Writing by Ellie Bye. Illustration via Unsplash.
There is a sense of déjà vu to the French presidential race this year as it was the same candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, who went head-to-head back in 2017. In France, a two-round voting system is used in which the two most successful candidates advance to the second round. This year there were twelve contenders, and it was Le Pen, who acquired 23% of the vote in the first round, and Macron, who led comfortably in front securing 28% of the vote, that were the successful final two contenders that voters were asked to choose between in the second round of voting. In this rematch, Le Pen was once again defeated for a third time.
On Sunday the 24th of April, French voters re-elected Macron as president for a second term, making him the fourth president ever to achieve this in France. In 2017, his surprise win came as a sigh of relief as it dispelled fears in Europe about the growth of right-wing extremism. This year, however, his win feels bittersweet. Macron’s victory has the same outpour of emotion and anger as when Jeremy Corbyn lost the general election in 2017 or the UK’s tragic decision to leave the EU in 2016.
Macron has managed to hold on to his presidency on the basis of spoiled ballots and abstentions. Following the results of the first round, a group of students occupied Sorbonne Université in Paris, demanding “ni Macron ni Le Pen” (neither Macron nor Le Pen) and refusing to choose between “ni la peste ni le cholera” (neither the plague nor cholera). The strike lasted several days and stopped all classes. Predictably, within hours of the projected results being announced on Sunday, a protest formed at Place de la République in Paris as people angrily grieved the results of the election and once again chanted for “ni Macron ni Le Pen”.
It was the disheartened voters who begrudgingly opted for Macron in order to halt the advancement of France’s far-right, which takes the form of Marine Le Pen, enabling Macron to secure his second term. This is a fact he is all too aware of. In his short acceptance speech, Macron acknowledged that “many French people voted for me to block the far right” and as a result he is “under an obligation”. Similarly, Macron’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, expressed that Macron’s second term “will be different. We are determined to hear those who abstained, those who spoiled their ballots”. Both expressed sentiments of hesitation over the win, both clearly aware of the simmering anger in the country.
On the other hand, Le Pen’s speech was marked by optimism as she declared that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel hope”. And unfortunately, she may be right. Even though the result was not as close as predicted, with a decisive 16 points separating the two, it was still the highest ever result for a far-right party in France. Furthermore, it’s a percentage that is leaping higher and higher at every election as she jumped up by 8 points since the 2017 election.
Le Pen’s nationalistic policies include to ban the hijab in public spaces, to put an end to giving French nationality to those born in France from foreign parents, to discriminate against foreigners by only allocating welfare provisions to French nationals, and a “Frexit in all but name”. This clear display of xenophobia, islamophobia, anti semitism, and anti-immigration is disturbing to read, but her blatant bigotry was made more digestible in two ways. Firstly, Le Pen has worked hard to rebrand her party, the Rassemblement National (National Rally), in order to distance herself from its former and controversial leader, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. More importantly, it was Éric Zemmour’s even more terrifying campaign which included wanting to ban the name Mohammed, that left many believing Le Pen to have a much softer policy than reality.
In contrast to Le Pen’s extremist policies, Macron’s campaign is founded on unity and centrism. His original 2017 campaign was presented as socially progressive, but has since retreated to right-wing tendencies and has accelerated support for the far-right. When he originally came to power, and triumphantly squashed any fears of extremism, Europe collectively relaxed at the sight of an apparent lifeboat in the dangerous extremism waters. However, now it seems like all that is keeping Macron afloat is those steadfastly battling against the rising waters of the far-right, rather than true belief in Macron’s leadership.
The French population is not happy. They are divided and they are disheartened, but most of all, they are exhausted. It is tiring to watch their hopes of a better government flitter away once again and have to vote for the lesser evil, rather than a free and welcomed choice.
France is the image of a slow burn into an apocalypse. Before we know it, the flames of right-wing extremism will be red-hot, and France will find itself in a dystopian hell on earth. The gap between the centrist and far-right wing parties is narrowing, both in terms of popularity and policy. The future seems bleak for left-wing candidates like Mélenchon, who fell just behind Le Pen in the first round as he gained 22% of the vote versus her 23%.
Macron’s victory against Le Pen is a win for today, but he will have to prove himself over the next five years to unite the country and ultimately put a stop to the rising right wing in France. He also has the bigger task of demonstrating to all of Europe that the right wing will not be tolerated. We are two years away from the next general election in the UK and the Tory party is seemingly crumbling apart by the day. The UK population must be ready to fend off whoever emerges from the ashes and put an end to the pandemonium we are hurtling towards.