“Choosing between the plague and cholera,” is how one voter put it when trying to decide between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen for President of France.
Macron has now taken the Presidential laurels, and, without doubt, he’s changed the political landscape in France quite dramatically. No mean feat, with the two dominant parties that previously ran France now totally vanquished. They attracted less than 7% of the vote between them in Round One.
But it’s not over yet.
There’s still another stage: the “Third Round” legislative elections to renew the Assemblée Nationale. They’re scheduled for 12 and 19 June. And it’s is going to be touch and go.
French voters are grumpy — some say they’re always grumpy.
A large chunk of them considers Macron the incarnation of an aloof “President des riches.” So when he beat Le Pen in the runoff to become president, many voters cast their ballots unwillingly or strategically. And the scary part persists: more than 50 percent of Second Round voters backed extremist parties of the far right or far left.
So what happens next?
Some commentators are predicting deadlock.
And the President’s supporters are worried that the opposition will regroup for Round Three.
Both veteran leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who came third) and Madame Le Pen on the far right are now banking on dramatic changes in voting patterns in the National Assembly ballot. This could jeopardise Macron’s plans in the Assembly because unless he can win a majority, his victory will be meaningless. He could be forced to name a prime minister from a rival party. If this happens, the Fifth Republic will return to governing by “cohabitation“.
Mélenchon wants to reduce the retirement age, tax the rich, raise salaries and ban nuclear power. And he’s not that keen on the EU or NATO. But despite the Left’s defeat nationally, he overwhelmingly won the votes of French Muslims.
Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen’s ideas have become more mainstream than ever, and she’s banking on uniting the thirty percent of voters who supported right-wing candidates in round one.
On the basis that it is “Islamist” attire, she has some strong ideas about Muslim women wearing the headscarf in public places. The concept of “laicité” is well established in France, and all conspicuous religious signs for students in schools and for those in the civil service, including teachers, are banned. This includes veils but not headscarves, as they do not cover the face. Not much imagination is needed to foresee what drama Le Pen’s plans for fining headscarf wearers would cause… In the same way people in cars are fined for not wearing seat belts, police would issue “une infraction au code de la route.” Macron tore into her in a television debate. “With me, there will be no ban on headscarves, yarmulkes, and religious signs.”
What is the right response? Is it touch & go for Macron?
But he knows he needs to find a response to the general anger amongst voters — especially those who backed the far-right or who didn’t vote at all.
In his victory speech to the crowd in front of the Eiffel Tower, he acknowledged the narrowness of his win.
I know many who voted for me did not do so because they support me, but because they wanted to block the far right.
He also asked the crowd, not to boo Madame Le Pen, “Because from now on, I am no longer the candidate of one party but the president of all.”
So here’s the sixty-four thousand euro question:
Are French voters that perverse that they’ll force cohabitation and thus deny the newly elected President the power to govern?
It seems that Macron is not out of the woods yet.
And although Brussels, other EU countries, NATO, Mr. Biden, and the Americans may have collectively stopped biting their nails, they can’t quite start breathing easily again — not just yet anyway. There’s still a long row for Macron to hoe to make it “trois hourras” for the re-elected president. France is still holding its breath.
What are your views on how this is all going to end? It’s not straightforward.
All images via France 24