Tuesday, February 7

Elections in France | Emmanuel Macron starts as a favorite in the decaffeinated presidential campaign

An insipid electoral dispute, lethargic and under the risk of popular demobilization. This Monday officially begins in France the presidential campaign April 10 (first round) and 24 (second round). It is, without a doubt, one of the most decaffeinated races to the Elysee in recent decades. A particularly high abstention rate – between 25% and 35% – threatens to become the main protagonist of an election in which the French president, Emmanuel Macron, starts as the clear favorite.

In the French presidential system, political life is focused on the presidential ones. In recent decades, the French have voted little in regional and European elections and less and less in municipal elections, but the election of the head of state—he concentrates a good part of the power in his hands—represented a moment of strong politicization. Since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, of the ten presidential elections with direct universal suffrage, in nine of them the participation exceeded 75% in the first round, and in five of them, 80%. However, according to the latest polls, the participation could stand between 63% and 71%. In other words, abstention could exceed the 2002 record, in which only 71.6% of French people went to the electoral college.

“Due to the vagaries of the calendar, we are headed for a sort of no presidential election”, assures El Periódico the political analyst Thomas Guénolé, about the succession of crises that has relegated the race to the Elysée to a secondary level. The electoral debate, which in France used to start in September of the year before the elections, was slow to start due to covid-19. Macron’s willingness to announce his candidacy as late as possible did not help either. Finally, he did it on March 3, the penultimate day of the deadline.

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The war reinforces Macron’s favorite status

Once it seemed that the campaign was beginning to interest the French in mid-February, it was overshadowed by the media with the outbreak of war in Ukraine on the 24th. Furthermore, after Macron’s refusal to participate in no tv debate Before the first round, the French networks have resigned themselves to the presidential will and everything indicates that there will be no television duel of this type before April 10.

Due to the war context and also to the political strategy, the centrist leader bets on a minimalist campaign and conservative. She has only planned to participate in a rally —surely he will do a second if he qualifies for the second round— on April 2 in Paris. It seems that he will not need much more to achieve his re-election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his French counterpart a poisoned gift. After the start of the Ukraine invasion, Macron’s voting intentions rocketed above 30%. As is often the case with these “national unity” effects, it will probably be temporary. In fact, the latest polls already predict a less impressive macronista victory, with the 28% in the first round and between 60% and 55% in the second. The president’s electoral advantage has been slightly reduced after presenting on March 17 a program clearly anchored in the right, in which he promised increase the retirement age to 65 yearsrequire a work or training activity from those who receive a minimum insertion income or expel all migrants who are denied asylum.

Le Pen and Mélenchon, main rivals

Distanced from the centrist leader, according to the polls, his main rivals will be the far-right Marine Le Pen (19-16%) and the rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon (15-13%). These veterans of French politics – they were already candidates in 2012 and 2017 – have resisted this half-gas campaign better than those who are running for the first time, such as the ultra polemicist Éric Zemmour, the conservative Valérie Pécresse or the green Yannick Jadot.

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The most probable option will be the repetition of the Macron-Le Pen duel. But a surprise cannot be ruled out with the presence of the leader of the France Insumisa (partners of Podemos in France) in the second round. “The voting prospects of the National Regrouping (Le Pen’s party) have been overestimated in all the polls since 2017,” says Jean-Yves Dormagen, director of the Cluster 17 polling institute, who believes that the ultra candidate may suffer especially the abstention levelssince their electorate is concentrated in those social categories (workers, young people, etc.) most conducive to abstaining.

Decline of bipartisanship

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On the other hand, the formations that shaped the French bipartisanship —The Republicans (partners of the PP) and the Socialist Party— will probably suffer another bump. Barring a surprise, the conservative Pécresse will be eliminated in the first round, while the prospects of the socialist Anne Hidalgo are even worse, with voting intentions between 1% and 3%.

In the exciting 2017 presidential, the traditional French political landscape was blown up with the victory of the ‘rookie’ Macron and the good results of Le Pen and Mélenchon. Since then, however, this reconfiguration has not been consolidated. The centrist president advances with the wind in his favor in the midst of this field of ruins, but so does abstention. And that can weaken the political legitimacy of a probable macronist victory. “I am afraid that his hypothetical second term will be very tense and will be marked by an atmosphere of strong tensionin which his reforms will receive harsh criticism”, warns Guénolé.

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