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French Elections: Macron Headed to the Presidential Polls on May 7th is Expected to Knock Out Le Pen

French media and the economic establishment made Macron the winner in the Sunday presidential ran-off say Alex Main of the Centre for Economic Policy and Research

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

France held its first presidential election on Sunday. The two winners of this first round was the political novice, Emanuel Macron with 23.9%, and the far right candidate Marine Le Pen, with 21.4%. This is the first time in France’s post-war history that neither candidate came from one of its traditional political parties — the Republicans and the Socialists. Neither made it to the second round.

The Republican candidate François Fillon, who was dogged by a corruption scandal, won only 19.9% of the vote, and the Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, got a mere 6.4%. The other outsider, leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, closely missed the second round with 19.6% of the vote.

France’s political establishment was quick to urge voters to elect Macron during the run-off vote, which is scheduled to take place on May 7th. Here is what the First Secretary of the Socialist Party had to say after the results were announced.

FIRST SECRETARY: …(French) President Marine Le Pen. Never. We have to block the far right and vote for republican values.

As a result, on May 7th, I will vote for, we will vote for, Emmanual Macron. I will do it without hesitating, without wavering, and without conditions.

SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now from Washington D.C. to analyze the results is Alex Main. Alex is Senior Researcher at the Center for Economic Policy and Research. Thanks for joining us, Alex.

ALEX MAIN: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Alex, as we saw from the Socialist Party’s Secretary’s reaction to the results coming in, everyone is saying that the French should vote for Macron in the second round, in light of Le Pen’s candidacy. What do you make of that advice?

ALEX MAIN: Well, I think first of all, I think it’s important to note that almost all of France’s political establishment were already backing Emanuel Marcon in the first round of the elections. And that’s because the Socialist Party, in their primaries, chose to support a candidate on the left within the Socialist Party, someone who was basically against the establishment of the Socialist Party.

Marcon had been in the Socialist Party. He made a bet before this campaign that there would be turmoil and division within the Socialist Party. And he created this independent party, and indeed, there was division within the Socialist Party, and many had predicted that Manuel Valls, the former Prime Minister, and Francois Hollande, would win the Socialist ticket, and it ended up instead being the left-winger within the Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon.

Who none of the establishment within the Socialist Party, really wanted to support. So, very early on, you had major defectors from within the Socialist Party, such as Manuel Valls himself, after having not win the primary, he chose to support Marcon outside of the Socialist Party.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Alex, do you think Le Pen has any chance of staging an upset on May 7th?

ALEX MAIN: I think it’s extremely, extremely unlikely. I know, you know, everyone has chills from recent events, particularly the election in the U.S., in which of course, no one had really predicted that Trump would win, and it came as a surprise even to the Trump camp. And of course, prior to that you had the Brexit vote. In both cases, the pollsters got it very wrong.

Here, in this case, we’re not dealing with small margins, in terms of the polling differences, you know. It’s not two or three points, what we’re looking at. At the moment, in the polling that’s already taken place as to how the French would vote in the second round of the elections, is you know, a 20-point difference or more.

So, you know, they’d really, really have to have messed up their methodology to be quite that wrong. I think it’s worth noting that in this first round, the pollsters actually were close to spot-on. I mean, most of the major pollsters had pretty much predicted this outcome, a week or two ago.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, back in 2002, Alex, there was a similar situation when Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the run-off against Jacques Chirac. Back then everyone also warned against voting for Le Pen, and Chirac won very handedly, I must say. How would you say France has changed since then, and what makes this run-off different?

Are people really scared after the, you know, series of terrorist attacks that France has experienced, and including this recent one just a day before the election? Has that influenced the psyche — the political thinking of the people in France?

ALEX MAIN: Well, that is an interesting thing. I don’t think the terrorists… the most recent terrorist attack, had much influence on this particular election. It certainly didn’t, in terms of the polling that we were seeing two weeks ago. Again, which had predicted the outcome that we saw yesterday, there was no real difference that was provoked, seemingly by this attack.

I think really, there have been a number of terrorist attacks in France, of course, over the last two years. And I think now that this has, sort of been incorporated, really into the French voting behavior. You know they’ve had enough terrorist attacks that if they’re going to be influenced by those attack, that’s taken place already. You know, barring a major, major attack with an enormous amount of death and carnage, I don’t think you’ll see another terrorist attack having much of an impact.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. One of the other interesting things about Emanuel Macron is that he’s fairly unknown. His party formed is unknown, he’s unknown, he’s very young at 39, never been elected to office before. He claims to be a post-partisan candidate — we don’t know what that means. Give us a sense of what you know about him, and what the electorate voted for.

ALEX MAIN: Well, the electorate voted for the sort of most reassuring candidate, and Macron is the most reassuring candidate, because I think the French media made him that way. Again, he was the one that was most palatable to nearly all of the French political establishment, political and economic establishment, I should say.

Particularly when Francois Fillon, the main right-wing candidate from the Republica — particularly as his star began to fall, after the corruption scandal, the incidents of nepotism — where his wife had been paid for a fake job, essentially, with public funds for over 20 years.

You know, once he started to be damaged by that scandal, the establishment rallied massively behind Macron. But I think, you know, what’s most astonishing is that, given this media climate that Jean-Luc Mélenchon did as well as he did. He has nearly 20% of the vote, which is really enormous, considering the extent of the attacks against him in the media.

He was attacked as being very anti-European, as being an extreme far leftist. I mean, his positions were caricatured, and these attacks really intensified over the last couple of weeks of the campaign. Because Mélenchon had been rising in the polls, and I think perhaps he would have risen even further. His support would have risen even further, had there not been as many sustained attacks against him. But it’s quite remarkable because Mélenchon really represents the anti-neoliberal left.

And in previous elections we haven’t seen the anti-neoliberal left get more than… Well, in the last elections in 2012, the last presidential elections, Mélenchon got 11%, and that was already astonishing. Previous to that, the real anti-neoliberal left, when you brought together, you know, the various small candidates — only had 4 to 5% of the vote.

Now, we’re talking about 20% of the vote. You know a candidate that’s clearly anti-establishment, anti-neoliberal, and also has a very, very different foreign policy agenda from the establishment candidates. He wants to take France out of NATO. He wants to create financial institutions that will be alternatives to the Bretton Woods Institutions. He wants to take France out of the WTO.

So, he does have a fairly radical stance, you know, certainly compared to most French candidates in the foreign policy realm. So, you know, given all that, it’s really quite astonishing that he did as well as he did, with the 20%. And I think, you know, he really does represent a major political force in France today.

SHARMINI PERIES: And given all of the labor unrest and protests we saw in France, particularly the last few months prior to the election campaign really kicked off. Against many, many labor unions, many people, teachers, trying to negotiate with the government. Very basic issues of salary, and issues of work hours, and so on, were being negotiated with then Socialist government.

But no progress was being made, perhaps why Mélenchon was gaining, in terms of support from people who were perhaps on the picket lines, unemployed youth, and so on, and so on. There was a momentum growing in France, but that movement didn’t really quickly back Mélenchon. Why was that?

ALEX MAIN: Well, I mean, you have, particularly with unions, you have of course, historical links to the more established parties — the Socialist Party and the Communist Party. I think it’s important to note that while the Communist Party did end up supporting Mélenchon in this election, I think it’s important to remind your viewers that, you know, the Communist Party, while it is, very small compared to what it used to be in France, it is still a national party. And it still has a number of elected officials, both at the local, and national levels of government in France.

So, it does still represent an important political force, and the Communist leadership absolutely didn’t want to support Mélenchon. In the end it was the rank and file that pressured the leadership. They held a separate vote in which they called on the leadership to back him.

And you know, if you see the links that exist between the Communist leadership, the Socialist Party leadership, and the leadership of France’s unions, it is quite understandable that they didn’t systematically, you know, support Mélenchon. But they may be rethinking their strategy, particularly as, and I think this is perhaps, you know, the biggest event of this election — the French Socialist Party has really imploded.

Benoit Hamon — the candidate received only 6½% of the vote — they’ve never had a vote that low, I think, since at least the late ’60s. So, you know, I think you’re going to see a huge restructuring of the left in France. And one that is likely to see a new force on the left emerge, most likely with Mélenchon in its leadership. That has a very strong anti-neoliberal stance, in contrast with the positions, of course, that the Socialist Party has had over the last two decades.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Alex, and finally, you referred to this earlier, which is, you know, you dismissed the possibility that Le Pen could actually win in France.

But given that polls have been so incorrect in other parts of the world — like in the U.S. during the Clinton-Trump campaign — and you know, in the U.K. with Brexit, and so forth — one must entertain the possibility of the off chance that Le Pen might win on the 7th.

What would this mean for France if she does?

ALEX MAIN: Well, you know, it’s hard to say exactly what it would mean for France. I think, politically you would have massive divisions. I don’t think the National Front, if she somehow did win the second round, I don’t think that that would translate into a legislative majority. And you have legislative elections coming up in June, and so, you know, the government… the Front Nationale government would of course, you know, be met with enormous opposition from the Parliament.

So, I think you would see a real political crisis emerge — because the positions, of course, are so different. Again, I think this is very unlikely, the outcome that Marine Le Pen would win in the next round. But it is, you know, important to note that she’s done better in this election than the Front Nationale has ever done in the past. Her father did make it to the second round back in 2002, in the election against Jacque Chirac. But at that time he only had 16% when he won in the first round, and only got 17% in the second round.

In this case, she is close to 22%, so, certainly the Front Nationale base is expanding, and I think, you know, that’s something that certainly should be of enormous concern. And I think that is directly related to the failure of the economic policies of the governments — the Socialists and center-right governments of France of the last couple of decades.

These policies of austerity, of really cutting back the welfare state, and this entrenched high unemployment that you have in France. And it’s making people, you know, vote more and more for Le Pen, she’s getting an enormous amount of the working class vote in France.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Alex, we will be keeping an eye on this, and I hope you can join us again for further analysis, thank you so much.

ALEX MAIN: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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