Monday, 1 May 2017

An election to lose

 Back home after two weeks out of the country, the first thing that strikes me is that the vote on May 7 may be a lot closer than people have thought so far. The burning question is what will the 20% who voted Fillon and the 19.6 % who voted Mélenchon do next Sunday? It seems fairly safe to assume that Le Pen and Macron voters, if they vote next Sunday, will vote the same way they did on April 23.

Will the latest twist to the plot, the widely commented “alliance” between Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a self-styled Gaullist, and Marine le Pen make a big difference? Dupont-Aignan polled 4.7 % in the first round but his endorsement of le Pen, in exchange for the post of Prime Minister if she wins, smacks more of opportunism than of conviction. Many of his erstwhile supporters are angry and will not follow him into Marine’s welcoming embrace.  Opportunism does not play well in France and when all is said and done, only a proportion of the 1.7 million votes he polled will be added to Le Pen’s first round score. Which will probably put her on a par with Macron at about 24%.

The 6% who voted Hamon will presumably vote Macron, even if they have to hold their noses to do so. Advantage Macron then.

The crucial question still remains. What will the Fillon and Mélenchon voters do? Over 14 million votes are up for grabs, not to speak of the 10.5 million voters who abstained on April 23.

Most of the people I have talked to this past week seem undecided. A neighbour who voted Fillon is tempted to go for Le Pen with the argument that “she won’t do everything she says she will.” Many social and fiscal conservatives may well do likewise, some considering that Macron is no more than a reincarnation of Hollande, others disliking his embrace of social and cultural diversity, others still hostile to his promises of a large public investment programme, a boost to low pensions and an extension of unemployment benefits. Another neighbour who voted Mélenchon seems likely to vote Macron in the run-off. Many voters, interviewed on radio and TV, are clearly unhappy with the prospect of either candidate as their future President. Will they be persuaded to join the “republican front” on the day, give Le Pen a try or go fishing?  As Monday, May 8 is a public holiday, many might want to take the excuse of a long weekend to do just that.

Despite the precise sounding arithmetic touted by experts, pollsters and journalists, the truth is that with such an unprecedented line-up for a presidential election run-off, nobody really knows who will do what on the day. The only thing that does seem clear is that a high rate of abstention will favour Le Pen. How high will it have to go to hand her victory? Again, pretty impossible to tell.

From her campaigning last week though, it is clear that Le Pen has the outsider’s energy and motivation to pull off a surprise. She has chosen her campaign trail carefully, preaching her familiar homespun messages of restoring France’s sovereignty and putting French people first in the hope that more will be converted. Macron was widely criticised at the start of last week for holding a premature and unnecessarily ostentatious victory celebration in “La Rotonde” a well-known Parisian Brasserie in Montparnasse. On Thursday, while he tried bravely to reason with workers threatened with the closure of a Whirlpool plant in his hometown of Amiens, he let himself be ambushed by Le Pen who turned up unannounced and told the workers only what they wanted to hear.

The second week of campaigning will therefore be crucial for both candidates and the televised debate on Wednesday even more so.

While the polls are predicting a Macron victory, he still has everything to play for. It is definitely his election to lose.

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