The Cable

What’s Happening in the French Presidential Elections

Hint: Their Trump is running ahead of their Republicans, and ahead of their Hillary and Bernie (but there’s a second round)

french elex

Ah, the French presidential election. Months of twists and turns. At one point, some thought it would be a showdown between former President Nicolas Sarkozy and current French President François Hollande. Months later, neither of those men are even in the race, while current candidates are nearly all embroiled in scandal, and there is plenty of uncertainty whether either of the two main parties will make it through this election as they exist now.

With the first round of voting on April 23, here’s a rundown of where each candidate stands (or stands set to fail):

François Fillon, the Republicans: Once upon a time, it was thought that the center-right candidate in this race was bound to be the next president of France, given the deep unpopularity of the current Socialist president, Hollande.

And indeed, Fillon pulled off a brilliant primary upset against Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Allain Juppé in the second round. But then it turned out that Fillon had allegedly used about 1 million euros in parliamentary funds for jobs his family members did not, in fact, do. At first, Fillon said he would resign from the race if charged. But on March 1, Fillon announced that he was indeed going to be put under formal investigation on March 15, two days before candidates are due to officially register. And at a rally in Paris on Sunday, Fillon said, contrary to his earlier statements, he would not step down. Almost as if taking his cues from across the Atlantic, he has called the allegations a political assassination; questioned the independence of the judiciary; criticized the media; and, on Sunday, he and his team hailed their own crowd size.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Juppé disappointed the euro by announcing he would not be running or replacing Fillon, leading many a France-watcher to wonder who could take Fillon’s place if anyone can convince him that it is in the best interest of his party and country (never mind that he’s gone out of his way to undermine institutions dear to both) to step down.

Marine Le Pen, National Front: Speaking of undermining institutions! Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front, is also embroiled in scandal, both because she tweeted “gruesome images” of Islamic State killings, and because she allegedly used European Parliament funds to pay political staffers.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that she was literally born into politics (she took over the National Front after ousting its former leader, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen), Le Pen and her openly anti-Islamic, arguably xenophobic, Euroskeptic, fiscally questionable policies are popular with those who claim to be tired of “establishment” politics — and increasingly women and members of the LGBTQ community. At present, she is expected to be one of the two top finishers and the first round of voting, which is to say she will likely make it into the second round.

Emmanuel Macron, Forward: Another politician ostensibly from outside the establishment, Macron is running not with an established party, but with his own En Marche (“Forward”) movement. He’s central-casting establishment, nevertheless: He worked for Banque Rothschild and, briefly, Hollande’s government, speaks English (quelle horreur), and is a believer in the European project. If he and Le Pen make it to the second round and other candidates give Macron their unambiguous support, he could be the next president of France.

On Monday, his economic advisor, Jean Pisani-Ferry, said Macron represents “real reform, real change.” If he somehow manages to get elected, however, he’ll still need to deal with June’s legislative elections. If he can’t field enough candidates from his own new party, or pull enough defectors from left and right, he’ll be stuck trying to push through reforms with a hostile or indifferent parliament. Such is the plight of the outsider trying to come in.

Benoît Hamon, Socialist Party: This candidate, representing the incumbent party, has virtually no chance of winning. But, in a bid to feel the Benoît anyway, he is expected to reveal a plan for universal income in the coming days.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Party: The far-left candidate is polling last among quasi-major candidates, but his campaign has borrowed a few tricks from the front runners Fillon and Le Pen in disparaging the the media, a stance that apparently does not know party in French politics.

Correction: This post originally stated Macron worked for Goldman Sachs. He worked for Banque Rothschild.

Photo credit: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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