The French took to the polls today for presidential elections and, as the joke goes, are revolting. But it's no joke here. The French liberal Socialists and conservative Republicans who have traded off for decades are now complete also-rans, and the French government will not be led by either of them I suspect for quite some time.
Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front, is through to the second round of the French presidential election, where she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent, who won Sunday's first round with 23.7 percent of the vote. Le Pen won 21.7 percent. It's the first time in French history that neither candidate from a major political party is in the second round runoff. It's also the first time a far-right candidate is in the second round since 2002 when Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, lost to Jacques Chirac.
Macron and Le Pen’s strong showings Sunday, which saw an approximately 77 percent voter turnout (slightly lower than the 79 percent who voted in the first round in 2012), signaled a rebuke of the political establishment that has dominated French politics for decades. Macron launched his centrist party in August 2016 after he quit his role in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, and despite the party’s youth it boasts a quarter of a million members. Meanwhile, Le Pen’s FN secured the most votes it has ever received in its nearly half-century history, surpassing the 18-percent first-round finish it saw in 2012.
Even Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who ran under a movement called La France Insoumise, or “Unsubmissive France,” had his strongest performance to date. Though his last-minute surge in the polls wasn’t enough to propel him to the second round, he still managed to claim 19.5 percent of the vote, far surpassing the 11 percent he won during his first presidential bid in 2012.
Republican candidate François Fillon also earned 19.5 percent of the vote, tying Mélenchon for third place. The center-right candidate and former prime minister enjoyed a comfortable lead early on in his campaign, but support wavered in January after his candidacy was embroiled by allegations he misused public funds to pay his wife, Penelope, and two of their children for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed. Fillon denied any wrongdoing, although the launch of a formal investigation into both him and his wife prompted several of his Republican allies to quit his campaign.
Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, who came in last of the main contenders with 6.2 percent of the vote, also suffered from fissures within his own party. Despite clinching a decisive victory during the January primary, Hamon failed to command the support of Socialist party leaders, many of whom, including former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, endorsed Macron instead. This, paired with the deeply unpopular presidency of Hollande and the competition of similarly far-left Mélenchon, made the ruling party’s poor showing all but certain. The results prompted the losing candidates to urge their supporters to back Macron. Hamon said there was a distinction between a political adversary and an “enemy of the Republic,” referring to Le Pen. Fillon warned that Le Pen would lead France to “ruin.”
The Socialists and Republicans got only 25% of the vote combined. They're both pretty much cooked. Now we'll see if centrist Macron can hold against the onslaught of Russian election foul play, for if Le Pen's racist National Front party claims victory in two weeks, things are going to go very, very badly for the future of the European Union.
Less than a month before the fiercely contested French presidential election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was campaigning not in Nantes or Lyon but in Moscow, where she had an unannounced meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. After exchanging pleasantries with Russia’s leader, a politician for whom she is not shy in expressing her admiration, Le Pen pledged that one of her first actions as president would be to cancel sanctions against Russia.
“A new world has emerged in the last few years,” Le Pen told VICE News and other journalists after the meeting. “It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the United States, it’s the world of Mr. [Narendra] Modi in India, and I think I am the one who shares this vision of cooperation, and not a vision of submission or a vision of warmongering, like the one which is put forward far too often by the European Union.”
Le Pen’s surprise trip to Moscow at the height of a raucous French campaign, in which she has been jostling for the lead with more traditional candidates Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon, was indicative of the outsized role Russia has played in the election, endorsing France’s right-wing candidates while smearing Macron. So was the knowing grin that crept onto Putin’s face as he told Le Pen on camera that Russia didn’t “want to influence” the vote in any way.
Putin’s smile couldn’t disguise the fact that Russia has financed Le Pen’s National Front party in the past and has been accused of surreptitiously backing her this go-around. Unlike Le Pen and the center-right Fillon, who have both called for closer relations with Moscow, the pro-EU Macron has been the target of smear pieces in Russian state media and cyberattacks that his campaign says originated in Russia.
We'll see if the French made the same mistake we did. There's some hope that they have learned, but I'm thinking that the next two weeks are going to be brutal. After all, Hillary was winning too, right up until she didn't.