French Election sees rise in populism

In an election CNN called a comprehensive snubbing of traditional French politics, voters in France last week selected far right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist political novice Emmanuel Macron as it’s two choices for the presidency of France.

Le Pen was the head of the far right National Front party, which she inherited from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party in 1972 and led it till he stepped down in 2011. The elder Le Pen is known for being an extremist on many issues, including denying aspects of the Holocaust, which is an aspect of the old party that Marine Le Pen has worked very hard to distance both herself and the new National Front from.

The new National Front party has been described as a more extreme version of President Donald Trump’s platform, but adapted for Europe. Le Pen is equally dismissive of the idea of political elites running society and also calls herself the candidate of the people. She’s anti-immigration and anti-European Union, and has called for stronger ties between France and Russia. Following the results of round one of the election she took steps to distance herself further from this legacy, announcing that she would step down as the leader of the National Front and run not as it’s leader but as a “presidential candidate [sic] who wants to gather all the French around a project of hope, of prosperity, of security.”

Her opponent comes cut from an entirely different cloth. Emmanuel Macron is a former investment banker and self-described centrist who has never held an elected position. Currently favored for the French presidency, Macron heads the “En Marche!” party. He’s running on a pro-EU platform, pledging to boost the economy and increase security and basically continuing to maintain the pro-EU status quo.

Macron, who has been described as the candidate of optimism, capitalized on the failure of the current socialist President, François Hollande, as well as scandals from the once-popular Republican candidate François Fillon to shock the establishment and win the most votes (23.86 percent) in the first round of French voting. Le Pen was second at 21.43, followed by the Republican Fillon at 19.94, leftist candidate  Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 19.62, and the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon at 6.35.  

Following the results, which have been accepted without protest by all 11 of the candidates that appeared on the ballot, almost the entire political establishment turned to back Macron in a unified effort to keep the National Front from taking power. The current Prime Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, tweeted his support for Macron in the second round, saying he was the only way to “combat the National Front’s disastrous project to take France backwards and to divide the French people.” The defeated Benoit Hamon offered his support for Macron, announcing his support “even [though Macron] is not left wing.”

Le Pen for her part is a little peeved with the way she’s being treated by the “old and completely rotten Republican Front”, her words for the mainstream political establishment that is unified in its opposition to her candidacy. Thus far no one has pledged endorsements to Le Pen, with all the defeated candidates standing behind the moderate.  The New York Times says that this spells trouble for Le Pen, who may be able to draw support from the defeated republican party but otherwise is probably stuck around the 21 percent support level she received in the first round of voting.

The second and final round in the French Presidential election is scheduled for May 7th.