By THEOPHILE DE SAINT SERNIN
In my previous article, I argued that it was necessary for the right-wing party Les Républicains that François Fillon maintain his bid for the French Presidential elections.
A week after the first round of the elections and a week before the second round, it is safe to say that these elections are like none other. For the first time in the Fifth Republic’s history, no candidate of the two mainstream parties (Les Républicains and the Parti Socialiste) will be in the second round.
The second round of the elections will take place on May 7 and will field two candidates who oppose each other on every issue: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. If Macron brings a rather positive change to the French political scene, it’s breaking the traditional two-party system. Le Pen’s presence in the second round is symptomatic of the French population’s current doubts and fears. Her political platform plays on the europhobic and xenophobic sentiments of today’s French society, afflicted by the country’s slow economy.
It is the second time in 15 years that the Front National has managed to field a candidate in the second round; in 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, ran against Jacques Chirac. Chirac’s victory in the second round was immense, with more than 80 percent of the votes. His large victory stemmed from the Front Républicain, in which most of France’s political leaders called for a unified vote against Jean-Marie Le Pen to prevent him from becoming president.
After last week’s electoral round, many political leaders have called once again for this united front to prevent Marine Le Pen from winning the second round of the elections. This time, however, the situation seems somewhat different than that of 15 years ago. If Jean-Marie Le Pen’s presence in the second round surprised most observers in 2002, Marine Le Pen’s success in 2017 has been anticipated for months as she topped numerous opinion polls.
The Front National has in recent years reformed itself, not so much in terms of ideology but in terms of image, and voters are today more inclined to endorse the party’s populist ideas. There is a schism in the right side of France’s political spectrum, where some of its more conservative elements no longer hesitate to openly call for voters to elect Le Pen.
It is also staggering to see that when the country is most in need of unity against the Front National, certain political leaders lack the vision to put aside their differences and work for the greater good. The decision of Jean-Luc Melenchon (who finished fourth in the first round with approximately 19 percent of the vote) to not openly call for his supporters to vote against Le Pen is extremely disappointing. Other political leaders — François Fillon and Les Républicains, Benoît Hamon and the Socialist Party, current president François Hollande, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy — have all endorsed Emmanuel Macron.
The main risk for the coming round is that a large number of voters will choose to abstain rather than vote for either candidate. Emmanuel Macron is still ahead in the polls for the second round, but his margin is less comfortable than Chirac’s in 2002. A large number of abstentions could be very detrimental for Macron. He still has difficulty rallying voters to his cause as he is deemed too right by the left and too left by the right. In contrast, Marine Le Pen has a very motivated electoral base, which could potentially increase if the more conservative right-wing elements endorse her.
However, abstention is not an option for the second round. The danger of a Le Pen victory is too great. Hopefully, French voters will understand the responsibility they have now to vote against hate and populism.
France is at a crossroads, facing two paths to very different futures. On one side, there is the path of cooperation and integration. The other path, the path that the extreme right wants us to choose, is a path of fear and isolation. I hope my fellow citizens choose wisely.
Theophile de Saint Sernin is a staff writer for the SAIS Observer. He is an MA student concentrating in Strategic Studies at SAIS Bologna.