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French presidential election can be most unpredictable in country’s history

11:34 | 21.04.2017 | Analytic

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21 April 2017. PenzaNews. Two days left before the first round of the presidential elections will start in France in the upcoming Sunday, April 23, but there is no clear favorite in the race for the country's presidential post.

French presidential election can be most unpredictable in country’s history

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According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive with the participation of about 3 thousand people, leadership is held by the former Minister of Economy, centrist Emmanuel Macron – 25% of voices – and ultra-right nationalist Marine Le Pen – 22%.

The third place, according to the study, is shared by the leader of Unsubmissive France [France Insoumise] movement, the extreme leftist populist Jean-Luc Melenchon and former prime minister, center-right Francois Fillon with 19% of the vote.

Commenting on the election race atmosphere, John Laughland, director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in France, reminded of some unpredictable and unexpected political events.

“The atmosphere’s been full of surprises. We don’t know what the outcome will be on Sunday. The surprises have continued throughout the whole campaign: they started with the primaries on the right when Francois Fillon was elected unexpectedly, they’ve continued with the primaries on the left when Benoit Hamon was elected unexpectedly, and they’ve continued since the primaries in the opinion polls with the candidates raising and falling unexpectedly,” the expert told PenzaNews.

According to him, the only thing which seems to be certain is that Marine Le Pen will pull through to the second round of the presidential election.

“That opinion poll prediction has not changed. Everything else seems to be open,” John Laughland stressed.

In his opinion, we need to be cautious speaking about possible outcomes of the first round.

“We do not know who will vote on Sunday and how many people will vote. It’s almost certain – though it’s not certain – that if Marine Le Pen as expected wins in the first round, she will lose in the second round. So the outcome of the election turns essentially on who will come second in the first round because it is then likely that this candidate will come first in the second round and that’s what counts,” he suggested.

In turn, David Lees, Teaching Fellow in French Studies, Academic Director of the Year Abroad, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Warwick, shared the view that this is the most unpredictable and unusual of all presidential elections in the history of the current Fifth Republic.

“We have a number of leading candidates and the atmosphere is generally productive but also rather hostile towards certain figures. I would say that the broad atmosphere in France is one of apprehension in the face of the uncertainty over who will win,” the analyst said.

According to him, the clear favorite to be the next president is Emmanuel Macron, who has built up an image of a youthful, dynamic and engaging candidate.

“He may come second in the first-round to Marine Le Pen but he will beat Le Pen in the second. I suspect, though that Melenchon and indeed Fillon will push these two candidates close,” David Lees suggested.

However, in his opinion, of all the candidates Melenchon has run the best campaign.

“Fillon is still reeling from the allegations over his payment to his wife and daughter for jobs which did not exist, while Le Pen is running a campaign that pushes hard towards the right and an eventual exit from the European Union for France. I think of all the candidates Melenchon has run the best, most surprising campaign which has been slick and exciting, compared with Fillon’s rather traditional effort and Le Pen’s occasional stumbling,” the expert explained.

From his point of view, it’s likely that Macron will win overall.

“It will be a close-run race in the first-round and is going to be closer than people think in the second. I think the real change will come for France not after the presidential results, especially if it is indeed Macron, who more-or-less represents the status-quo, but after the legislative elections. The situation in the country will be very unusual if we have a centrist President working with either the right or the left in parliament,” the analyst added.

Evgeniya Voyko, Research Fellow at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, called the atmosphere in France quite tense.

“It should be noted that the incumbent President Francois Hollande does not run for election, that is, he actually admits his inability to bring the French economy to a higher level and make the country one of the economic leaders of the EU. In addition, the migrate issue is also very important – Hollande did not manage to solve this crisis, and the situation is becoming more and more tense: it is enough to recall the high-profile terrorist attacks in 2015, the situation with Charlie Hebdo and a series of terrorist acts in Paris,” the expert said.

According to her, the security issue sounds particularly acute today and the candidates “to some extent try to turn the national question to account.”

“Undoubtedly, the brightest player here is the candidate from the National Front, Marin Le Pen, who is known for her tough rhetoric on this issue and has a number of supporters. According to the polls, she has chances to enter the second round, but the situation is rather unstable. I would not say that the French today are as rigid as Marin Le Pen would have liked,” Evgeniya Voyko said.

She added that radical right-wing policy of the politician is not so close to the French citizens.

“The public reaction to the terror attacks was not too harsh: the French did not call for closing the borders and deporting migrants. They only demanded stronger security measures,” the analyst said.

In turn, Adrien Paredes-Vanheule, Europe Correspondent for Investment Europe, covering France, Belgium, Geneva and Monaco, also stressed that the atmosphere is electrical in France.

“Anger has grown amid French population in the last five to seven years. French inhabitants are angry for a number of reasons including too much taxes, rise in unemployment, bombings. They feel nothing changes in their favor, especially people from the middle-classes. I have never seen the French population that split and exasperated,” the expert explained.

In his opinion, the election campaign has been very violent.

“There might have been a Trump effect. France’s seat within the eurozone remains an important topic as at least four of the 11 candidates have said they would eventually drive France out of it. But in my view, the only 100% pro-European candidate seems to be Macron,” Adrien Paredes-Vanheule said.

From his point of view, the results of the first round can be absolutely unpredictable.

“The top four favorites are too close one from another in the polls to say who will head to the second round. I believe a big surprise is to happen on Sunday, probably Melenchon or Fillon will make it instead of Le Pen to face Macron in the second round,” the analyst suggested.

In his opinion, Macron will be elected next president of France.

“French voters might consider Le Pen or Melenchon’s programs as too risky for the French economy in the end. Whoever is elected will have tied hands and his or her election will be rejected by more or less large parts of French population. I would not be surprised if some sort of rebellion occurs in the months following the election if Le Pen or Melenchon are to be elected,” the expert said.

According to him, Macron’s as well as Fillon’s election would be positive for the Eurozone.

“It would be extremely negative if Le Pen or Melechon were to be elected. A Le Pen-Melenchon dual in the second round would be a complete disaster for French economy and credibility,” Adrien Paredes-Vanheule added.

In turn, Paul Smith, Associate Professor, French and Francophone Studies, School of Cultures, Language and Area Studies, University of Nottingham, said that on Sunday the French voters are going to face a situation they have never known before.

“In the first place, there are four candidates who appear, according to the polls, to be close to one another, spread across a range of 18–22% of the vote in the first round. In some ways, I think this is what is causing a great deal of hesitation amongst the electorate. There are reports that 30–35% of voters don’t know how they will vote or if they will vote at all. In part this can be put down to a rejection of what is on offer, or perhaps to a sense that, even with some radically different candidates, it won’t change anything in the end, or just maybe, voters are hesitating because of the sheer enormity of the challenge they face,” the expert said and added that only four candidates have a chance of making the second round.

“We have assumed, until now, that the second round will be Le Pen versus either Macron or Fillon. But what if she doesn’t make it? Will there be a Trump effect that helps her, or a Wilders effect that helps her opponents? Despite the scandals surrounding his campaign, it seems that, of these leading four figures, Fillon is making the better running into the finish line,” Paul Smith said.

According to him, Fillon is, in many ways, the only “traditional” candidate in the contest, who is supported by one of the established parties.

“Le Pen has a party, but has tried to distance herself from it and look more like a candidate who can unite the French beyond the National Front. Despite the general belief that she will be in the second round, she has not had a good campaign. She has failed to impose her arguments on the campaign. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps the French feel sufficiently threatened by immigration, Islam, globalization and the EU to vote for her. But, however we look at it, she has not dominated the campaign,” the analyst said.

Meanwhile, in his opinion, Macron had a difficult task: he had to convince a large enough block of voters, on the centre left and centre right, that there is a different way, that the old left-right division has to go and that he is the man to end that old division and also to deliver economic growth.

“We do not know yet whether he could cope with this. My guess is that we are still looking at Macron versus Le Pen in the second round, but there could still be surprises. Opinion polls are an inexact science,” Paul Smith resumed.

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