Contributed by Jim Hayes
Last weekend Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election. He had stood against Marine Le Pen in a second round. Under France’s voting system, if a candidate gets less than 50 percent of the vote, there is a new runoff vote between the top two. Macron took 58.5 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5.
Macron leads the Republic On The Move movement.
While all the media focus is on the personalities, it is the polarisation of politics that is the most important immediate and long-term change. The old two-arty system with the Republicans and Socialists is dead. Their candidates barely got 5 percent of the first-round vote between them.
Out of this has emerged three blocks. In many ways, Macron represents the old guard. One which strives to continue business as usual. It is pro-business, has sought to cut back the social security network, raise the retirement age, as well as raise taxes. This block is not particularly popular.
Le Pen heads National Rally party. This is often described a politically far right. It certainly has aspects of this. But this is an incomplete and inadequate description.
The rise of support is the result of rising alienation and contempt for a political process that most French see as not operating in their interests, and disillusionment with traditional political leaders. They want an alternative, and the cashed-up party with strong media support has been able to take advantage of this.
Although not participating in the second-round vote, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who leads the France Unbowed movement, came within a whisker of topping Le Pan. His support base is also among the alienated and angry, except being openly left-wing, standing for lifting worker rights, extending the social security network, opposition to corruption inducing neoliberalism, and anti the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
It was the support from France Unbowed to check the advance of Le Pen and National Rally that got Macron over the line in the second-round vote.
The final piece in the mix is that a quarter of the electorate did not vote. The reasons for this will vary, but it makes sense that many of them saw there was little to vote for.
French politics is fractured and promises a turbulent time ahead. This is likely to be confirmed by the National Assembly parliamentary elections on 12 and 19 June. The most likely outcome is that the three blocks will be strong enough to prevent any one party getting a solid majority, and a minority government or some sort of coalition is highly likely.
Will Macron’s Republic On The Move cohabitate with Mélenchon’s France Unbowed? Will Le Pen’s National Rally manage to put together an alliance with other parties of the right and remnants of the old traditional parties?
Increasing political instability is on the cards. It will be difficult for the new government to deliver what the French want. Failure will mean growing anger, and this will probably be expressed in the streets, the way the French have always ended up in express where they stand.