The Search for Middle Ground: On the French Election
This article was written on April 22, 2017, the day before the French election.
The French presidential elections are tomorrow, and there seems to be no certainty over how the first round will go. The French voting system is different than the American: citizens vote for a specific candidate, not for a party. The two candidates with the most votes pass onto the second tour. This year, citizens can choose between eleven candidates. However, it seems only four candidates are likely to pass to the second tour. The competition is between far-right leader Marine Le Pen, far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Fillon, who would be the equivalent of a moderate Republican in America, and Emmanuel Macron, who would be the equivalent of a moderate Democrat. The second round will see the two candidates with the most votes in the first round.
While the four candidates are very different, their positions can intersect. Macron and Fillon are both pro-Europe, while Le Pen and Mélenchon want France to break away from the European Union. The latter both adhere to populist ideas, but while Mélenchon wants to limit the wealthy’s wealth and power, Le Pen wants to limit the power and influx of immigrants.
The ideal second round would be between Macron and Fillon, so that France could finally have access to a real debate on how to lead the French and what France really needs. The presidential debates in France recently have lacked substance: the candidates’ beliefs are too different from each other. However, the odds of such a second-round seem low. It is likely that Marine Le Pen will pass to the second round. If one of the two moderate candidates goes to the next round with one of the extremist candidates, the odds are in the favour of the moderate candidate.
The big risk for the second round is the potential pairing of Le Pen and Mélenchon against each other. The odds seem very low for such an outcome tomorrow, but Brexit and Trump’s election prove that polls cannot fully predict political outcomes anymore. Polls often fail to represent a broad range of ages, socioeconomic status and educational background. The outcome of those two candidates passing onto the second round are scary: a speech based in hatred or fear are signs of an unpredictable leader.
Today, the ministry of finances is working on a project of capital control, which would protect the French economy in case of Mélenchon or Le Pen being elected President in two weeks. It seems unlikely that an extremist candidate will have a lot of representation in the government, which would limit their power, even if our constitution gives the President a lot of power. If Macron becomes President, it could also be interesting to see how far his support can go within the government, since he created his political party just within the last year.
Today’s elections will show how accurate the polls have been. The second round will follow two weeks later, deciding who the President will be. While Western nations have recently been keen to elect far-right leaders and make political decisions based in patriotism and nationalism, the French political system can protect its citizens. The nine candidates who will not pass onto the second tour will rally behind the leader they feel closest to, and one can hope that in a second round between a moderate and an extremist candidate, they will rally behind the moderate.