BY EMMA RUBIN ’20
As the first term of French President François Hollande comes to an end, 11 presidential candidates are in the running for the office. The elections will be held on April 23 and will be followed by another round on May 7 featuring the two nominees who receive the most votes.
President Hollande will not be running for reelection, the first president not to do so in the history of the French Fifth Republic. A poll conducted by Le Monde reported his approval ratings to be 4 percent, but 26 percent said they were “neither satisfied not dissatisfied with his record.” This high rate of neutrality is due to his inconsistent policies, his failure to improve the economy, the stagnant unemployment rate and the increase in terror attacks under his administration, according to The Guardian.
Although there are 11 nominees, polls have shown the most popular candidates to be François Fillon of the Republican Party, Emmanuel Macron of the Forward party, and Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
The Institution of French Public Opinion most recently predicted Le Pen would receive 26 percent of the popular vote, Macron 19.5 percent and Fillon 18.5 percent. The same poll reported that in a second round of elections Le Pen would lose to both Fillon and Macron, with a tighter margin against Fillon.
The National Front party was founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972. In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for president, but lost in the second round. In 2012, Marine Le Pen also ran for president and earned 17.5 percent of the votes in the first round but did not proceed to the second round, according to CNBC.
Throughout her campaign, Le Pen has placed an emphasis on putting France first and has spoken out against the Islamism of France. In 2010, she defined this term to the Telegraph as “the will to impose Shariah for all as civil, political and religious law.” Le Pen has claimed that “Islamism” contradicts the secular ideals of France. According to the International Business Times, Le Pen has also called for a referendum concerning French membership in the EU and a plan to reintroduce the French currency, the Franc.
Fillon has recently become involved in a financial scandal concerning allegations that he paid approximately 1 million euros, mostly funded through taxes, to his family as parliamentary aides, even though there is little proof that his family members worked as aides, according to the Independent. Although Fillon continues to claim the authenticity of the work, the scandal has caused his polling numbers to decrease dramatically over the past month. Previous IFOP polls in January predicted him receiving up to 26 percent of the votes and, as a right candidate, the issue has pushed more support to Marine Le Pen, as reported by the Independent.
In contrast to the right-wing policies of Fillon and Le Pen, Macron represents liberal centrism. He founded his own party in April 2016 and has since established strong support in the polls, partially due to the scandals surrounding Fillon and the far-left nomination by the socialist party, according to the Independent.
To increase their chances of progressing from the first round of the elections, leftist candidates Benoît Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are discussing merging their campaigns, as reported by Bloomberg. The IFOP placed Hamon receiving 14 percent of the vote and Mélenchon 11.5 percent. Assuming all of their current supporters fully unite under one candidate in the event of a merge, this would place them in strong competition with Le Pen and drastically improve the chances of a candidate proceeding to the second round. According to Politico, the two candidates face a number of disagreements andMélenchon has said he would not rescind his candidacy in favor of Hamon.
Clémence Prud’homme ’17, a French exchange student from Paris Institute of Political Studies, said “We’ve got a very weird election where no one is speaking about their programs. The FN and Marine Le Pen is one of the only [parties] that has got a clear program and who has discussed issues and I think that is why they have such a strong percentage in the polls.” Prud’homme acknowledged that Le Pen’s followers are very loyal, but believes that in the second round of elections she will not gain many new supporters, preventing her from winning a majority.
Prud’homme said that the major issues this election deal with immigration, relations with the EU and education. “France is one of the founders of the EU and one of the major forces of it,” she said about a potential French departure, “Great Britain and Brexit happened, but at the same they were integrated into the EU later.”
Because of the structure of French elections, the second round prompts many voters to select a new candidate based on who a previous candidate endorses. “It is a very big game of alliances,” Prud’homme said, “They do have negotiations.” This system also makes it more difficult to predict the results of the second round until the first round is complete, making the potential of a far right in France not yet clear.