Contributed by Joe Montero
Emanuel Macron has beaten Marine le Pen by a margin of 36 to 35 percent, to become France’s new president.
Although it has its importance, the effect of Macron’s win should not be exaggerated. Many of his supporters have it that the tide of threat from the le Pen led National Front has been stopped. But has it?
The setback may be short-lived. The parliamentary election takes place on 11 June and the only certainty is that the overwhelming dominance of the Socialist Party will go.
It is also said that Macron has struck a blow against populist politics. This is a term that we need to be careful of. Populism is used as a derogatory term, directed against all those who do not fall in line with traditional politics of managed two party systems. It is therefore, a charge leveled by the exiting political elite, against those it sees as its enemies.
There is nothing wrong with being popular. Even more so, when this is based on listening to what people say and responding to how they feel. It marks a contrast to traditional politicians who are perceived to not listen, or have any empathy with those they claim to represent. The implication of anti-populism is that a proper politician is one who, once in office, must not rock the boat and maintain the traditional political system.
The French are rebelling against this sort of politician.
This is not to suggest that Le Pen and the National Front are the saviours of France. But their supporters do feel that this party is listening and cares about them. To dismiss them as populists only works to confirm to these people that they are right. It is dangerous.
Dangerous, because the National Front is a serious threat and failure to win the presidency has not made the threat go away. The National Front is in a good position to advance. It is well placed to make major gains in the June election.
Macron himself is a populist candidate by the definition of the elite. He came up as the savior against the elite. It may not be true. But this is the carefully crafted image and a large slice of France has taken it in, even though he is part of the despised elite. The problem is the content of what is offered and this is to to continue down the same road as previous French presidents and governments. It is this bipartisanship that gave rise to the National Front in the first place.
The odds are that Macron will start to fall out of favour soon, because rhetoric will have to give way to what he does. He and his party en Mache may be able to capitalise on fear on the National Front for a while. But it can’t last, unless something more substantial is offered. Macron’s economic policies will not work. If neoliberalism was the answer, it would have worked already.
Government cuts to services and a new assault on working conditions are going to hurt people and they will turn on him. What then? Is there going to be a turn towards the National Front? Is there an alternative to this?
Maybe. A considerable portion of the electorate is disenfranchised. Many who do not support le Pen could not bring themselves to fall in behind Macron. In getting close to 20 percent of the vote in the first round, Jean-Luc Mélenchon established a good base on which to build his position and that of La France Insoumise. Depending on how this is handled, it may well continue to be a growing magnet for an opposite political pole.
On 11 June, there will be a chance to pick up votes from the deserting socialist party base, and possibly, even from the Macron camp.
France needs a kind of populism that will put up a clear alternative to what both the traditional elite and the National Front are putting forward. This is an alternative that will take on the real underlying political and economic issues, listen to the concerns of the population, act on them and bring about a real change that promotes greater equality, fairness and dignity for the normal French citizen.
This goes way beyond looming elections. Because a new political movement is organised and grows within the community, succeeding when it provides answers in every day affairs. If this can come together, it may build the force that will change France.
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