has refocused his campaign on the rising cost of living and the impact of sanctions on energy prices. And current polls do not suggest that they will have a significant impact on voters because of their past flirtations with the Russian president. At the very least, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop Le Pen from getting back into the second round, despite Macron’s latest attempts to draw attention to his opponents’ perceived “leniency on Vladimir Putin”.

5- Abstention

As the apparent limited impact of the candidates’ attitude toward Putin suggests, the war in Ukraine is not at the top of most voters’ concerns.

With record inflation in the eurozone – reaching 5.1% this year – the rising cost of living has become a major source of concern for many French. Added to this are other economic difficulties, such as the high costs of energy and housing. And the challenges of the pocket also combine with other burning debates around the environment and immigration.

Although there is no shortage of important issues in the current presidential campaign, the shadow of apathy and cynicism hangs over them. Forecasts suggest that we could see close to 30% abstention in the first round of elections. This would be the lowest participation rate since 2002.


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