This can be kept short and sweet because it is almost anticlimactic in that it more or less foretells what happens next.
This has been a unique election in that campaigning has been relatively muted and events that might have borne influence mistimed. For instance, the one man ‘terrorist’ attack (not absolutely established to be that as yet), on a police transport in which one of them was killed came on the eve of the last day of campaigning. The candidates showed their respect by cancelling their campaigning on that day but then naturally moved into the 48 hours during which they are obliged to shut up and basically keep a low profile. No more pressing palm to admiring supporters, no more smiles and waves to cameras, just political purdah until the voting centres close.
The points predicted by polls matched the blows delivered
I have followed the polls very closely, mainly watching the polls of polls that took in up to nearly 150 separate polls carried out by top international and lesser national organisations. That is not to say that I did not look at the polls themselves, or at least a sample of them. Macron led with 24%, le Pen was a few points behind on 21.8%, then Fillon with 19.5% and Mélenchon on 19.3%. The other seven were simply background dressing by then. In effect, it was too close to call. The French had given up on the usefulness of polls to the point that some of the top news media had given up using them, that is until the eleventh hour when it became clear that this was a very different election where almost anything could happen and their opinions were the best representation of the divisions in the electorate. They also drew attention to the fact that the voters were disillusioned with the left and right politics that had dominated since WW2, which saw parties names changed but which was little more than two dominant parties taking turns to the exclusion of others. It was dying before their eyes. This vote had the potential to end that before their eyes.
Indeed it did. In as far as results are now complete pending appeals and recounts here and there, Macron has come first with 23.9%, followed by Le Pen on 21.4%, then Fillon 19.9% and Mélenchon 19.6%. The others are ‘also rans’ at between 6.3% and 0.2% but including a surprisingly low result for the Greens who are also losing ground. Those results are remarkably close to the polls. Now the pollsters will push their point over the next two weeks.
The next and final round
So now we have a less remarkable second round to come on 7 May. Pundits are already weighing up the results and remarking on the similarities with 2002 when Jacques Chirac went through on 19.88% followed by Jean-Marie Le Pen 16.86% that then went through two tense weeks until the second round at which 82.21% voted for Chirac against 17.79% for Le Pen. Now daughter Marine is confronted with a similar fate. Fillon conceded mid-evening, asking his supporters to vote Macron on 7 May. Predictions already show 43% of Fillon’s, 70% of Hamon’s and 50% of Mélenchon’s voters will switch to Macron, then there is the likelihood that the majority of the 15% or so spread over the other seven candidates will go for Macron as well.
The immediate poll of 143 polls a few hours after the voting centres had closed gave Macron 63% and Le Pen 38.7%; however, do not add them up to come to 101.7% because the polls are differently sampled, using slightly different methods that add up within a range that these figures generate. That is nothing like as far apart as Chirac and Le Pen senior, but nonetheless a potentially large majority.
The rounds after the final round
However, that is not the final blow in the fight. It may be that the two fighters are done, the KO delivered but then there are the legislative elections that are scheduled to take place on 11 and 18 June to elect the members of the National Assembly. At present PS hold 273 seats, needing 16 for an absolute majority, followed by LR on 199 with little chance of gaining 90 seats, the new UDI which is composed of eight separate political parties who retain their independence holding 30 seats, unlikely to gain very many of the required new 259 seats and FN with at present only two seats who have no real chance of achieving more than a handful of the 287 new seats they would have to win to control the assembly. In that sense Le Pen would never have had any real power, since the vast majority of the assembly would have been against her from the moment of her election. In fact, whoever wins, Macron being most likely, they will need to form a government of national unity.
So, it is not just a question of who will win but how he or she will govern. France is used to a president from one of the two ‘normal’ parties that give some kind of political stability. What stands before them is a new kind of governance that depends on cross-party cooperation and unity, where the prosperity and future of France will be far more important than the control of ultimate power by party leaders, one of them the president. It may all go very wrong, precipitating new elections and could even come to the point at which the Fifth Republic will be tipped over the edge if France’s present republican system of government that was established by de Gaulle under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic in 1958 after the collapse of the Fourth Republic. It replaced the previous parliamentary republic with a semi-presidential, dual-executive system that divides powers between the prime minister, as head of government, and president as head of state. Thus, it will be interesting on the one hand to see whether or not Macron, assuming he wins, can appoint a prime minister up to the task of heading a government of diverse political positions or will the political system collapse?
So, after the KO on 7 May, the fight goes on and beyond 18 June will have almost certainly several more deciding rounds to follow.