What to Know About the French Election

By: Meghan Malas

The country of France experienced one of two rounds of voting involved in its electoral process on April 23. The race prior to then was between five individuals representing separate parties, “the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, scandal-hit conservative François Fillon, centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron and far-left wildcard Jean-Luc Mélenchon” (CNN) were all competitive in the Round One, while Benoit Hamon of the currently established Socialist Party has struggled to gain popularity. This election’s results determined the two parties that will be competing for the presidency, concluding that far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and moderate liberal Emmanuel Macron will be the two opposing forces driving the final vote on May 7.

Nearly all polling sources had Macron crushing Le Pen in the vote on Sunday, May 7. But despite Macron’s growing appeal in economically dynamic areas and large cities, like Paris and Bordeaux and his large possibility of pulling in left-leaning voters from Hamon and Mélenchon as well as those leaning to the right that voted Fillon in the first round, both candidates represented an unprecedented wave of populism in France. Similar to the emergence of anti-establishment politics in the United States and Great Britain over the past few years, the people of France have now struck down the possibility of any previously-popular party from holding office.

Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard who follows European politics closely recently told NPR that this popularity of populists is due to a steady, growing distaste for establishment politics over time. “[The people of France have] been slowly rebelling against the French political mainstream for a long time. When Jacques Chirac left office, he was the least popular French president in history. Five years later when his successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, left office, he was the least popular president in French history. And now Francois Hollande has beaten all other records again.” Mounk also believes that the recurrence of anti-globalism, as presented on the platform of Le Pen as well in Britain’s Brexit and the United States’ election of Donald Trump, can all be connected, “To understand this particular moment, to understand why we have this sort of populist moment that’s in danger of turning into a populist age, you have to look beyond one country… you see slowly countries coming to grapple with the idea of what it means to live alongside people of different religions, different ethnicities, different cultural customs. And that’s a really difficult and tough process that a lot of countries are rebelling against.”

Along with the politics of this election, the predictability of next French president was unprecedented. Though there was always a possibility for an upset (of the nine elections since the first direct presidential election in the Fifth Republic in 1965, three have seen the winner of the first round lose out in the second), recent polling by Elabe claimed that Macron would take 65% of the vote in a second-round against Le Pen. This is a another example of a new wave of politics that transcends nations, but rather acts on a worldwide scale. Many fear Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-global platform is thinly-veiled racism and prejudice, while others see the conservative candidate as the only hope for security in an age of increased terrorist threats.

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