The Macron victory for many French people was “a given” – Ipsos polls found that some 6 percent stayed home on the lazy theory that their vote would change nothing to the outcome – and there is no doubt that his win came as no big surprise.
The surprise, however, is in the numbers: 58.54%, 17 points ahead of his extreme right rival Marine Le Pen, a hefty gap that brought a sigh of relief in Germany and welcome messages from most of the political world, from the European Union leaders to the US, China and Ukraine, with Zelensky calling Macron a “true friend”, highlighting that “together we will walk forward to new victories” and to a “strong and united Europe”:
Félicitations à @EmmanuelMacron, un vrai ami de l’Ukraine, pour sa réélection! Je lui souhaite de nouveaux succès pour le bien du peuple 🇫🇷. J’apprécie son soutien et je suis convaincu que nous avançons ensemble vers de nouvelles victoires communes. Vers une Europe forte et unie!
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 24, 2022
Still, Marine Le Pen claimed an “éclatante victoire” (a stunning victory) which to outsiders might be surprising, and that Eric Zemmour, her rival on the extreme right and guru for the conservative younger generation qualified unerringly as a defeat, noting that this was the 8th time in history that the Le Pen name brought defeat.
Perhaps that wasn’t a clever comment to make – it hit headlines around France – just at a time when Zemmour’s party is trying to maintain its alliance with Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) to face together the upcoming legislative round of elections set for June 12 and 19. Marine Le Pen is notoriously not fond of Zemmour and a good third of RN members do not want to continue this alliance even if three-quarters of Zemmour’s followers would like it.
So for the extreme right, the next round of elections looks like it’s going to be an uphill fight. Why am I talking about it? Because the next round will tell us which parties will win majority seats in the next parliament and therefore control what the government can and cannot do. And that, more than the presidential elections is what will really determine what the next 5 years of Macron at the helm of France will look like.
A decisive event: The next round of legislative elections, June 12 and 19
The campaigns for the next round started right away last night with the announcement of results at 8 pm. Macron talked about it in his victory speech, promising he would heed the call of dissenters and absentees, saying he was the “depository” of their discontent and would respond to it.
Jean Luc Mélanchon, the leftist leader of the France Insoumise (Unbowed France) also was quick to react. He immediately announced that Marine le Pen’s defeat was “good news” for the French people and called everyone on the left to join him in the next round of legislative elections and help elect him as Prime Minister.
Why mention him? Because Mélanchon has recently risen to major stature in French politics. He started his party in 2016 – at the same time as Macron started his – and immediately displaced the historic Socialist party (led by Hamon) winning 19.58% of the votes. And this time around, his score has further improved, he was up to 22% in the first round of Presidential elections two weeks ago, standing just behind Marine Le Pen – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses her in future elections.
Should Mélanchon win in the next legislative elections and obtain the job of prime minister, that would be quite a change for Macron who is tendentially a centrist, somewhat on the right given his background as an investment banker at Rothschild. He would find himself in a “cohabitation” situation, having to live with an opposition party leader in a key governing position while so far, in his first mandate, he’s been able to call all the shots.
How likely is Mèlanchon to win?
The extreme right was quick to attack Mélanchon, pointing out that he wasn’t “real opposition” since he supported Macron against Marine Le Pen in the second round, forgetting that he didn’t specifically call on his followers to vote for Macron but made it very clear that Marine Le Pen would be a catastrophe for France and Europe. If you listen to them, a Macron-Mélanchon government would not constitute “cohabitation” of two diverse, confrontational agendas but the same one.
This of course is absurd, Mélanchon is in fact a strong voice on the left, an admirer of 19th-century socialism and Salvador Allende, even of Marxist Fidel Castro, and most certainly a supporter of the Swedish model of social democracy – quite far from Macron’s La République en Marche, a liberal, progressive movement, deeply pro-European. Although, on the matter of Europe, Mélanchon and Macron certainly see eye-to-eye.
That Marine Le Pen and her followers should be angry with Mélanchon is understandable: There is no doubt that Macron largely won thanks to the vote of Melanchon’s followers, 17 % of them reportedly voted for Macron (as I saw reported on France 24): This is because Macron is able to mobilize both progressive and conservative voters. This is a rather unique aspect of Macron’s appeal to French voters.
This said, many of Mélanchon’s followers – and not only them – also abstained, adding to what observers view as the most worrisome outcome of this presidential election: The historic high level of absenteeism at 28%. The rate of absenteeism in this election was much higher compared to 2017 when it was 3 percentage points lower.
Absenteeism is indeed something to worry about. It overshadowed the presidential elections and it is a constantly growing phenomenon, now reaching about a third of the French electorate in the case of presidential elections. I say a third in the sense that these are the people who are not exercising their right to vote by not going to the voting booth at all – the 28% mentioned above – or by going to the urns but dropping in blank votes – ant that’s worth another 6% or even tearing them up (and in this case, they aren’t even counted).
But absenteeism should be lower in the coming legislative round as it involves the electorate more directly: The problem with presidential elections is that it is focused on personalities and general polical coloring rather than real issues close to the people’s heart. And the second round, by focusing on just two candidates out of a total of twelve who participated in the first round, means that automatically a much smaller section of the electorate feels called upon to vote.
What is likely to change: More attention to dissenters
Macron clearly starts off this legislative round in pole position. As Health Minister Oliver Veran in Macron’s government said last night, “We will not spoil the victory …but the (far-right) has its higher score ever. There will be continuity in government policy because the president has been re-elected. But we have also heard the French people’s message. There will be a change of method, the French people will be consulted.”
So expect more consultations by Macron’s party as well as Melanchon’s leftist coalition – and major issues will inevitably jump upfront: inequality and climate change.
Some of them appeared already indirectly in the issues that dominated the presidential elections in this second round: the crisis in the cost of living and rising concerns over purchasing power as the war in Ukraine spiked fuel prices, threatening living wages and retirement as well as the broad matter of education and jobs for the young. Unsurprisingly, those are the issues that shaped Macron’s proposed agenda for the next five years and no doubt contributed to his re-election.
And Marine Le Pen? What she has to offer is more of the same nationalistic/populist pap: Europe has no “sovereignty” as she pointed out in the television debate last week with Macron, the only sovereignty is that of France. She will “serve the French people” and restore the “grandeur” of France, a new version of General De Gaulle in skirts.
Will that be enough to win her party enough votes to matter in the next legislation? It’s too soon to tell, but we do know that her base remains in the rural areas and she has still to make a dent in the urban electorate.
Undoubtedly, her indifference to climate issues is not helping her with the younger generation. Marine Le Pen is seen as a return to the past, responding to nostalgic yearnings for vanished glories. It is true that she did get 42% of the votes yesterday, her highest score yet, but it is also true that it is her third personal defeat (to be added to the five defeats registered by her father). And that 42%, because one-third of the electorate didn’t show up, hardly corresponds to 42% of the French electorate.
If you do the maths, Mélanchon and the people on the left who can support him, including the ecologist Jadot, count for far more than Marine Le Pen’s followers. But they really need to come together, all of them and hope that Zemmour’s advances continue to be rejected by Marine Le Pen.
How all this turns out remains to be seen, we’ll have the answer by June 19.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Macron walking towards the podium last night to deliver his victory speech, at the Champ de Mars, accompanied by his family to the sound of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, Europe’s anthem – this was in deep contrast to how he did it in 2017, all by himself Source: Screenshot from France 24 television reportage.