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Tension in France: the demise of the old system

Not since Charles de Gaulle has an incumbent president in France waived his fight for re-election. Never before have all the favourites for the highest office in the state failed to make the final cut. Copyright Rafael MirandaThere are less than two months before the first round of the French presidential election and the competition for office remains wide open. With the first round scheduled for 23rd April, the only solid prediction coming from the polls is that the Front National’s Marine Le Pen will make it through, but suffer a defeat in the second round on 7th May. Her contender could be Emmanuel Macron, the former Minister of Economic Affairs under François Hollande who has moved into the centre of the political stage or François Fillon, the former Prime Minister of Ni-colas Sarkozy who was nominated by the conservatives as their candidate last year.

However, the reliability of polls has been pulled into question in the last 12 months – not only in France, but all around the world. The old way of politics has failed. This was demonstrated in the UK’s Brexit referendum and later in the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.

France is no exception. Six months ago, no one had expected François Fillon to break through the ranks and beat ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy or former Prime Minister Alain Juppé. No one expected former Education Minister Benoît Hamon to win the primaries of the Socialist Party against prior Prime Minister Manuel Valls. After five years with François Hollande as state chief, the electorate wants to draw a line under the old way of politics.

"Voters have completely had enough of the political class," Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at the Parisian institute of Cevipof told newspaper La Provence. "The scandal surrounding François Fillon marks the end [of the old way]." 

The conservative ex-prime minister, who has already met with Chancellor Angela Merkel as a candidate, is facing the chop as the favourite for the Elysée Palace and also an investigation for illegal payments made with taxpayers’ money to his wife and children. As Riviera In-sider went to print, the polls were not sure that Fillon would even make it through the first round. 

A popular, new contender is Macron, who has emerged from the government to enter new territory in the poli-tical centre with his movement En Marche, a progressive and social liberal political party founded just last year. 

Like the left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Macron deliberately did not take part in the primary election of the socialists, which were won by Hamon to the surprise of established political research. The left-wing of the current government is now more popular than the cur-rent president. The most prominent socialists are al-ready on the side of Macron.

All the political commentators, the media and the polls are agreed on the fact that Le Pen will be in contention on 7th May, reaching the second round as her father Jean-Marie Le Pen did in 2002 before losing to Jacques Chirac. The Front National, which has placed France's exit from the European Union, the euro zone and NATO on its agenda, failed to take political control over the south of France in December 2014 as did the socialists, who had previously ruled in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.  Le Pen's niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, is only one the sole members of opposition to Les Républicans (formerly Union pour un Mouvement Populaire). Front National leader Le Pen has felt the sting of scandal too, having reportedly paid party staff using of EU money. Fillon remains the centre target amid fears that further revelations may come out, but there were also rumours and accusations made against former investment banker Macron before he had even presented his policies.

France hasn’t had such an unpredictable election since Charles de Gaulle. 


Peter Bausch