יום ראשון, 23 באפריל 2017

Macron to face Le Pen after first round of French presidential election

Traditional left and right ruling parties kicked out of race with independent centrist and far-right leaders pulling ahead

Marine Le Pen, left, leader of the Front National, will face independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the final round of the French presidential election.

The independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has topped the first round of the French presidential election and according to projections will face the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen in a standoff marked by anti-establishment anger that knocked France’s traditional political parties out of the race.

Macron, 39, a political novice, now becomes the favourite to be elected as France’s next president. He is the youngest ever French presidential hopeful and has never run for election before.

After the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the US vote for the political novice Donald Trump as president, the French presidential race is the latest election to shake up establishment politics by kicking out the figures that stood for the status quo.

The historic first-round result marked the rejection of the ruling political class – it was the first time since the postwar period that the traditional left and right ruling parties were both ejected from the race in the first round.

France’s two political outsiders – the progressive, pro-business and socially liberal Macron and the anti-immigration, anti-EU, far-right Le Pen – will now face off in a final round on 7 May that will redraw French politics and could define the future direction of Europe.

The Socialist prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve led appeals from across the political spectrum to support Macron in order to block Le Pen, who he said represented “regression and division” for France. The scandal-hit rightwing candidate François Fillon, who was knocked out of the race, said he would also vote for Macron because the Front National “has a history known for its violence and intolerance” and its economic and social programme would lead France to bankruptcy.

Macron, a former investment banker, who had been a chief adviser and then economy minister to the Socialist François Hollande, is not a member of any political party. He quit government last year and launched his own political movement, En Marche! (on the move), that was “neither left nor right”, promising to “revolutionise” what he called France’s vacuous and decaying political system.

Speaking in front of an ecstatic and raucous crowd in Paris, Macron said of his fledgling political movement: “In one year we have changed the face of French political life.” He said he represented “optimism and hope”. In a dig at Le Pen, he said he would be a president of “patriots” against the “nationalist threat”.

'The real misery is in the countryside': support for Le Pen surges in rural France

Le Pen’s place in the final round cements her party’s steady rise in French politics. The Front National has made steady gains in every election since she took over the leadership from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011. Le Pen ran a hardline campaign against immigration and promised to crack down on what she called “Islamic fundamentalism”. While Macron’s supporters at rallies waved EU flags and he hailed the positive role of the 27-country bloc, Le Pen told supporters “the EU will die”. She wants to leave the euro, return to the franc, exit the Schengen agreement and close French borders.

The central message of Marine Le Pen’s campaign was the staple of the Front National party since it was co-founded by her father in 1972: keeping France for the French. Le Pen promised to give priority to French people over non-nationals in jobs, housing and welfare, and would hold a referendum to cement this policy into the constitution. She said she would demand extra tax from companies that employed any kind of foreign worker.

In the final days of the first round campaign, she returned firmly to the main concern of her electorate: immigration. She went further than she had done before by promising to immediately suspend all legal immigration in order to reassess what she called the “uncontrollable situation” of foreigners coming into France. She promised a ban on religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from all public places.

Both the rightwing Les Républicains party and the ruling leftwing Socialists, which have dominated government and French politics for decades, were knocked out of the race. They managed to take only around 25% of the vote between them.

The Macron-Le Pen final marks a redrawing of the political divide, away from the old left-right divide towards a contest between a liberal, pro-globalisation stance and “close the borders” nationalism. Le Pen has styled her election campaign as between her party’s “patriots” and the “globalists” she says Macron represents. As the geographer Christophe Guilluy has noted: “The rift between the global market’s winners and losers has replaced the old right-left split.”

From her northern heartland in the former coal-mining town of Hénin-Beaumont, Le Pen described herself as the “candidate of the people” against Macron, who she suggested represented the “arrogant elite” who hold “money as king”. She said that with her, France could “at last hold its head high”. She added: “It’s time to free the French people from the arrogant elite.”

Le Pen, who has no natural alliances with other parties – crucial for winning the second round – issued a call for all “patriots” to join her.

Fillon, a former prime minister who was once favourite, was knocked out after his campaign was hit by allegations that he embezzled state funds by giving his wife and children generous, taxpayer-funded “fake jobs” as parliamentary assistants over the course of his long political career. He said he took full responsibility for his failure, but continued to hint that the corruption allegations were not his fault but a plot against him, saying he lost the presidential race because “the obstacles put in my way were too many and too cruel”.

Live French presidential election: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen set for final round showdown – live
Independent Macron projected to have taken around 23% of vote with Front National leader Le Pen on roughly 22%; conservative François Fillon concedes

As the count continued on Sunday night, Fillon was tied in third place with the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of a grassroots movement, La France Insoumise or Untamed France, which had the backing of the Communist party. Mélenchon’s support had surged in the final weeks.

The Socialist Benoît Hamon, who came in fourth place with a very low one-figure score, said he had failed in stopping the “disaster” that had been clear in advance. He said the elimination of the left by the far-right for the second time in 15 years – following Jean-Marie Le Pen’s second-round presence in 2002 – showed a “moral defeat” for the left. He appealed for voters to choose Macron to block Le Pen, who he called an “enemy of the Republic”.

Whoever wins the Macron-Le Pen race, the parliamentary elections that follow in June will be crucial. The majority in the lower house will determine how a new president could govern, and France is likely to require a new form of coalition politics. If elected president, Macron, fielding MP candidates from his fledgling movement, would have to seek a new kind of parliamentary majority across the centre left-right divide. If Le Pen did win the presidency, she would very probably not win a parliament majority, thwarting her ability to govern. But her party hopes to increase its MPs in the 577-seat house. Currently Le Pen has only two MPs.

The French election race had been an extraordinary run of twists and turns. The Socialist François Hollande became the first president since the war to decide not to run again for office after slumping to record unpopularity with a satisfaction rating of only 4%. His troubled five-year term left France still struggling with mass unemployment, a sluggish economy and a mood of disillusionment with the political class. The country is more divided than ever before. More than 230 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in little more than two years, as the political class questions Islam’s place in French society, and more than 3 million people are unemployed.

The election race itself was marked by a series of poll upsets. For over a year, the moderate centre-right Alain Juppé was seen as a presidential favourite but he was knocked out of the right’s primary race, alongside the former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Similarly the centre-left prime minister Manuel Valls was beaten in a Socialist primary race by the backbench rebel Hamon.

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