Thanks to the incompetence of the ruling party and the dangerous xenophobia pitched by the opposition, Emmanuel Macron, a centrist and the former minister of economy and finance of France who has little experience in popular elections, has quickly risen to prominence and become the new hope of the French people.
Macron was far from being a household name a year ago. However, just 12 months on, the 39-year-old former investment banker and civil servant is now grabbing headlines around the world as a frontrunner in the French presidential election.
In the first round of voting that has just ended, Macron, who claimed himself to be “a leftist who is receptive to the rightist ideals”, took 24 percent of the popular vote, while his major opponent, the ultra-right Marine Le Pen, representing the National Front, took 21 percent.
Since none of the candidates was able to take more than 50 percent of the total votes in the first round of voting, the two contenders who came first and second, i.e. Macron and Le Pen, will square off in the second round of voting scheduled for May 7.
According to the latest poll, 64 percent of French voters said they favored Macron for president, while only 30 percent said they supported Le Pen.
If the poll results are accurate and there will be no election upset, Macron is very likely to become the next occupant of the Élysée Palace in two weeks’ time and the youngest president ever of the French Fifth Republic.
Macron’s rapid rise to political stardom can be largely attributed to the unpopularity of the incumbent president, François Hollande, who has been unable to revive the country’s economy over the past five years, fueling mounting public grievances against him and his Socialist Party.
Well aware that he would have basically zero chance of getting re-elected, Hollande had announced that he wouldn’t seek a second term long before this election.
But, as it turned out, Hollande’s decision to step down after he serves out his term and allow his 49-year-old partymate Benoît Hamon to run was of little help in resuscitating the party.
The French voters were apparently completely fed up with the Socialist rule and increasingly impatient with the hypocrisy and incompetence of mainstream politicians in Paris.
As a result, in the first round of presidential election voting, Hamon only got 6.36 percent of the votes, just slightly over the 5 percent threshold of being eligible to get reimbursed for his campaign expenditures.
The Republican candidate François Fillon, who was once considered a major contender, saw his popularity plummet after he had been found to have fictitiously employed his wife and two of his children as assistants using public money during his term as lawmaker. He only gained 20 percent of the votes.
The elimination of the Socialist and Republican candidates from the race means this election will be the first one ever in the history of the French Fifth Republic from which the leading parties of both the left and the right are absent.
Under normal circumstances, centrist politicians rarely stand out in elections because of their nondescript political ideology.
However, it turns out the 2017 French presidential election is anything but normal: while most voters have lost their faith in the mainstream Socialist and Republican parties, both of which have dominated French politics for decades, they are also fearful that the core values of France – freedom, equality and compassion – may well be threatened if the ultra-right Marine Le Pen comes to power.
As a result, the relatively moderate, simultaneously pro-business, pro-welfare state and pro-EU Emmanuel Macron has emerged as their only viable option.
However, even if Macron is elected president, it doesn’t mean he is home free.
There is still another major battleground lying before him, which is, the French National Assembly election in June.
Since it is rather unlikely that Macron’s own small and fledging party, the “En Marche!”, can secure a landslide victory in the upcoming election and form a cabinet on its own, Macron will inevitably have to seek partnership with other major parties in order to form a coalition government.
If that scenario happens, Macron could be rendered a lame duck president who has to rely on the support of his political opponents in order to carry out his policy initiatives.
As such, the presidential election is only the first half of the match for Macron. In order to truly prevail he has to win the second half, i.e., the parliamentary election, as well.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 25
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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