Contributed by Joe Montero
As the French presidential election campaign enters its final days, there is one thing that stands above all else. Disillusionment traditional parties and traditional politics has well and truly hit France.
This is the factor in the equation that pulls it all together to make some sort of sense. Like in other European countries, the United States and so on, people are hurting from government policies applied over quite a few years. The French want this to end.
The Socialist Party is wearing much of the flack, because it has formed that government for much of the time that the French is see they have gone backward. The socialists are seen as little more than a pale copy of the conservative Republicans.
As for the Republicans, many see them as a corrupt party of privilege. It has not helped them that their presidential candidate, Filon, is enbroiled in a scandal over giving highly paid government jobs to his wife and children.
The traditional parties are increasingly embroiled in internal fighting and it is most intense within the Socialist Party, which has split into two main left and right factions and many have left the organisation altogether.
The once powerful Communist Party continues to make a mess of things. Up to now, the strategy of the leadership has been to try and build an alliance with the Socialist Party, because it held that the most important objective in this year’s election is to save the Republic from the threat of the National Front and the rise of a new fascism. It did not match up with the prevailing mood, pulled away from linking up to the real concerns of the population and caused internal division. Critics pointed out that the Socialist Party does not want the alliance, and even if it did, why try and be junior partner to a party that few continue to support? The strategy ensured that the Communist Party would be a non-player.
Declining job prospects, greater economic hardship and disillusionment have been combining to produce a seething anger that for a few years now, the Marine Le Pen led Front national (National Front) has been able to exploit.
Former Socialist finance minister former stockbroker Emmanuel Macron, who is one of those who has left the Socialist Party, has been able to gather sections of the of the former party base, as well as sections of the former Republican base, to forge a new movement and challenge Marine le Pen and the National Front. Macron and “En Marche!” (On the Move) that he leads, have styled themselves as the responsible and clean middle ground.
Until only two weeks ago le Pen and Macron were the only two real contenders. But proving how volatile and unpredictable French politics is becoming, in surges Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) political movement. He has struck a nerve, particularly with younger people and had taken up popular issues like, taxing the rich, maintaining government services, reducing the retirement age to 60, raising the minimum wage, withdrawing from NATO and renegotiating membership of the European Union.
Only days to go and it is looking like a three cornered contest. The least minute, Mélenchon has suggested that France is facing something like the Choice Americans had between Trump and Clinton. This may well resonate.
Whatever the result, France has undergone a political shift that has undermined the traditional political élite. They are in trouble and will find it difficult to recapture the lost ground. This also means that the movement for change will continue. It’s a matter of which direction this is going to be. The forces behind Macron want things to stay more or, less as they are. Those behind le Pen and the National Front, as well as those behind Mélenchon and Unbowed France, want a new constitution. The difference is over what should replace it.