The French Elections: An Anti-Establishment Vote?



by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


It is curious that the vast majority of commentary in U.S. and West European media about the French presidential vote on Sunday, 23 April concurred: this was an unprecedented repudiation of the political establishment.  After all, neither of the winners, Marine Le Pen and Emanuel Macron, belongs to the major center right or center left parties, the Republicans and the Socialists respectively. Much ado is made over the supposedly unprecedented nature of the whole electoral campaign, which was noteworthy for ugly character assassination.

And yet, if we exercise a modicum of detachment, the French election and its outcome from the first round is precisely “precedented” within French experience if we look back 5 years to the election that brought Francois Hollande to power and, still more, within the U.S. experience if we look back over the several “bait and switch” presidential elections we have had during the past quarter century.

In 2012, the presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France out of its economic and social woes was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the time Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. He was widely expected to receive the nomination of the Socialist Party. But he was brought down by a sex scandal that many believed at the time was an entrapment set up by his enemies, not least of them in the United States. Instead, the majority of French who had their fill of Nicolas Sarkozy were left with the Socialists’ poor second candidate, Francois Hollande, who proved over the last five years that he was witless and utterly lacking in substance.  During his tenure, France has limped along and played a supporting role to Continent’s hegemon, Germany.

In 2016, the presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France was Francois Fillon.  He offered both domestic and foreign policy programs that would mark a significant departure from the wishy-washy and ineffectual programs of Hollande and of Sarkozy before him. Perhaps most unorthodox of these policies within the Center Right from which he came, was his advocacy of good, constructive relations with Russia.

But Fillon was brought down by a concerted campaign of character assassination.  Yes, he was likely guilty of abusing the hiring privileges of his office to assign state compensation to his wife and sons.  However, that has been a very widespread abuse in the French political establishment and represents institutionalized corruption that did not begin with and will not end with Fillon.

Democratic politics is not for Boy Scouts.  It has always and will always have rough edges.  The question which should count above all is whether the candidate has the programs that will change people’s lives for the better and the force of will and political skills to realize them. 

Meanwhile, the administrative resources of the French government and the media have been used to promote the candidacy of a total nonentity, Emanuel Macron, whose main virtue is that he is NOT Marine Le Pen, the great nightmare candidate for the French Establishment, and beyond its borders, for the European Union Establishment, as well for of all enemies of sovereign nations and all supporters of globalization around the world. 

Macron’s second featured attribute is his youth. At 39, he will be the Fifth Republic’s youngest ever President.  In this sense his candidacy parallels electoral politics in the United States, where being a black or being a woman has been used to draw votes to candidates who otherwise do not stand up to scrutiny for their personal quality or the persuasiveness of their electoral platforms. 

Macron’s taking the lead position in the first round has been greeted with jubilation by world stock markets. The Nasdaq finally broke through the 6,000 level.  European bourses also did well. Bank shares soared in reaction to the prospect of France being run by a former investment banker.

If he wins the second round of the elections,  Macron will come to office without an organization to govern, without a parliamentary majority.  He will be obliged to form a coalition, meaning there will be little coherence in his government and its policies.  Coalitions are formed to share the spoils of office, not to get things done. We may expect France to muddle along, and to continue to be subservient to Berlin and Brussels.  The big loser will be the French nation.



© Gilbert Doctorow, 2017



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 G. Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015