Charlotte Kude looks ahead to the forthcoming second round in France’s presidential election and discusses who supporters of candidates ejected in the first round are likely to back.
The first round of the French presidential election delivered historic results on Sunday, with neither of the two mainstream parties qualifying for the second round. Centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former Minister in President Hollande’s government, came on top with nearly 24 per cent of the vote. He was followed by National Front Leader Marine Le Pen with 21.5 per cent. This leaves centre-right Republican candidate François Fillon on third place, almost neck and neck with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The socialist Benoît Hamon only made it to a distant fifth place.
This outcome will give voters a feeling of déjà vu from the 2002 presidential election, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and predecessor as leader of the National Front faced centre-right candidate Jacques Chirac in the second round. This time both the centre-right and centre-left establishment parties were wiped out while support soared throughout the campaign for Hollande’s former Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year-old founded his own movement ‘En Marche’ and is on course to become the youngest ever and first outsider to be elected President of the French Republic. This could complicate matters when it comes to the parliamentary elections, held shortly after, as Macron is unlikely to win a majority in the National Assembly.
His supporters would be wise however not to underestimate Marine Le Pen in the run-up to the second round. Her party’s popularity is at a historical high and scores particularly well with young people aged 18 to 24, in contrast to other populist parties across Europe which tend to reflect the views of older demographics. The ‘anyone but Le Pen’ message will also be less effective this time due to the breakdown of the remaining 55 per cent of votes.
Despite François Fillon’s call to vote for Emmanuel Macron, his electorate could very well split three ways between those who will follow his instructions, those on the right who sympathise with the National Front, and those who will abstain. It will be interesting to see which way Mr Mélenchon’s voters go, who refrained from backing either of the finalists. The Eurosceptic far-left candidate knows that although his supporters are averse to the far-right, Marine Le Pen is their only option for a referendum on the Euro. To them, Macron represents the continuity of the establishment order and his enthusiasm for the European Union is enough to put them off.
Far from his 19 per cent but still potentially significant is France Arise candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, with just under five per cent, who also refused to publicly declare his support for either Macron or Le Pen. As a Eurosceptic, his share of voters will likely favour the National Front, as will that of François Asselineau from the eurosceptic Popular Republican Union (UPR). The various workers’ parties are just as unlikely to support Macron.
So far, the polls indicate that the centrist ‘En Marche’ will win on May 7, but the National Front has reason enough to hope for a dramatic turnaround, should eurosceptics rally behind Le Pen. Her stance on national identity and immigration appeals to a chunk of the centre-right, who will be inclined to reject what they see as another five years of socialist government.
In a bid to rise above partisan politics and unite the nation behind her, Marine Le Pen announced last night that she was stepping down as president of the National Front. The debate between the two frontrunners is scheduled to take place on May 3.