Early projections show that the two winners of the First Round of French Presidential elections are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
Early indications are that Macron inched ahead of Le Pen, but with polls having only just closed, it is still too early to call.
That Le Pen and Macron would continue on to the second round of voting next month was largely predicted. The strength of each candidate’s numbers will surely indicate who may be the stronger candidate in the penultimate contest.
If these projections turn out to be accurate, the final round of elections will be a contest between the old establishment in a young package (Macron) and anti-establishment populism as promoted by a refreshed right wing of French politics (Le Pen).
Many will be quick to point out similarities between the forthcoming second round of elections next month and the final round of the French Presidential elections of 2002.
The 2002 elections saw an establishment politician against someone called Le Pen. But it was a very different establishment politician and a very different Le Pen.
In 2002, political veteran and incumbent President Jacques Chirac faced off the perpetually un-electable Jean-Marie Le Pen, the grumpy old man of the far-right in the second round.
For all of his faults, Chirac was an elegant statesman who exuded competence, even in areas where he was lacking. His track record was very mixed but at least he had a substantial one. Because of this and because of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s unreconstructed reactionary politics, all but devoted Le Pen loyalists cast their vote for the incumbent. In the event, Chirac won by over 82% of the vote in the second round, in spite of only three points of separation in the first round.
In 2002, many Le Pen voters in the first round were protest votes against the establishment, in 2017, votes for Le Pen are votes intended to show support for her policies.
Today, the establishment figure, Emmanuel Macron carries water for the establishment, but does not carry much weight. His sudden move from the Socialist party to form his own En Marche party was widely seen for what it was…total opportunism.
Macron destroyed Benoit Hamon of his old Socialist Party in the polls as well as coming ahead of one time favourite, centre-right candidate Francois Fillon. Nevertheless, Macron will have a much tougher fight on his hands in the second round than President Chirac did in 2002.
Marine Le Pen is not her father. She has consolidated a popular movement against everything for which Macron stands. The differences are clear
Macron is an arch Europhile, Le Pen is a Eurosceptic.
Macron advocates neo-liberal economics where Le Pen promotes a form of protectionism she calls ‘economic nationalism’.
Macron is for Angela Merkel style border policies. Le Pen is the total antithesis to this.
Macron is hardly distinguishable from outgoing President Hollande on foreign affairs.
Le Pen by contrast has staked her foreign policy on a radical shift away from war and interventionism.
Because of this, the choice on policy is clear. The key element however will be which candidate is best able to pick up the votes of prominent candidates who did not make it to the second round.
Centre-right candidate Francois Fillon who is projected to have come in third, often aped Le Pen’s foreign policy statements on everything from Syria to Russia. He was a kind of ‘Le Pen light’ in certain respects and seemed to be genuine in his lack of antagonism towards Russia.
In the same way that if the second round had been between Macron and Fillon, many Le Pen supporters may have held their noses and voted for Fillon, it remains to be seen if Fillon’s voters are more committed to the fact that their candidate was part of the establishment or if they are genuinely concerned with the fact that Fillon was more of a foreign policy pragmatist than Macron who is little more than a kind of EU puppet and ideologue in sheep’s clothing.
If Fillon’s votes go to Le Pen in the second round as well as those of more obscure right-wing and populist candidates, she has a real chance.
However, one must account for the fact that nearly all of socialist Benoit Hamon’s votes will go to Macron.
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is an interesting one in this respect. In many ways, the neo-liberal economics and pro-EU/globalist/neo-con/neo-lib foreign policies of Macron are as anathema to Melenchon’s base as they are to Le Pen’s.
Therefore, in many respects the Melenchon vote is very much up for grabs in the second round. According to current projections he will have come in 4th place with 19.6% of all votes, just shy of Fillon’s 3rd place at 20.3%.
While the numbers are bound to change, the likelihood is that the position of the candidates will not.
The second round of the election is now Macron’s to lose as much as it is Le Pen’s to win.