Macron won. Le Pen lost. That was the interim verdict of French voters in yesterday’s first round of the presidential elections.
With 11 candidates standing, it was the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen who emerged as front runners in the first round of the French Presidential election, with 23.9% and 21.4% of the vote, respectively.
Running close for third and fourth place – and thus disqualified from the second round – were conservative François Fillon with 19.9% and the left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19.6%.
Benoît Hamon, the candidate of incumbent president François Hollande’s Socialist Party, failed with a miserable 6.3%, a measure of the revulsion felt at Hollande’s incompetent rule.
What remains now is for Macron to defeat and – hopefully – wipe out Le Pen in the second round. Already, Fillon, Hamon and Hollande have urged mainstream right and mainstream left voters to switch to Macron in round two.
Mélenchon has yet to recommend a vote, but it is inconceivable that he will urge the seven million who voted for him to vote for Le Pen, given that he was the only main candidate with a very combative attitude towards her Front National, even labelling it “fascist”.
The next 13 days until the second round on 7 May are going to be nothing short of eventful. Several things are likely.
Secondly, knowing that defeat is almost inevitable, the volcanic anger she has inherited from her fascist father will be unrestrained: the racist, authoritarian traits that she has fought so hard to conceal behind her façade of “mainstream moderation” will be on show, and her language adjusted a gear from ‘quasi-reasonable’ to ‘extreme’.
The plastic smile will disappear and the gloves will be off. Then, it can get dangerous as her followers – many with views that propel violence – flood France with their poison. This has started already, with Le Pen disgustingly labelling Macron a “weakling”.
Thirdly, Le Pen will deepen the divisions brought to the surface by the first round. She won the north, most of the east and south east. Macron won the west and chunks of the east and south east. Rural France voted with Le Pen but urban France stood more or less solidly anti-Le Pen. In Paris, she got only 4.99%.
From an anti-Le Pen viewpoint, the second round will be clean. The only tainted contestant will be Le Pen, who is currently under investigation for paying party activists, under the guise of employing them as parliamentary assistants as a member of the European Parliament. While members of her staff are under formal investigation, Le Pen herself still has her MEP’s immunity despite efforts by prosecutors to have it revoked.
No doubt Le Pen will work overtime to brand Macron as the candidate of the “Establishment”, “of globalisation”, of “multicultural France” while she bogusly poses as the voice of those hit by poverty, unemployment and poor provision of public services who will “bring a different kind of politics to France”.
Mme Le Pen, of course, knows a thing or two about these things, having been raised in such dire penury that her father could only lend her a humble €6 million for her campaign.
The political choice between Macron and Le Pen could not be starker. Macron, at least, lives in the same time-continuum as the rest of us. Le Pen is still trapped in the 1940s and 1950s in the hope of restoring a France that long ago ceased to exist.
Ironically, it is Le Pen, the candidate of “authority”, “order” and “security” who harks back to and presents the most financially and politically unstable period in modern French history as some kind of Golden Age.
There is no place for Le Pen and her backwards-orientated ideas in a forward-looking, civilised, democratic Republican France.
Hopefully, that same strongly Republican France will turn out in record numbers on 7 May to demonstrate that clearly and leave Le Pen behind.