With two insurgent parties passing on to the final round of the French presidential elections, Sunday’s first-round results bring illuminate the current polarisation of the French electorate. This is the first time that both mainstream parties, Republicans and Socialists, are not represented in the second round.
Self proclaimed centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are competing face à face for the French presidency on May 7.
What defines both characters is their staunchly differing visions of national security in response to terrorism and France’s role in the European Union – and even the overall fate of the European project under a possible Le Pen presidency.
The voter turnout rate was 77.77% for the first round. The rate of abstention was 22.23% – a 1.71% increase from the first round of the 2012 presidential elections. Of the 37 million electors who voted, 1.78% casted a vote blanc (a blank vote for none of the above) – in denial of all candidates and the system.
Emmanuel Macron led the polls at 24%, followed by Marine Le Pen with close to three points behind at 21.3%. Following the two qualified presidential candidates came Les Republicains nominee François Fillon (20.0%), extreme socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (19.5%) and Benoit Hamon (6.36%) from President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party.
Despite Le Pen gaining second place overall, she was less popular with overseas voters. According to the results of French voters outside Metropolitan France published by the interior minister, Macron was securely in the lead (40.4%), followed by François Fillon in second place (26.3%) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (15.8%). Marine Le Pen was ranked in fifth place with only 6.5% of total votes.
The French community in Australia followed suit with overwhelming support for Macron at 43% (3200 votes) while eight per cent (596) voted in favour of Le Pen.
While Le Pen was unpopular with overseas voters, overall she received the highest ever-recorded score for her party Front National (FN) at the first round of elections. In 2007 FN received 10.4% of the vote, 17.9% in 2012, and 21.3% in 2017 – representing its steady rise in the last decade.
Meanwhile, Macron’s En Marche party was newly founded in April 2016, and still managed to win the most support in the first round – 8.6 million voters in 12 months.
With the runoff of the election in less than two weeks, both candidates are competing for the remaining votes. Defeated republican and socialist candidates, François Fillon and Benoit Hamon encouraged their previous supporters to vote for Macron in hard defiance of Ms. Le Pen’s xenophobic policies.
“I assure you that extremism can only bring hardship and division to France. There is no other choice but to vote against the far right,” Fillon said.
European leaders gave their support to Macron including Spain’s foreign minister and Angela Merkel’s spokesman following Sunday’s results.
Spokesman Margaritas Schinas tweeted on behalf of the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker – congratulating Macron on his result and wishing him luck for the final round
Like the outgoing Obama who supported Hillary Clinton, Hollande is now showing his support for Macron – believing that the alternative would drive France into divisiveness and chaos.
François Hollande has remained quiet on the presidential debate up to now, but broke his silence after Benoit Hamon’s defeat on Monday 24 April – saying he would vote for his former Economic minister, Emmanuel Macron.
According to an unidentified Front National supporter who was interviewed by the Guardian at Marine Le Pen’s address on Monday, patriotism over globalism is Le Pen’s competitive advantage. He says, “I think there will be a patriotic moment. The French don’t want globalism – the French are profoundly attached to their nation and we’re going to win.”
Since the unprecedented changes in the world order from Brexit to a Trump presidency – anything can still happen in the next 12 days.
Is the centrist party enough to surf over the populist wave in a politically disenchanted France? We can only hope that the French electorate makes a pragmatic and unified decision, as the future of France and Europe is counting on it.
Nicole graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of International and Global Studies in 2015. Nicole has worked at the French Trade Commission in Sydney as an Assistant Trade Advisor and is now studying her Master’s degree in Journalism.