Paris – At 8:00 pm on Sunday night, French television channels will display the image of the new president of the country who will succeed Francois Hollande and lead the country for the next five years.
Up until this moment and if opinion polls are to be trusted, all indications point to centrist Emmanuel Macron achieving his dream of becoming the eighth president of the Fifth Republic in France. The polls show Macron winning 60 percent of Sunday’s runoff presidential vote, while his rival, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen obtaining 40 percent.
Macron’s supporters are sure of his victory in wake of Wednesday’s televised debate against Le Pen in which he emerged as the more confident candidate. The former minister of economy managed to maintain his cool when faced with the violent attack of his rival, who from the beginning of the debate did not spare him any accusations.
The young candidate always appeared keen on explaining his electoral platform and the measures he plans on adopting to help France out of its crisis. Le Pen on the other hand simply repeated general stances and headlines that Macron sought to pull apart. Even worse for the National Front leader, she seemed unconfident on her stances on Europe and the unified currency, terrorism, security, immigration and Islam. She was hoping to bridge the gap between her and Macron, but he was able to resist her assault, pushing her to make one final accusation that he has secret offshore accounts in the Bahamas.
Macron categorically denied Le Pen’s claims and he filed a complaint before the French judiciary, which immediately launched an investigation in the matter. The offshore claims first appeared on American websites, specifically from those that backed US President Donald Trump during his electoral campaign. In France, the claims were circulated on websites that are close to Russia.
It is clear that Le Pen’s electoral team resorted to this tactic to halt Macron’s march towards the Elysee Palace. His success, should it happen, will be taught at political science academies as the developments of the electoral campaign were similar to a play with several plot twists. The repercussions of his election will reshape France’s political landscape and its first indications will appear on Sunday night. They will be followed by parliamentary elections in June and their results will have a massive effect on the new president’s term. Macron will need a parliamentary majority to govern and questions have been raised about who this majority will be formed of, especially since several of those voting for him on Sunday are really doing so to prevent Le Pen from coming to power.
In April 2016, then Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron kicked off a new French political movement, “En Marche!” (Forward!), which prompted political commentators to start talking about the ambitions of the then 38-year-old.
Gradually, debate that the minister “will not dare” run for presidency against his Hollande, “who made him,” began to grow. The Socialist president was the one to bring Macron “out of the unknown” when he appointed him as an economic advisor at the recommendation of Jacque Attali, the special advisor of former Socialist President Francois Mitterand. After Hollande’s election as president, Macron, the graduate of France’s École nationale d’administration, moved with him to the Elysee Palace to serve as deputy director of the presidency, while continuing to act as economic advisor. The next step in his rise on the political scene saw him appointed minister of economy in the government of then Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
It then came as a surprise that Macron decided to run for presidency, notably also because French presidents, whether from the left or right, usually run for a second term in office and Hollande was likely going to do so.
Macron: the Phenomenon
Political analysts agree that Hollande was indeed planning to run for reelection, but his recent poor political performance, due to his failure to make true on his economic and social pledges, diminished his chances of running and actually winning. The final blow came when Macron announced his candidacy in August without taking into account Hollande’s decision. He justified his move by noting Hollande’s political weakness, which came in evidence when he lost the primary of the Socialist Party to Benoit Hamon.
Macron sought to overcome the traditional divisions of right and left of French politics, while many did not take him seriously as a candidate, saying that he will not be able to prove himself against parties that have deep roots in French society. His rise is a real political phenomenon in France where he reflects a need for rejuvenation and openness, despite rivals labeling him the candidate of financial oligarchy. Le Pen went so far as to call him the candidate of “Islamic groups” and the immigrants. She also accused him of abandoning the French identity and of other claims that are aimed at discrediting him.
This is Politics
Macron, who is likely to become France’s next president, has in fact succeeded in marketing the European liberal economic policy without abandoning the fundamentals of protecting the citizens and preserving the central social guarantees of French society. The main challenge he will face if he becomes the eight president of the republic is reaping a parliamentary majority that will back him and provide the necessary political stability that will help him achieve the reforms he pledged to the people.
Votes for Macron however are not necessarily for him, but rather votes against Le Pen and fears that France will become the first major western country ruled by the far-right.
From the beginning her presidential campaign, Le Pen sought to distinguish herself from other candidates. She presented herself as being “against the current system” and that she is the “candidate of the people.” The truth is that she is the only “political heiress” out of eleven candidates who ran in the first round of the presidential elections. Le Pen inherited the National Front from her father, Jean-Marie, who fought with his fellow colleagues in order to appoint her head of his party.
Furthermore, her claim that she is the “daughter of the people” is not true, because she has, since the day she was born, been living in a villa that was mysteriously inherited by her father by an old rich member of the National Front. He also inherited his money and became wealthy himself.
Political disputes on how to lead the party soon ensued between father and daughter and the case was taken to court, where Marine succeeded in stripping him of his honorary presidency. She later sought to remove him from the party altogether after she started to see him as an obstacle in her path to power.
Perhaps Le Pen and Macron are similar in that they both committed symbolic “patricide” whereby the latter removed his spiritual father Hollande from his path, while the former “neutralized” her father.
Le Pen succeeded in the seven years that she has been leading the National Front in transforming it into a party like any other in France when in the past it used to be shunned. She took advantage of the mistakes of the traditional parties and expanded her electoral base, which was evident in local and regional elections. The parliament remains a major obstacle seeing as the party only has two lawmakers representing it.
If Le Pen does not make it to the Elysee Palace, she has at least made it half the way. Furthermore, it will no longer be a hard ask for the National Front to win seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections. It may even gain enough seats to form an independent bloc that will guarantee her a political and parliamentary presence and enable her to further seep into the veins of the French state.
Times Have Changed
There was a time in the past when the members of the National Front used to hide their affiliation to the extremist party’s ideology and politics, but today, they are proud of belonging to it. This means that the psychological barrier that prevented the advance of the far-right has been broken. The terrorist attacks that have struck France in the past two years have only helped take it steps closer to power.
At the moment, it appears that France will not hand over the keys to power to the leader of the far-right, but the National Front has become a main player in the country. The parliamentary elections will test this observation and the France that used to be ruled by the traditional right and moderate left is no more. The political scene has been fragmented and is being rebuilt with the emergence of the polar opposites of Le Pen and Macron. It has been an arduous birth, not just for the leaders of the far-right, but to especially those who are absent in the final round of the presidential elections. These absentees, the republican party and socialists, are now dreaming that the parliamentary elections will pave the way for them to return to their familiar positions.