It designed the rules to protect itself against an election like this.
According to preliminary results of the presidential election in France, the two candidates that came out on top during today’s first round and therefore made it into the second round, to be contested on May 7, are Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing anti-euro and anti-EU Front National, and Emmanuel Macron, leader of the centrist, pro-EU movement En Marche, which he founded just last year.
So congratulations to today’s winners.
This is the first time since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958 that no candidate from the major establishment parties made it to the second round, and that neither of the two winning candidates are backed by parties that have ever held the presidency.
This is also the first time in the Fifth Republic that the winner’s party will have zero or practically zero power in Parliament.
According to preliminary results, Macron got 23.7% of the vote, Le Pen 21.9%, conservative François Fillon 19.9%, and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon 19.2%.
As expected, the biggest loser was the political establishment and the entire “political class,” as it’s called in France. At least on the surface.
After François Hollande’s dismal performance as President over the past five years, his Socialists practically disappeared during the campaign and in the election got only 6.3% of the vote. This left as sole representative of the “political class” the conservative and scandal-plagued former Prime Minister Fillon, who now lost too.
Just how frustrated is the public with the political class? Le Pen at the far right and Mélenchon at the far left obtained together 41% of the vote. That’s huge. They campaigned on leaving the Eurozone (the monetary union of 19 member states) and the European Union (28 member states).
The French have long been frustrated by double-digit unemployment. Private enterprise is suffocating and cannot hire. The enormous government-controlled apparatus could grow, funded by taxpayer money, but due to limits on deficit-spending, it cannot grow enough to pull out the economy. Government spending in France accounts for 57.0% of GDP in 2015, just a notch down from the record set in 2014, and the second highest in the EU, behind Finland and ahead of Denmark. Which doesn’t leave much room for thriving private enterprise.
The French have also been confronted by the European refugee crisis, acts of terrorism, and a slew of other issues. And the general skepticism toward the European Union has been growing.
In 2002, Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen, against all expectations, beat the Socialist candidate in the first round and faced off in the second round against political establishment candidate par excellence Jacque Chirac. During the first round, the French electorate expressed it anger with the Socialists. During the second round, Socialists held their noses and united with the conservatives to hand Chirac a massive victory.
This time, there is no such candidate in the second round. So this could get interesting. But already, the political establishment, with the results not even finalized, is calling out to unit behind Macron.
But the winner’s party will have practically no power in Parliament. Currently Le Pen’s party only holds two seats in the Assemblée nationale, the lower house of Parliament, and Macron’s movement has zero seats.
Elections for the National Assembly are scheduled for June 11 and 18. But the French system of representation in Parliament is purposefully stacked against outsiders of the “political class.” Hence the difficulties of the Front National to obtain a significant number of seats over the years.
Le Pen or Macron will be confronted by nothing but opposition parties. The prime minister will be from one of the establishment parties. It will be a very uneasy “cohabitation,” as they call a situation where the President and the Prime Minister are from opposing power blocs.
Presidential power in France is limited. Whatever the new President wishes to undertake – such as Le Pen’s promise to hold a referendum to get France to revert to the franc – would likely need the approval of Parliament. Dealing with immigration, refugees, and other hot-button topics can be tinkered with at the margins by the government, but major changes will likely require changes of existing laws, to be voted on in Parliament.
It seems the French political class, which designed the current rules of power to protect itself, has foreseen such an election decades ago and has done everything it could to maintain its grip on power if it loses the presidency.
Whoever will win in the second round will smack into this system set up by the political class. It might bring five years of uncertainty and political wrangling, and there will be some changes and possibly some financial and currency turmoil, but ultimately the political class, which represents the establishment on both sides of the aisle, will keep its hands on the levers. And if Macron wins, he himself could quickly become the new darling face of the political class.
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