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French presidential election results confirm citizens’ anxiety and disaffection

17:02 | 11.05.2017 | Analytic

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Penza, 11 May 2017. PenzaNews. Yesterday the Constitutional Council of France officially approved the results of the presidential elections in the country. The leader of the En Marche movement, the former economy minister and investment banker Emmanuel Macron, who collected 66.1% of the vote in the second round, became the country’s next president.

French presidential election results confirm citizens’ anxiety and disaffection

Photo: Lorie Shaull, Wikipedia.org

Despite the convincing result, some observers believe that the new president of France won “by contradiction” taking advantage of the high anti-rating of his rival – ultra-right nationalist Marine Le Pen. The leader of the National Front won 33.9% of the vote, with the support of more than 10.6 million people, which is the highest result in the history of the nationalists’ participation in the presidential elections.

The general turnout in the second round was 74.62%, while 6.33% of the ballots were found to be empty, and another 2.24% – spoiled.

Commenting on the results of the presidential race, Christoph Frei, Associate Professor of Political Science with special focus on International Affairs, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland, shared the opinion that voters do not expect breakthrough steps from Emmanuel Macron.

“Anti-Le Pen voters wanted to prevent Le Pen. Pro-market voters – few in France – want the man to push liberal reforms, anti-globalisation voters expect more protection,” he told PenzaNews.

From his point of view, any major changes will not be easy.

“Once this president will begin pushing reforms, he will run into a wall of 62 million veto-players, as the French are adamant about defending ‘l’acquis social’, as they call it. In France, most people are ‘conservative’ in the sense that they want for state protection and social welfare to continue, if not to increase. Personally, I am highly skeptical about the odds of his being successful, and do not even dare to consider what will happen if he fails,” the expert said.

According to him, there is anxiety and disaffection among citizens.

“High support for the National Front tells us about the disarray Europe is in: we cheer and drink Champaign when Macron wins with 65 percent – all the while forgetting or rather repressing that an right-wing, xenophobic party won a third of the vote and is, as of today, the strongest party in France,” Christoph Frei stressed.

“If we lose another five years with Macron – as we have lost with Sarkozy, as we have lost with Hollande, – Marine or her niece will still be there,” he added.

Meanwhile, Russian political scientist Pavel Danilin, Director of the Center for Political Analysis, shared the opinion that people who voted for Emmanuel Macron did not count on the breakthrough decisions of the new leader.

“Citizens wanted to preserve the status quo, social security and pension guarantees that are quite high in France compared to other European countries. I do not think that they are waiting for any great deeds from Macron,” the expert said.

In his opinion, the French voted for the “second Hollande”, but more charismatic and with a more interesting biography.

“The new president is chosen by consensus of all the French who refuse sharp changes. Macron in this sense is much more predictable than unstable Marin Le Pen, who proposed an exit from the EU and rejection of the euro,” Pavel Danilin explained.

In his view, this step would mean a serious break with neighboring countries and the French are not ready for this.

“For example, Brexit in the UK was much easier because the United Kingdom was always on the sidelines of European politics, and the pound sterling remained as a payment unit. In this regard, the French would have been in a more difficult situation, therefore, despite the good result of Le Pen, they still chose stability,” the political scientist explained.

At the same time, according to him, the high result of the National Front confirms the presence of a large group of skeptics in the country.

“Much will be shown by the summer elections to the National Assembly. As a result of this vote, Le Pen is unlikely to demonstrate the same significant result as in the second round of the presidential elections, because French are even more conservative in regard to party life,” Pavel Danilin said.

Analyzing the balance of political forces after the election of the new president of France, Sabine Ruß-Sattar, Associate Fellow, Franco-German Relations Program, the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), pointed to a conflict within the left forces.

“In France, the left has collapsed under the heavy weight of the basic conflict between ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘international, multilateral cooperation,” the German analyst said.

According to her, the forthcoming elections to the National Assembly will give an opportunity to see what form they will acquire in the future.

“The parliamentary elections in June will provide the first indication of what form the left will take when it re-emerges: whether it will be clad in the Chavez-like garb of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s party La France Insoumise or wearing the social liberalism of Macron’s movement France En Marche,” Sabine Ruß-Sattar said.

In turn, Paul Smith, Associate Professor, French and Francophone Studies, School of Cultures, Language and Area Studies, University of Nottingham, paid special attention to the position of the ultra-right forces.

“Paradoxically, the first and second round results have been a disappointment to Le Pen and to her followers. She was meant to win the first round and to get 40% in the second. She is not about to go away, but her position is weaker than expected. That explains why she was very quick to react yesterday evening and to declare herself the leader of the opposition to Macron and to announce a new chapter in the development of the National Front. […] But the result was, nevertheless, historic, and confirmed the results of a survey in Le Monde last month, that showed that 33% of the French broadly agree with the ‘values’ of the FN. If Macron gets it wrong, in 2022, the National Front will be in a very strong position,” he said.

Nevertheless, according to the analyst, the new leader of France has every chance of success.

“Emmanuel Macron has been elected with a higher proportion of votes than Hollande and the result is far better than expected. This gives Macron a very solid platform on which to tackle his program. […] I expect Macron to focus, in the immediate term, on reinvigorating the Franco-German relationship at the heart of the EU but also pushing a reform agenda within the EU. On the domestic front he will focus on education system, negotiating labour law reform, simplifying the French tax system and pensions reform,” Paul Smith said.

Meanwhile, in French terms, the turnout was low, it was better than in many other political systems and better than some of the polls expected, the expert reminded.

“There were a very high number of spoilt ballot papers, however. Clearly there is disaffection and Macron knows he has to address voters who gave their support to Melenchon and Le Pen. […] Now the presidential contest is decided, now all the other players come back into the game for the general elections on 11 and 18 June. This is another marathon,” the expert concluded.

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