Maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen have advanced to the second round of the French presidential elections, with Macron receiving just below 24% of the vote and Le Pen sitting on around 22%. Despite being predicted by most opinion polls, the result is nonetheless a shock to the French political system, with neither major centre-left or centre-right party being present in the second round for the first time in the Fifth Republic’s history.
Macron’s chances for victory in the second round are high, with the latest Ipsos poll putting him ahead by 24 points, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty associated with the former banker.
"Well, we will have Macron for five years but I don't know what he will give us, as it will be difficult for him to fulfil all of his promises,” student Jean-François tells me shortly after the results have come out. "And if he isn't able to, I really don't know what 2022 will bring.” Meanwhile, graffiti can be found on the streets proclaiming “Macron 2017 = Le Pen 2022”.
This fear is not misplaced, as while the polls give the result on May 7 to Macron, the political party he founded (En Marche!) is less than two years old and will find it almost impossible to gain a parliamentary majority in the upcoming legislative elections. That will mean that he will rely on backing from the traditional parties to pass key reforms like reducing workers in the public sector or allowing companies to negotiate the number of hours their employees work, which would seriously trouble some major party voters. Many French parliamentarians may therefore not see it appropriate to pass key Macron reforms, seriously hindering his mandate and sowing the seeds for another extreme result in 2022.
There is also the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the presidency in two weeks time. Despite the polls and the calls from the Socialist Party candidate, the Republicains candidate and many other members of the political establishment to vote against her, the global political climate is very much in Le Pen’s favour. The early refusal of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who picked up 19% of the vote, to endorse Macron will also undoubtedly send some voters towards Le Pen’s National Front.
It must be noted that Le Pen would face the same difficulties as Macron in winning a majority in the National Assembly, and almost certainly be confronted with popular pushback as she set about achieving key electoral promises like returning to the Franc and exiting the European Union (which would require a constitutional referendum).
For France, the long and hard fought presidential campaign is finally showing concrete results. Now, the national mood is hesitantly thinking of what will come next; an answer to which not even the most accurate poll could find.
Joe Bourke is a student of Journalism and International Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. He is currently in Lyon, France as part of his studies.