Could another ‘Trump moment’ be approaching? In April 2017, France will vote in the first round of elections to choose the successor to French President François Hollande. It was initially expected to be a fairly dry affair, with Le Pen possibly making it to the second round before being defeated by the “boring” centre-right candidate, François Fillon. However, Fillon’s campaign has been anything but boring.
A series of scandals have continued to dog Fillon, damaging his chances of victory. At this point, it is doubtful whether he will even qualify for the second round, with the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron emerging as the surprise front runner.
Could there be even bigger surprises in store? We had a comment from André, who points out that few commentators seriously expected Donald Trump to become president of the USA (just as few commentators expected the UK to vote for Brexit). Should we stop listening to commentators? And could Le Pen be the next upset?
To get a response, we spoke to François Godement, French historian and professor of political science at Sciences Po. What would he say?
I’d say there is obviously a momentum that has been building up [behind Marine Le Pen]. It’s also a momentum by default, if you consider that President Hollande is the first sitting president not to run again, and if you consider that François Fillon – a candidate who was validated by a very large and sweeping primary within the conservative right – is now in a political firestorm unseen since the Fifth Republic was founded…
We are in a very specific situation. The only person left standing, so to speak, seems to be Emmanuel Macron. And he’s a relative newcomer to politics, untested in national political debate, with a lot of interesting ideas and clearly with the appeal of youth. But is that going to be enough? That, indeed, is not completely evident today.
To get another perspective, we also put André’s comment to journalist Christine Ockrent, who has worked for many years in French radio and TV. Given her experience of French politics (and the upsets it can deliver), how would she respond to André?
I would underline the fact that our political institutions are very different from the American ones. Our presidential election is a two-round majority vote, whereas the American system is indirect because it goes through delegates. That explains why Hillary Clinton was defeated in spite of the fact that she had 2.8 million votes more than Donald Trump. As for Brexit, it was a referendum, which means it was one question – actually quite a complex one – which had to be answered by either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
A presidential election in France is two rounds. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, Madame Le Pen’s father, made it to the first round in 2002 he was rejected in the second round by a majority of 82%… Now, it’s obvious that, 15 years later, the situation is quite different. The far-right’s arguments have clearly made headway in public opinion. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that Le Pen will win the second round. I believe that, whoever the candidate facing her is, her opponent will again benefit from the rejection of the far-right by a majority of the French.
Could Le Pen actually win the French election? Or will voters unite against her in the second round? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!