This was written on 10 April, the day the campaign officially started. In two weeks we shall know who is going through to the final round. Who will make it through the eliminating rounds? It is now becoming a more open question. Today the posters go up on the officially allocated boards, some of them ‘wheeled out’ for election periods only. Early this morning they were still empty, later today they will be filled, some pasted over others and defacement will begin after dusk this evening. So seconds out…
There have been posters here and there already, in this area mainly for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, thus far the only manifesto and letters asking for support have been sent out by En Marche! asking people to vote for Emmanuel Macron. However, Mélenchon who has the backing of the still powerful French Communist party appears to be fairly rapidly closing in on frontrunners Macron and Marine Le Pen, who until a few days ago appear unassailable, according to recent polls. A week ago there was a televised debate in which all 11 candidates had 18 minutes to put their case across with about 40 minutes for open debate. Philippe Poutou who is a rank outsider, French far left candidate, is a trade unionist and worker in a car factory. He put across his case for a worker’s state which included saying that he is the only candidate who has or has ever had a real job. He won a great deal of sympathy, but polls the next day showed that Mélenchon had come out as the people’s first choice for his presentation in general.
Now two debates on television have shown him to be a rock solid and credible candidate who has shone above the others, presenting what is, in French terms, a reasonable and, moreover, a credible manifesto. A number of surveys this weekend showed him rising to third position, with 18% or 19% of voters saying they would vote for him. At a rally in Marseille, he said that the electorate has a choice other than choosing the far right who are “condemning our great multi-coloured people to hate itself” and supporters of a free market economy that “transforms suffering, misery and abandonment into gold and money”. That is the kind of body blow much of the left-leaning electorate likes to heat.
Consequently, psephologists are now saying predicting the two-stage election is more difficult than usual. One of the main reasons is that an exceptionally high number of voters saying they plan to abstain or have not yet made up their minds. The outgoing government has caused widespread disaffection.
The first punch drunk
Right wing candidate François Fillon held one of his biggest rallies so far with several thousand supporters turning out in Paris. He is now frantically attempting to recover the momentum before a series of scandals hit him. However, a former minister and ally anonymously admitted that: “If he doesn’t rise a few points (in the polls) this week, it’s over.” It doesn’t look good, he is already too punch drunk to come back convincingly.
Le Pen, has now sparked severe criticism from Jewish groups after an interview in which she denied the French state was in any way responsible for the roundup of more than 13,000 Jews at Paris’s Vel d’Hiv cycling track, who were then sent to Nazi death camps, during the WW2 occupation. She said: “I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time,” but “It’s not France.” An umbrella group of Jewish organisations, CRIF, said that her comments are “an insult to France, which honoured itself in 1995 by recognising its responsibility in the deportation of France’s Jews”. This coincided with Le Pen and other party members appearing on a variety of media on Sunday to try to get across their vision of a nationalist France, divested of the EU and Euro that would be tougher on crime and especially so on Islamists. It is though part of a reluctance of France to face its past (see, for instance http://www.brookings.edu/articles/france-confronts-the-holocaust/ which although it is from 2001 is still largely the case, although the SNCF case in this report has since been resolved with a settlement: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30351196). For opposition supporters, she has hit below the belt with that comment.
In the meantime, Macron has laid out what his priorities would be during his first few months in office. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, he stated that one of his priorities would be to pass a new law setting ethical standards for both levels of parliament. This would be followed by another law to reduce the number of MPs by one-third then another to make the labour market freer, thus France more competitive. When asked about a small drop in support according to the latest polls, he said that they only reflect what he feels which is that nothing is decided yet. Nonetheless, his team are clearly becoming concerned about the Mélenchon support among young voters in response to which Macron’s people put up an online campaign video set to techno music warning about the left winger’s massive tax and spend plan. Mélenchon’s radical manifesto includes a new €100bn plan to stimulate the economy and reduction of the working week to 32 hours in order to open up employment to those who are without jobs, proposals for overhauling the EU and more controversially taking France out of NATO. Thus both are using fancy footwork before going in with jabs that bruise but are not yet knockout punches.
Who is scoring the points?
The poll of 100 polls provided by 10 research organisations on Monday morning, just minutes before I began to write, confirmed the change in momentum after the final televised debate between the 11 candidates standing for the presidency. Le Pen and Macron are still tying but both are losing ground a little so that both would hold 23 or 24% if the vote was today and Mélenchon is now a point ahead of Fillon with 18 or 19%. The first vote on 23 April is still two weeks away with much to be said and done. However, there is no certainty who will win, it is almost certain that nobody would gain 51% or more thus there be no need for a second round, but what it probably means is as it stands Le Pen and Macron would qualifying for the second round on 7 May, which until now polls have suggested Macron would win comfortably. Analysts are now recommending caution against definitive predictions with the possibility that Mélenchon might yet ‘upset the boat’. Now we have two weeks until the preliminaries are over and then the last round, but of the main candidates will any be knocked out surprisingly?