The two rounds of presidential elections in the French Fifth Republic will be held on April 23 and May 7. Since France is a presidential republic, the president has a decisive influence on the choice of a prime minister, as well as the formation of a government and its subsequent policies. So the main question for the upcoming months in France is, who will succeed President Francois Hollande in the Élysée Palace?
Recently, electoral feelings in France have significantly benefited the right. This became apparent during the December 2015 local elections, which were considered to be a dress rehearsal for the 2017 presidential elections. Hollande has become the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic due to the migrant crisis, surges in terrorism, and socio-economic problems.
So what steps would the major presidential candidates undertake in order to respond to the challenges they will inherit from Francois Hollande?
According to open data polls of three major French research companies, IFOP, IPSOS, and OPINIONWAY, as well as the data of social networks research company Brand Analytics, the main struggle is between three candidates. The current leader is Marine Le Pen, followed by François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron, who continue to vie for second place.
Marine Le Pen
In her 144-point manifesto for the 2017 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, strongly promotes traditional far-right themes: national sovereignty, law and order, anti-immigration, and anti-elites. Her campaign slogan is “Au nom du peuple” (“In the name of the people”). Le Pen pledges to ban all organisations and deport all foreigners that are linked to Islamist fundamentalists, as well as to stop their financing from abroad. She also plans to cut legal immigration to 10,000 “entries” a year, praises Brexit, and wants France to leave the EU’s Schengen Area, reintroduce national borders, and boost customs controls.
François Fillon (the former Prime Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the current Republican candidate) has been called “the French Thatcher” for his admiration of Britain’s “Iron Lady”. Fillon campaigns on the idea of restoring France’s pride and its institutions through social conservatism and family values. In terms of economics, Fillon espouses the conservative policies of cutting public spending, abolishing the wealth tax, and increasing state expenditures on defence and justice. Regarding foreign policy, he hopes to reform the Schengen agreement and supports lifting the current EU sanctions against Russia. In domestic policy, Fillon has argued against abortion and same-sex marriage.
Former Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron, who has recently become a surprise frontrunner, represents a new independent political party called En Marche!, which Macron himself founded in 2016. The party, which is also known by its official name Association pour le renouvellement de la vie politique (Association for the Renewal of Politics) is strongly pro-European and defines itself as “neither left nor right”. In the Macron manifesto – called “Mon Contrat avec la Nation” (My Contract with the Nation) – the candidate promises to jump-start the stagnant French economy, reduce the country’s deficit, and bring down unemployment.
Analysts say that this year’s election is unique because during the campaign, none of the candidates have remained flawless. Candidates have been hit with scandals all over the media, especially since the Internet has become such a powerful weapon in election campaigns.
Mr Fillon was an early favourite to win the election, but his campaign has been damaged by a “fake job” scandal called “Penelopegate”(after his wife’s name Penelope), in which he was accused of creating fictitious jobs for his wife and children, all of whom received considerable salaries.
Le Pen is also defending herself against accusations regarding the fictitious employment of her assistants, as well as accusations of defrauding the European Parliament of considerable expenses.
Even Macron, who is a newcomer in politics, has come under suspicion; he was accused of spending funds from the Ministry of Economy during the beginning of his presidential campaign. Macron was also suspected of lobbying for the US company General Electric when completing the transaction on the acquisition of the Alstom company.
Who knows what else will come to light in the final stages of the race? As shown by Brexit, and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, France should perhaps expect the unexpected.