With the first round of the French Presidential election taking place in less than a month, I take a look at the threat of a Le Pen Presidency – a threat which seems very possible indeed…
When French voters head to the polls on the 21st of April for the first round of the Presidential election, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right party the ‘Front National’ (FN) will most probably already planning her line of attack for the second round. Le Pen is expected to pass through the first round quite comfortably, either on top or narrowly behind independent candidate Emmanuel Macron with his centrist ‘En Marche’ movement.
Yet in the second round, the polls suggest that she would be comfortably beaten by Macron, and would also suffer defeat to Francois Fillon, candidate for the conservative ‘Les Republicains’. However, in light of the infamous Brexit and Trump victories, the real threat of a far-right President at the Elysée appears all too possible.
So in what circumstances would such a radical political change to the French political landscape take place?
A considerable factor in this would abstentation rates. Within her arsenal, Le Pen can boast a devoted, loyal support base as polls suggest that 80% of her supports say they will definitely vote for her. In contrast, her likely opponent Macron, without the backing of an official party, and a centrist progamme which flirts with both left and right ideals, possesses a much less stable or certain core support. It is therefore estimated that perhaps just 50% of his supporters will definately vote for him.
From this, Serge Galam (a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research) has calculated that if Le Pen is projected to lose the runoff by 41 to 59 percent for example, Le Pen could still win if the turnout rate for her voters is 90 percent versus 70 percent for her rival, for an overall turnout rate of 79 percent. In short, behind all the complicated maths Galam is highlighting the importance of mobilising voters so they actually turn up to the polling stations.
‘she has the performative persona that allows her to simply shrug off such allegations whereas Fillon is forced to wriggle and squirm’
This is also particularly important when considering the chance that Le Pen may face up against Fillon in the second round. Fillon, who previously appeared to have the Presidential election wrapped up, has been pounded by a series of allegations – most notably the ‘Penelopegate’ scandal in which he finds himself accused of using taxpayers money to pay his British wife Penelope Fillon for work that she failed to undertake. Le Pen has been quick to pounce on this vulnerabilty, describing him as ‘a man who loves money…[a reality] that contradicts the image of himself that he wanted to broadcast’. Yet it is important to recognise that Le Pen herself is in the grips of investiagtion for improper use of European Parliamentary funds. Yet essentially for Le Pen, she has the performative persona that allows her to simply shrug off such allegations whereas Fillon is forced to wriggle and squirm. In fact, such investigations play right into the hands of Le Pen who simply responds to any allegations as being politcally motivated attacks – ultimately giving her an image of a lone warrior against the oppressive system and corrupt establishment, even employing the Trump-esque ‘Fake News’ defense. In a survey for Liberation, it was acknowledged that 52% of French citizens believed in the existance of such a ‘system’. Worrying…
Such dishonest and deceitful tactics have been commonplace throughout her campaign as seen in the recent TV debate in which she made a cheap comment upon Macron being a big fan of the controvesial ‘burkini’, in an attempt to convey him crudely as a traitor to French Republican values – unfortunately not everyone will see through the hipocrasy of such comments. Also during the debate, the rather infantile practice of smirking during his closing statement. Moreover, I can’t help but cringe at her attempts to stir rumours of happily married Macron’s homosexulality. Although this may seem terribly crude, it in fact exposes Le Pen as cunning tactician as it is not so much the fact that the French see homosexuality negatively (in fact France is one of the most liberal countries in this respect), but instead to portray Macron as a man with secrets, a possessor of a double identity hidden from the public.
But that in essence is the probelem, she intends to reduce political discourse and debate to the banal levels experinced during the Brexit referendum and Trump’s campaign, fueling bigatory and widening division. This allows her to successfully rally her voters, potentially leading to very low levels of abstentation compared to the voters of her opponents.
In the past France has been protected from a tactical voting principle known as the ‘Front Républicain’, influential in 2002 when voters handed Jacques Chirac the presidency over Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father. But now due to the difficulties we have seen facing Macron and Fillon in mobilising a solid, assured voting base, this principle is under threat.
So as France enters into one of the most significant stages of its political history, we must recognise the potential of a Le Pen Presidency. Yet I personally have faith that the French, unlike the British and Americans are less easily hoodwinked by such low-level political tactics, and will, when the moment comes, unite for the future of their beloved country.