Monday, 24 April 2017

Seen on a train....

….between Newhaven, Connecticut, and New York City. The pollsters will be the first to rejoice. Their central scenario for the 2017 presidential election, a contest between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in the second round of voting on May 7, has been vindicated, even if the gap between them, just over 2%, in the first round of voting, is, if anything, wider than predicted. They also seem to have been right about the last minute surge of both François Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with Fillon edging into third place.

French voters have therefore given themselves a choice that is both clear and unprecedented. Clear inasmuch as the political choices of Macron and Le Pen could not be further apart. For Macron, the vision of an open and tolerant France within the European Union, setting out to put its economic and financial house in order, in accordance with its commitments under European treaties. For Le Pen, an inward-looking, xenophobic and go-it-alone France, harking back to an imagined eldorado of many years past and seeking to turn back the tide of history.

Unprecedented inasmuch as the next President, whoever he or she is, will not come from one of the established political parties that have governed France since 1958. Both candidates have deliberately turned their back on the mainstream right and left-wing parties and sought to stake out new political ground, astride both left and right for Macron or on the extreme right for Le Pen. Whatever else happens or doesn’t happen, France is in for a major realignment of its political parties and the shock waves from today’s vote will be felt for many months and years to come, starting with the parliamentary elections in June.

For now, it looks very much as if Macron will win on May 7. The unfortunate candidate of the socialist party, Benoit Hamon, has already endorsed Macron and more significantly, so has Fillon, as well as many other members of the right-wing Républicains. Mélenchon has not endorsed anyone, although counter-intuitively perhaps, some of his electorate might vote for Le Pen. Two further factors could however have a big influence on the final outcome; the first is abstention by voters who feel they have been deprived of a choice and want neither Macron nor Le Pen as their President. But turnout in the first round of voting was very similar to that of the first round of the 2012 election and it’s hard to imagine massive abstention handing victory to Le Pen. In addition, pollsters and media will certainly do their bit to warn of the possible consequences of abstention in the two weeks before the final vote; the second is the likely televised debate between the two finalists, that is probably being arranged as I write.

And, more frighteningly, a new terrorist attack cannot be ruled out.

As I wrote in my post of April 7 (“Macron unplugged”) I shall vote Macron on May 7. Beyond the closely argued analyses and media chatter that we shall be treated to for the next two weeks however, today’s results simply and ominously confirm that powerful forces of division are gnawing at the fabric of French society. One can only hope that the next President will set out, first and foremost, to tame them.

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