Richard Evans reports from Britain on the election results in France
The results of the first round of the French Presidential election, held on Sunday, have been announced. The final count puts Macron on 23.9%; Le Pen 21.4%; Fillon 19.9%; Mélenchon 19.6%; and Hamon on 6.3%. There are six other candidates, including two Trotskyists, who polled 1.1% and 0.6%. So, the left polled 27.6% but didn’t make the final ballot.
The French system holds the elections over two rounds, with the leading two candidates going forward to a second vote, two weeks later on 7th May. So, Macron, a centrist, will face Le Pen, far-right, in the run-off. It could have been worse as until February, the polls were predicting a run-off between Le Pen and Fillon, a right wing conservative, leaving the left with little choice other than to vote for Fillon to prevent the far-right Le Pen from winning.
Supposed to be a Shoe-in
This year’s election was expected to be a shoe-in for the candidate of Les Républicains (LR is the equivalent of Britain’s Conservative Party) as the incumbent President from the Socialist Party, François Hollande, had seen his popularity ratings slump to 4%, as a result of carrying out austerity; and the rise of Le Pen (the Front National is, in British terms, somewhere between the British National Party and UKIP or similar to Trump in the US). The failure of Hollande’s administration reflects the crisis in social democracy on how to respond to the effects of globalisation and the 2008 financial crash. Hollande came to power promising to tax the wealthy and ended up attacking living standards and workers’ rights.
The election was thrown wide open when Fillon (the Thatcherite candidate of LR) was put under formal investigation (the equivalent of being charged) for misuse of public funds in paying his wife as a parliamentary assistant without her doing any work. This should have presented the left with an enormous opportunity to win the presidency, if they would have been able to field a single candidate, capable of getting into the run-off ballot.
Emmanuel Macron was a member of the Socialist Party (PS), 2006-9. Until announcing himself as a candidate, he was an economics minister in Hollande’s government. The ex-banker has never held elected office. As a minister, he was behind the ‘Macron law’; one of the imposed laws that diminished workers’ rights, allowing greater flexibility of labour and making hiring and firing easier. He describes himself as not being a socialist and has presented himself as a centrist, hoping to attract support from the centre-right as well as the centre-left. He is like a non-party Blair. He has formed the En Marche! movement (Forward – also sharing Macron’s initials) as a vehicle for his campaign and the subsequent parliamentary elections. He has received the support of many on the PS right, including Manuel Valls, until recently Hollande’s Prime Minister.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the most left of the main candidates. He is charismatic with a witty and pugilistic debating style. After two good performances in the televised debates, his poll ratings soared by 50%, mainly from PS voters going towards the stronger left candidate but also winning some support from disenchanted working class FN supporters. He left the PS in 2008 because of its advocacy of austerity and his current movement is La France insoumise (unsubdued France). He has a pro-worker programme of reversing Hollande’s anti-labour laws, shortening the working week and raising the minimum wage; he calls for a constituent assembly to form a constitution for a new sixth republic. He also wants to have a fundamental renegotiation of the EU treaties. Mélenchon has run the best campaign with large, enthusiastic rallies, attracting 70,000 in Marseille alone.
Because of the method of French elections – a run-off ballot for the two leading candidates- there was an attempt to form a left-green alliance (la Belle Alliance Populaire) with open citizen primaries in January. Candidates for selection had to agree to support the winner as a condition of participating. It was only a partial success because Macron, Mélenchon, the Communists (PCF) and the Greens (EELV) declined to participate. Four candidates from the PS, alongside one from each of the PE, PRG and PD parties participated and Benoît Hamon, the most left-wing candidate won, with 59% of the 2.05m votes cast. Two of the candidates, including Valls who had been the front-runner, then ratted on their agreement and came out in support of Macron.
Hamon’s programme was a 32 hour working week, a €35 billion stimulus and a universal basic income. So, there were two main left candidates with similar programmes. In February there was a further attempt to form a joint platform between Hamon, Mélenchon and Yannick Jadot (the EELV candidate). Hamon and Yannick, with the backing of his party’s membership agreed (80% in favour); Mélenchon declined. At the time, polls showed Hamon on 14%; Mélenchon 12%; and Yannick 2% – a total of 28%. The front-runners, at this time were Le Pen on 26%; Macron 22%; and Fillon 20%. A single candidate of the left could have leapt into the lead and probably, the run-off ballot.
If the left is serious about electoral politics, it has to play the system according to the different national rules. In France, there was a need for a coalition to make the final ballot and so, running two major candidates against each other prevented a left candidate reaching the run-off. In June, there are parliamentary elections, with the same two ballot system in single member constituencies – the left must agree joint candidates if they are to limit the power of the President by maximising the number of left Deputies (MPs), or else they will see themselves carved up by the other three blocs.