The 2017 French presidential elections is significant for many reasons. The fight between independent centrist leader Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist candidate Marine Le Pen is in itself a deviation from the traditional fight between the center-left Socialists and center-right Republicans. With opinion polls giving an easy 20 per cent lead to Macron, writing off Le Pen would be a mistake considering the outcomes of US elections and Brexit. As French voters decide on their next leader, here’s all you need to know about French elections:
French voting: ‘Heart in the first round, head in second’
There are two rounds of voting in the presidential elections. The system, introduced by former president Charles de Gaulle in 1962, has been useful in keeping extremists out of power. In the 2017 elections, candidates from the traditional parties which have ruled France since 1950’s were knocked out in the first round. While Socialist Party’s candidate Benoît Hamon was booted out owing to strong anti-incumbency, Republican candidate and former prime minister François Fillon’s candidacy was tainted with allegations of misappropriation of public funds. Macron secured the highest percentage of votes in the first round (23.75 %), followed by Le Pen (21.53%).
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
If opinion polls are to be believed, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron may just become France’s youngest president. The former investment banker served as an economy minister for roughly two years in Francois Hollande’s cabinet before resigning in 2016 to kickstart his political movement ‘En Marche!’ (Onwards!) in April that year. Macron, who has never contested an election before, has also served as an economic adviser to Hollande. He was also the chief architect of the controversial Macron Law which, among other things, allowed shops to be open more often on Sundays. The move had not gone down well in France which is particular about its Sunday leisure time.
He has been an open supporter of globalisation and has stood by start-ups including Uber-like cab services, thereby alienating taxi drivers and worker community.
Macron is married to his former French teacher Brigitte Trogneux, who is 20 years elder to him. BBC reported that the young leader has seven step-grandchildren.
Who is Marine Le Pen?
The 48-year-old leader took over the National Front (FN) party in 2011 from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who lost 2002 presidential runoff by a whooping 82-18 margin. While the party was founded by Le Pen Sr in 1972 to represent the far-right ideals in French politics, Marine Le Pen purged the party of its hardliner xenophobic stand. Her father had often been convicted for hate speech and for brushing off Holocaust as a “detail of history.” Marine Le Pen worked on watering down the party’s rhetoric on immigrants and built her support among the working class. She presents herself as a leader who would uphold rights of French citizens and allocate public services to them before foreigners. Under her leadership, the party had also secured major gains in 2015 regional elections. She is a two-time divorcee with three children.
What are the issues
French identity and European Union: One of the key points of this election has been the extreme opposing stands of the two candidates on France’s EU membership. While Le Pen has promised to abandon Euro, renegotiate France’s EU membership and then hold a referendum, Macron wants to work on stronger EU ties, tightening integration between different Eurozone countries. While Le Pen has held France’s EU membership responsible for several economic and security concerns for the nation, Macron has resorted to counter the campaign by releasing videos of how British people now regret Brexit. Le Pen also blames free trade pacts for reduction in French jobs and her demand to renegotiate those terms are likely to cause financial tangle for other EU nations.
Though ‘Frexit’ could indicate controls on money transfers, capital flight, a plague of defaults and lawsuits on bonds and contracts, the possibility of it seems distant. Citing an opinion poll, BBC reported that seven out of 10 French voters were opposed to France pulling out of the EU. However, Le Pen’s win in the first round of elections has left financial markets jittery. France is the founding member of the EU post Second World War.
Immigration: The refugee crisis has brought many migrants and immigrants to France’s doorstep. This has led to questions by the French people if they want to continue living in the connected Europe they helped in building or opt towards a nativist, populist nation. While Macron has a pro-immigrant stand, Le Pen beliefs involve in preventing immigrants from accessing France’s welfare state policies. Le Pen had also said that her first move as a president would be to impose a temporary ban on legal immigration to France, reported CNN. “The French people must seize this opportunity, because the enormous challenge of this election is the wild globalization that puts our civilization at risk,” she said. “Either we continue to disintegrate without any borders, without any controls, unfair international competition, mass immigration and the free circulation of terrorists, or you choose France with borders.”
Islamic terrorism: France has been at the receiving end of multiple terror attacks allegedly carried out by Islamic terrorists. The Paris and Nice terror attacks together claimed nearly 230 lives in 2015 and 2016. While Le Pen has used the incidents to build her agenda around security, immigration, Islam and national identity, Macron has not spoken much on the issue. Following the Champs Élysées shooting, Le Pen had said that France must be “less naive” calling for deportation of all foreigners identified as Islamist radicals. Macron has been neutral on the Islamic terrorism debate saying “no religion is a problem in France today.”