There was a blissful time in French history where the three options were the democratic right, the democratic left and a wanna-be centrist. Then the extremes awoke, parties started to hold primaries and the campaigns went to hell. Today we are faced with the distinct possibility that the second round ballot in May may be between extreme right Le Pen and extreme left Melanchon, a Chavez lover if any.
Let's go with the individual history of each major candidate, according to the latest poll average.
Marine Le Pen has always been ahead. The peculiarity of the two round balloting in France's elections ensure her that with a militant and sectarian Front National behind her, in an era of rising populism and anti globalization, she would hold from the start a 20%+ vote share. This because of the radicalization of her voter base but also because she is/was the perfect protest vote: you could punish the establishment in the first round and then vote seriously in the second round.
But she is mired in that range, unable to extend her electorate (and even slightly weakening of late). Well, every 5 years they gain a couple of points (her Daddy 15 years ago got 17%) , but even her new found moderation does not allow her to go above the 25% mark. And in France this is a killer because she has no "voting reserves", those from other groups that would consider voting for her in the second round. Thus a first round 25% victory would hardly translate into anything better than a 40% defeat. Meanwhile her relative strength sends shivers through European markets.
She loves Putin and Trump and Brexit. With her at the helm that would be the undoing of the Euro and the European Union. She is the second candidate I cannot vote for. Only in a second round between her and Melanchon could I possibly consider voting for her in a true case of lesser than two evils. And after considering many, many parameters that would convince me to go and vote for her rather than staying at home.
Emmanuel Macron is the wild card of the election. He was a close aide of president Hollande until he was named finance minister causing quite a stir. But not a socialist himself he represents in fact the social democrats that have never been able to prosper in France like they did in other European countries. The need for alliances when the second round ballot comes finds the socialists in need of convincing the left and hard left to vote for them. Henceforth the more leftist nature of the French socialists compared to other European socialist parties, and their bedeviling contradictions once in office.
The Hollande presidency floundered as he decided to go on the right of his party and transform once and for all the French Socialist party into a normal democratic functioning social democratic party. This caused considerable frictions and resulted in the most popular minister, Macron, to bail out and run on his own as a media product. Not even a card member Macron knew that it would be easier to win the Elysee Palace than a socialist primary.
Macron is truly a media product, a wild card and perhaps a little bit of an adventurer. The fact of the matter is that he gets his support from the small centrist parties of France and the dissident socialists that refuse to vote for their candidate. And a not insignificant sprinkling from the moderate right. Whatever it is, he is the joker of the election, having started the long overdue aggiornamento of French politics. Right now I may vote for him. But I truly will wait for election day and vote the most useful way to stop Melanchon reaching the second round.
Jean Luc Melanchon is a lover of Chavez and assorted leftist caudillos of Latin America. As far as I know he has been unable to criticize Maduro's regime. As such he is THE candidate I cannot vote for, no matter what.
The problem is that he has gone up so much in polls that there is suddenly the real scary risk that the second round may be between him and Le Pen. Melanchon has done, let's not deny it, the best campaign, and a smart one. He is also a gifted orator, and just like Chavez, people marvel at his ability to speak for hours without notes. He used to be communist. Then when communism floundered and the socialists were high tide under Mitterrand he became a socialist. But any constraints fit him ill and soon enough he was a floating figure of the hard left, not a communist, not a green, not a socialist, whatever stirred the masses at a given time, always a populist in the worse sense of the term. In that respect he is very much like Le Pen and they truly hate each other.
He is benefiting for a renewed populism left seen with Sanders of Podemos or Syriza. Simply put, like Le Pen he represents the "every body out". And like her he would mean the end of the EU, and the Euro later as he will need to pay for the bankruptcy to the French state he will surely lead to. To boot he is a Putin lover, approves of his intervention in Syria, and is an avowed pacifist and a partisan of opening Europe to immigration. You can fill the dots on what his presidency would be.
Francois Fillon is such a sad story... Six months ago all expected that after the failed Hollande presidency the parliamentary right was headed for a spectacular come back. Now it is at serious risk not to make it to the second round ballot, a first since de Gaulle.
It should not have been like that. Fillon, former prime minister of France, had a landslide victory in his primaries where he defeated Alain Juppé, who was my favorite of them all. But then a few weeks later it was revealed that Fillon had its own nepotism issues of significant proportions. The problem is not really these issues but how he handled them. And that was terribly. He presented himself as a victim of media harassment. He claimed his innocence, he claimed that if put under investigation he would quit the race. It happened, he did not quit. And at the end he radicalized the right by relying on the least savory portion of his party, those from "La Manif Pour Tous", a catholic reactionary movement that appeared in France when Hollande had voted gay marriage. In short, Filllon dug his own hole, lost many moderates of his party and opened himself to the question of fitness for office in spite of having been the prime minister of president Sarkozy.
He has had at least one little piece of luck: if the socialists had many hard figures going Macron, the right has been more discrete about their intentions to vote for Macron. The right on this respect is way more weary of Macron novelty and relative inexperience, even if they dislike Fillon as was seen by Juppe when he criticized Fillon inability to consider an exit for the good of the right when it became clear that his scandals and personal probity had become a liability. In addition Fillon is pro Putin and I suspect rather anti US for reasons that I do not understand since he was the Prime Minister of Sarkozy a rather pro US president
Benoit Hamon will be the text book example of what should not be done in a presidential campaign. The socialist party held its primaries and Hamon was, like Fillon on the right, the surprise winner against Hollande prime minister, Manuel Valls. I did like Valls who was the open supporter of modernizing the socialist party. But the left wing elected the candidate most to the left of the party, and convincingly, one of the risks of primaries here and elsewhere, even if they are open primaries like in France. Note: Hamon when minister visited Venezuela dispensing praise for the regime. Later Valls would become a strong critic of the regime. I thing this is telling.
The mistake of Hamon was to believe that the socialist party could salvage its chances by veering left with a president so in the dumps of opinion polls that he decided not to run for reelection! So, instead of starting with the reunification of his party after the primary he went on to seek alliances on his left. First with the ecologist party, very to the left in France, almost like if the left of the socialist party decided to form their own party to be more on the left without calling themselves socialists. The electoral pact was signed and the green candidate withdrew in favor of Hamon, but that came at great cost for a future parliamentarian majority for Hamon. Then he went to Melanchon to make an electoral alliance. Melanchon skillfully dodged the bullet and outsmarted him big time, to the point of his recent spectacular rise in polls. People thought that if Hamon pretends to be so much on the left, might as well vote for the real thing. Needless to say that by not tending to his moderates, Hamon has been losing them to Macron big time.
Dupont Aignan I only pout in because he is the highest polled of the small candidates and he is the only one that could bring voters to Le Pen in a second round. In short, this time around the four way race has limited any impact the small candidates could have (11 in total). By the way, he is also an europhobe.
The conclusion is simple. With an unexpected four way race where everything is possible until election day, and I do not mean this as a cliché, the only thing certain is that the winner will not have a mandate. As such the real elections, in my opinion, are going to be those for parliament that will be held in June. The results of the presidential are going certainly to influence greatly those, but even more the possible alliances to try to create a stable parliamentary majority. But I suspect that this will not happen and that the French Parliament will not have a working majority for the first time since the late 50ies.
Note that even if Hamon gets 9%, the socialist party should get 15% in the first round of parliamentary vote. Same goes for Fillon, if defeated, His party should get over 20% at parliamentary level. Thus a Macron victory is no guarantee at all that his newly formed movement will win the parliamentary elections.
Hence the title of the post: ElectionS. See you again in May.