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  May 8, 2017

French President Elect: Unveiling The Golden Boy Emmanuel Macron

Macron takes 90% of the vote in bourgeois Paris but Le Pen got 56% of the workers across France says Serge Halimi of Le Monde Diplomatique
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Serge Halimi is the Editorial Director at Le Monde Diplomatique. He is also the author of Le Grand Bond en Arrière.


Sharmini Peries: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

France has a new president-elect, Emmanuel Macron. The centrist and former investment banker will take office on Sunday, May 14th. He won against the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, by 66 to 34 percent of the vote. Even though Macron registered a decisive win against Le Pen, she considered the results a victory for managing to bring her party, the National Front, to the political mainstream in France.

Marine Le Pen: [Translated from French] The first round confirmed a major breakdown of France's political life with the elimination of old parties.

This second round organizes a wide political redraw between the patriots and the globalists.

Sharmini Peries: And here is the new French president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, after his victory.

Emmanuel Macron: [Translated from French] They express, today, they express some anger, some dismay, and sometimes some beliefs.

I respect them, but I will do all I can during the next five years so that no one ever has a reason again to vote for extremes.

Sharmini Peries: Joining us now to analyze the results of the French presidential election is Serge Halimi. Serge is director of the monthly newspaper, Le Monde diplomatique, and he joins us today from Paris. Thank you very much for joining us, Serge.

Serge Halimi: Nice to be with you.

Sharmini Peries: So Serge, the results were not much of a surprise. You, in fact, wrote to me on the night before the election saying, "100 percent chance for Macron." The French polls were correct this time. There was some concern that after the Brexit referendum in Britain and Trump's election here in the US, another right-wing upset could happen in France, but that didn't happen. What is your take on the results?

Serge Halimi: No, I don't think there was any surprise because Macron had been leading in the polls in the first round, and most of the candidates who were finished third, fourth, and the rest, asked their supporters to vote for him. So there was absolutely zero uncertainty as far as the result is concerned.

But now when you look at the result, you have to take into account that we have 47.5 million registered voters in France. 20.7 million voted for Macron. So that's not the majority of the registered voters. Why? Because 16 million did not choose between Le Pen and Macron. 12 million didn't go to the polls. 4 million put in a blank ballot or spoiled their ballot. And then, of course, 10.6 million voted for Le Pen, which I think for Marine Le Pen was a disappointing result.

So of course, 20.7 million for Macron. This is still a large number, but out of those 20.7 million who voted for him, a majority did it not because of, but in spite of his program. In other words, a majority of the minority of registered voters who chose Macron did so to defeat Marine Le Pen, and right now, the majority of the French voters do not want Macron to win a mandate in the next parliamentary elections, which are scheduled five weeks from now, June 11th and June 18th.

Sharmini Peries: So then, Serge, what is the impact and effect this will have on France, the victory of Macron?

Serge Halimi: I think there are some elements of change which are widely overplayed. One is the generation element. I don't think it has much importance. Clinton was 46 when he was elected, Renzi 39, Blair 44. They were all young men, but in the case of Macron, I think the fact that he's young was effective insofar as besides being young, Macron is not a very original candidate, and the policies he proposes are a continuation of the policies Hollande enacted, whereas the support of Macron was for a fairly significant amount of time, his economic advisor and his economic minister. So by being young, in a sense, it overshadows the element of continuity in his election.

The other element, which is mentioned, is, of course, the fact that he's a non-politician, that he never was elected. That could be an advantage although everyone remembers that Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump, too, were non-politicians who transformed the political scene, and it is not obvious that it was in the good direction.

Sharmini Peries: And Serge, what do we know about Macron and his positions and policies that he might bring about particularly given this is a new party (Marche), we don't really know what that is, and he considers himself a trans-partisan candidate, but what does this all mean very concretely?

Serge Halimi: I think what it means very concretely is a victory of political honesty. Insofar over the last 35 years, the socialists and the right enacted broadly similar economic policies. And Macron wants to destroy this two parties to create his own, which will pursue the same policies which form the socialists and form the rightists. At least this may end the sham, and open the way to a political system which with three main actors, Macron, i.e. things stay the same, Le Pen with the 34 percent of the vote she got yesterday, and the third element being a left [inaudible 00:06:23] of most of the socialists, will join Macron and comprising the 20% who voted for Mélenchon, plus some greens, Trotskyite, and socialists. So you would have a french political scene divided between those three forces; Macron holding the upper end at this time.

Sharmini Peries: And let's bring that element of the absentee votes that you mentioned earlier. 34 percent is a fairly high rate of people who didn't vote or spoil their ballots, and this hasn't happened in France since 1969 apparently. To what do you attribute this high rate of absentee, is there a sort of discontent and unhappiness with the democratic process in France, what's going on?

Serge Halimi: Well, the last time it happened as you said accurately was in 1969, and then you had the two right-wing candidates opposing each other and the communist party that was quite strong at the time, who said you don't have to choose between those two right-wing candidates, so either you don't go to the polls or you put in a blank ballot.

So we have a situation that is different here insofar it was not two right-wing candidates, but a center-right, center-left candidate and an extreme-right. So it is conceivable that the fact that the extreme-right was opposed to a centrist, would have made it more difficult for people not to vote. Except that we had the experience of voting for a right-wing candidate in 2002 and that people are getting really tired of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. And this time they decided not to do it all the more the because of the fact that they knew from the very beginning that Marine Le Pen stood no chance of being elected, and they didn't want to give a mandate to Macron who would enact liberal poor market policies and deregulate the labor markets.

So it was really very difficult for left-wing voters to give a mandate to someone who would enact policies you would have to fight a few weeks after you helped elect him.

Sharmini Peries: And also, given that this new party has no real political base in the National Assembly and there is National Assembly election scheduled for June 11th, how will the political landscape in France respond to this, particularly given the fragmentation that we were just talking about.

Serge Halimi: Well, it's really difficult to tell at this time. It's quite clear that elements of the right are going to split from the right and rejoin with Macron. Elements of the socialist party are going to split from the socialist party and rejoin Macron. But I think that one thing that is more important than this is the social element that was disclosed by the vote. Because Macron's golden boy image and actions account for the fact that despite of his landslide victory, 56 percent of the workers voted for Marine Le Pen. Of course, Paris, which is the most bourgeois of major French cities gave a landslide to Macron; received 90 percent of the vote there.

In other words, you saw in this vote a prosperous and educated France that voted for Macron and won. And the richer city is in terms of how much income it taxes its residents, the more likely the city is to vote for Macron, who incidentally promised to eliminate much of the wealth tax. So this is, I think, one thing we must emphasize, the fact that Macron is really the elected president of the prosperous France and of the middle class, and that Marine Le Pen got a lot of support from the working class, and this is something that will stay during Macron's term, and I think the policies he has in mind, especially the deregulation of the labor market will insist on the features of his program, which is a program meant for the wealthy.

Sharmini Peries: And so then let's talk about where the French left is. Its main candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, won nearly 20 percent of the vote during the first round of the elections. The highest they've ever had in terms of a left socialist party perspective. What are his chances of winning the National Assembly and more seats there so he can actually challenge Macron as he seeks to implement more neoliberal measures in France?

Serge Halimi: Well, the result Mélenchon got was not the highest the left had in France, you had, of course, several decades ago, the communist party that got more than 20 percent of the vote. But it's still a very good result he got in the first round. Now the question is the extent to which this result will translate in parliamentary seats, and the parliamentary system is such that its very unlikely that Mélenchon will get that many seats. We have 577 seats in the National Assembly and most of the projections say that Mélenchon will be able to get 40 or 50 seats at most. So maybe we will be surprised by what happens in the next few weeks, but the most likely outcome will be Macron getting almost a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. The right, getting 200 seats more or less. And then Mélenchon and the extreme right getting very few seats because the system is rigged against parties such as the National Front and the left international assembly.

Sharmini Peries: All right Serge, I thank you so much for joining us today and look forward to hearing more analysis from you and Le Monde diplomatique, Thank you so much.

Serge Halimi: Okay. Nice to talk to you, bye.

Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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