France has two picks for its next president: Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. The presidential race began with 11 candidates, but none of them won more than half the votes on April 23. Thus, the election proceeds to a second round with the candidates who finished first and second, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. France will choose between these two candidates on May 7. François Hollande, the incumbent president, was eligible to run for another term but decided not to do so. (He had a four percent approval rating in a recent poll.)
Marine Le Pen is running on behalf of the National Front, a far-right party that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen began in 1972. Le Pen has attempted to distance herself from the racist and anti-Semitic roots of the National Front, even expelling her father from the party in 2015.
Her campaign, however, has had some trouble distancing themselves. Le Pen’s party leader, Jean-Francois Jalkh, stepped down last Friday over comments he made in the publication “La Croix” denying the Holocaust. This is a crime in France.
Many countries, especially ones that themselves perpetrated the systematic killing of Jewish people and other minorities during World War II, have such laws. It is seen as a way to prevent Nazism or Nazi ideals from resurging in Europe.
Despite this, Le Pen’s message seems to have resonated with a country that fears losing its “Frenchness” to economic changes that have emptied out the small-town epicenters of traditional country life and to global refugee crises that have increased immigration to France.
Le Pen also promises to stop “mass immigration,” make France independent of the European Union and fight the “soulless” global market culture of promoted by her opponent, Emmanuel Macron.
Emmanuel Macron is a former foreign economy minister. He is pro-European Union, pro-globalization, pro-tolerance and a person largely unknown to the French political sphere. He is anti-establishment in the sense that he began his own political movement to run, En Marche!, which means “March on!” or “Forward!” His “optimistic” platform combines a desire to promote the free market and the social safety net. It rejects claims that “Frenchness” is under assault and needs to be defended by leaving institutions that, as he said, promote peace in Europe.
What’s going on now:
Initially, it was said that Le Pen would have an “uphill” battle towards winning the presidency. She was said to be 20 percentage points behind in the polls, and many thought that the French in the middle of these two anti-establishment candidates would gravitate towards Macron due to his more moderate policies.
However, as this New York Times article notes, Le Pen has gained a boost from an unexpected source: the far left in France. Le Pen attacked Macron financially in order to get the “We’re tired of capitalism” crowd’s support behind her. France’s far left candidate refused to endorse Macron, and Le Pen has made big PR moves taking selfies with factory workers who booed her opponent – who was already there meeting with trade union representatives. The Telegraph called it a “ambush” on Macron.
Le Pen has even changed her slogan to “France first.” This nimble manipulation of message shows an adaptability that is leading some to say Macron’s campaign has fallen short in recent days.
Even though some have compared Macron’s campaign to President Obama’s, others say he lacks the likability that characterized the American president. However, Macron does have an intriguing, persistent tendency towards both centrism and vagueness that have led some commentators to say that his success proves one does not have to a populist force of personality win votes.
While comparisons to President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s presidential race are inevitable, there is much about the French elections that is undetermined. Polls as of May 1 are 59.6 percent for Macron and 40.4 percent for Le Pen.
Now, we’re going to grab some croissants and prepare for the vote on Monday, May 7.