France elections 2022: First round shows people are driven by fear, not hope
The results so far have made clear that current leader Emmanuel Macron will never be sanctioned for ‘McKinsey affair’ which lifted the lid on international companies meddling in French public policy; nor will he be held accountable for his refusal to debate other candidates during the campaign trail, let alone the corruption scandals, sexual violence lawsuits mounted against his interior minister, the repression of the yellow vest movements, migrants and Muslims.
And, of all people, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has the potential to convince voters in the second round that despite sharing a neoliberal political project with Macron, she can protect them.
Overall, the electoral journey has also shown that representative democracy has failed people in France, and other means of expression will now have to be sought. This was highlighted by the increased percentage of abstentions (26% compared with 22.3% in 2017).
''Macron spent the last five years fuelling the fire of hate against minorities, migrants and those most vulnerable – are we seriously being told that more of the same is a good thing and expecting people to believe it?''
How we reached this point has much to do with the collapse of the two historic political parties which have alternated in leading the country since 1981 - starting with the election of François Mitterrand as first socialist president under the Fifth Republic.
Indeed, the traditional left-wing and right-wing parties have been completely defeated.
The Socialist party, led by Anne Hidalgo, never recovered from the disastrous presidency of François Hollande. Since his term the political party has continued to abandon working class people, in favour of highly educated well-to-do liberals. It has spent years competing with the far-right by pandering to identity politics instead of actually serving a socialist agenda.
Ultimately, Hidalgo did little more than fill a seat.
The Green’s candidate, Yannick Jadot, scraped a measly 4.6% of votes. His presidential campaign will be remembered as a point of frustration more than anything, because many feel his votes should have gone to left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon who needed an extra 1.1% to reach the second round.
Mélenchon garnered more support in this election than he had in 2017, and has surpassed other political parties. Whilst the presidential road ends here for him, this put him in a position of strength for the legislative elections that will take place in June. Many on the left are right to be disappointed, but Mélenchon had from the onset of the campaign, refused any alliance with the other candidates from the greens to the Socialist party. This meant his success was always going to be limited.
As for the ‘leading’ conservative party, The Republicans, whilst their candidate, Valérie Pécresse, may have broken records for her popularity by raking in 4.8%, she failed to capture enough voters to actually make it to the second round. This is likely to do with her incapacity to build a strong base from the centre-right, which meant she ended up giving into the hardcore fringe of her party due to internal pressures, starting with Eric Ciotti, her former rival at the primaries
Eric Zemmour’s campaign was defined by harsh criticism of Marine Le Pen, to the point of accusing her of having “leftist reflexes” to position himself the real radical far-right candidate, clearly backfired and in the end legitimised her as a presidential candidate.
It has also meant that the second round is being peddled by Macron as a fight to ‘unite against the far-right’ by electing him.
With the ageing of the population, running on a conservative platform has paid off for Macron so far. He has relied heavily on the bourgeois block he has amassed, by both appealing to liberals through the notion of France being a “start-up nation” and to conservatives through his pro- business, pro-stock market, anti-regulation policies.
''France has the choice between two candidates who offer only the illusion of choice. Given this situation, the only way to stop history repeating itself is to take to the streets.''
However, when all is said and done the real winner chosen by voters is: abstention.
This puts into question the ‘vote to block the far-right’ tactic already previously used by Macron because in all likelihood, given the absence of choice, people will abstain once again. It is, after all, the third time that French people have been asked to “save the Republic” from Le Pen only to be delivered the very policies that the far-right party would have introduced. Macron spent the last five years fuelling the fire of hate against minorities, migrants and those most vulnerable – are we seriously being told that more of the same is a good thing and expecting people to believe it?
What Macron is betting on, is that the people are more mobilised by fear than by hope, and are scared of what future awaits them. This is a deeply depressing truth because it confines many to the idea that the next five years will simply be an extension of the last, and buries any prospect of change, let alone transformation within the country.
France has the choice between two candidates who offer only the illusion of choice. Given this situation, the only way to stop history repeating itself is to take to the streets. Only then can enough pressure be mounted in the lead up to the legislative elections to send a clear statement to those elected: you will be held accountable.
The people have been unable to express their rage at the ballot box, chances are they will do so through more unrest and a defiance of those who do end up in power.
Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.
Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati
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