BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20
On Sunday, April 23, France held its first round of presidential elections. There were 11 possible candidates. Because no candidate won over 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates, Emmanuel Macron (24.01%) of the En Marche! party and Marine Le Pen (21.30%) of the National Front will advance to the next round of voting on May 7. Neither of these candidates are from the main political parties in France, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire and the Parti Socialiste, according to The Guardian. Current French President Francois Hollande is a member of the Parti Socialiste.
With the rise of Islamophobia in Europe due to recent terrorist attacks and current President Francois Hollande’s 4 percent approval rating, many French voters are looking to the National Front, one of the most conservative, far-right parties in France, for answers. Despite these sentiments, Macron, a Centrist who formed his own party in 2016 in order to run for the presidency took the lead in the first round.
In her efforts to win the presidency, Le Pen has gone as far as to step down as the president of the National Front. “It’s an obvious move to seem more gentle despite her very conservative policy ideas. Let’s hope the French voters are not drawn into the nationalist propaganda like the British and Americans have been,” said Amelia Benich ’20, a member of the Young Democrats.
The French election welcomes many comparisons to the 2016 American presidential election as both Le Pen and Trump ran on nationalist platforms. “It is frightening how similar the two candidates are. Le Pen and Trump supporters are simultaneously motivated by an irrational fear of immigrants and a desire to return to the glory days of their respective countries. Furthermore, both groups admire their candidates’ pledge to steer away from elite sensibilities and govern ‘the forgotten’” said Lucinda Covington ’17, an international student from France.
According to the Guardian, Le Pen is running on a campaign that includes stricter restrictionson immigration, increasing the budget for the police force and the prison system and possibly leaving the E.U. French and American citizens are not alone in an increasing inclination toward far-right politicians. Since the end of 2016, there has been a rise in popularity of extreme right wing candidates, including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Norbert Hofer in Austria and the UKIP in Britain, which initiated Brexit, as reported by the New York Times.
While many right wing candidates did not make it into office, the rise of conservative extremism concerns many, including Covington, who has protested the National Front since she was 7 years old. She sees that Le Pen appeals to many in France, saying that “although Emmanuel Macron topped in the first round, the chances that Le Pen wins the second round remains. The voters’ skepticism of Macron’s ability to elicit change and the possibility of a future terrorist attack could increase Le Pen’s chances. The latter example would legitimize her anti-immigration rhetoric, along with her mission to severely increase security.”
Fear of terrorism and economic stagnations has many people in the Western world returning to nationalism. Robin Niblett, research director at the Chatham House in London, told the New York Times, “In a time of economic turbulence there’s been a search for national identity, a feeling that national identities are being stripped away at a pace people can’t control.”