09 December 2021, The Tablet

Extreme choices: the French presidential election


Extreme choices: the French presidential election

Emmanuel Macron triumphant in 2017 and, inset, Eric Zemmour
Photos: Alamy

 

With four months to go until the first round of next year’s presidential election, voters in France are facing an unfamiliar political landscape

For the first time since 1969, none of the leading contenders for the French presidency is from the mainstream Left or Right. In the last eight presidential elections, the Left has been represented by the Socialist Party (PS), which was invariably opposed by a fluid coalition of the Gaullist and non-Gaullist Right (now known as Les Républicains). Emmanuel Macron’s victory in 2017 shattered this familiar tradition when, in a dazzling campaign, he humiliated a mediocre PS contender and destroyed the political career of the Right-wing champion, and former Prime Minister, François Fillon.

The fact that Macron, a little-known ex-minister without a political party, managed to win a presidential election might seem to be the sign of a healthy democracy. But his victory was as much due to the decline of the traditional parties as it was to his personal talent. On Sunday 24 April next year, in the second-round run-off between the leading two candidates, the President is likely to be opposed, as in 2017, by a leader of the ­populist extreme Right.

The growth of the extreme Right in France has been spectacular. Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, steadily increased his support over 25 years, finally managing to reach the second round in 2002, when he won 18 per cent of the vote. His daughter, Marine Le Pen, won 34 per cent of the vote when she was defeated by Macron in the second round five years ago. She remains the leading challenger in the current polls, having polished up her party’s image by renaming it Rassemblement national, the “National Rally” (RN).

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