French politics has been historically divided between the conservatives and the socialists but this time, the balance between the establishment is being tested. In the first round of the French presidential elections where out of 11 candidates, 4 were seen to be the leading candidates – independent Emmanuel Macron, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, conservative François Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. While Mr. Macron promises the French people to launch economic and labor reforms and favors deregulation measures that will be welcomed by global financial markets, Mr. Fillon wanted radical reforms including an repairing the labor code closer ties with Vladimir Putin. Ms. Le Pen wants to ditch the euro currency possibly pulling out the EU and keeps her stand upright on anti-immigration and anti-globalization much alike what we saw in US presidential elections. Mr. Mélenchon promised to raise public spending and taxes on the rich and focused on other economic issues.
The outcome of the first round was anything but uncertain. The first round of this year’s presidential elections were held in a highly charged environment (security concerns after the terror attacks in Paris and Nice and the recent shooting in Paris that killed a policeman) that voters had tough choice to make. But, the French followed their hearts. For the first time, neither of the mainstream left and right parties made it to the run-off which clearly indicates an anti-establishment mood in the people. Mr. Macron, an independent-centrist with no considerable political experience won 23.75% of the vote while Ms. Le Pen, the far right populist leader of the National Front acquired a total of 21.53% votes.
Opinion polls predict that Mr. Macron will win the second round as majority of voters view Ms. Le Pen’s ideology to be dangerous for France’s democracy and its values. This is not the first time when a National Front leader made it to the second year. In 2002, Mr. Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Ms. Le Pen made it to the second round against Jacques Chirac. But a large spectrum of French politics rallied behind Mr. Chirac to defeat Mr. Le Pen with a massive margin. The history seems to repeat itself. As soon as the results of the first round were out, defeated candidates Mr. Benoit Hamon and Mr. François Fillon asked the respective supporters to rally behind Mr. Macron. If the so announced support reflects in the popular will, Mr. Emmanuel Macron will repeat history.
But that doesn’t mean an end to the chances of Ms. Le Pen as well. She is known to bring the National Front from the dark periphery of French politics to the mainstream. While the unemployment rate in France is over a whooping 20% among the youth and economic growth didn’t really revive after 2008, Ms. Le Pen’s strong anti-globalization stand her extreme stance over open border immigration seems to resonate with at least sections of the youth.
But, the French voters have eluded the predictions time and again when the made Jacques Chirac who had been trailing in opinion polls, won the presidency. The final outcome on May 7 will carry a huge importance in French history.
It will not only have an impact on France but on Europe as a whole.