It is the day giddily awaited by an existential crisis ridden Europe. No matter who gets the top job at Elysee Palace — independent centrist and former economics minister Emmanuel Macron or far-right populist Marine Le Pen — France is going to be a divided electorate, post-elections. It is striking that the two finalist candidates for the Second Ballot cater to diametrically opposite visions for France, unlike the relatively sober differences between the traditional right and left parties in the past. They are unapologetic champions of their respective worldviews who make few attempts to reach across to the other side of the electorate.
While Macron has depicted himself a socially liberal cosmopolitan who strongly believes in France’s greater integration with the EU and sees immigration as a culturally and economically good phenomenon, Le Pen and her Far Right party front have aggressively stuck to a nationalist and nativist politics where she has railed against the EU, immigration and Islamism. Macron has endorsed entrepreneur-friendly policies to check the unemployment, by advocating for cuts in public spending, fiscal discipline and easing of labour laws. Le Pen on the other hand has been a protectionism advocating, welfare-chauvinist. While the former’s supporters are generally educated, urban and optimistic, the latter tends to be popular among the less educated, rural French, who stand disillusioned by the promises of globalism and globalisation. This population separation falls in line with the divides also visible in the Brexit vote and America’s last presidential elections — each pitting globalisation with nationalism and relatively open borders with mostly closed ones. [Interestingly, unlike the USA, Le Pen is generally more popular with the younger French voters (though not among college students), who have been facing the brunt of a high youth unemployment rate of 25 per cent]. “What we’re seeing is historic: a choice between two completely different modes of organizing a society. The world is focused on France because France has managed to encapsulate — almost to the point of caricature — the debate underway across the world.” Madani Cheurfa, a professor of politics at Paris Institute of Political Studies told the Washington Post.
The first round elections on April 23 confirmed a ringing no-confidence defeat for the Republicans and Socialist parties that had ruled the roost in French politics since the 1950s. The Socialist party in particular was routed with its candidate receiving a mere 6 per cent of votes. Indeed, if there is anything that unites the two Presidential candidates, it is in the fact that both Macron and Le Pen represent anti-establishment positions. Neither of them have ever been elected to public office before or have governing experience.
In spite of prevailing low confidence in polls and predictions, it is generally agreed that the chances of a Le Pen victory are slim. Even the last minute release of thousands of hacked documents from Macron’s campaign on Friday is unlikely to have much of an impact on Macron’s winning prospects, analysts suggest. According to the current polls, Macron is supposed to win with about 60 per cent of the vote, while Le Pen would receive the other 40 per cent. However, even a clear victory for Macron would be less representative of the electorate’s confidence in his leadership and more of voters’ collective opposition to a Le Pen presidency and the empowering of the far-right National Front, a party with a racist, anti-Semitic past.
Expert opinions concur that if Macron is victorious, he would have to undertake the herculean task of bringing together a deeply divided country. Should he fail at delivering on his optimism though, the far-right and extremism would only thrive more.