By Pol Artola @artolariera
May 03, 2017
The outcome of the first round of the French presidential election confirmed that the nation’s political system has been completely turned upside down. Conservatives and socialists, the two parties that traditionally exchanged the presidency, have been wiped out of the second round and Emmanuel Macron, a centre-right, liberal former banker and Economy Minister under Hollande’s cabinet, represents the only obstacle to prevent the populist Marine Le Pen to secure the presidency in the second and definitive round of a pivotal election for the future of Europe.
A series of major jihadist terrorist attacks that have undermined the morale of the nation; the influx of migrants and refugees arriving from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East; economic uncertainty (youth unemployment is above 20%) and an acute debate over national identity; as well as rising hostility towards globalisation are thought to be some of the main factors that explain the rise of the Front National (FN), the far-right party commanded by Le Pen, and the sound defeat of the mainstream parties.
Only in such exceptional circumstances an image akin to this one could be witnessed. The picture was captured by the Catalan photojournalist Jordi Borràs in Marseille’s Le Dôme, in the last rally held by Le Pen before the first round of the election took place. It shows a supporter of the far-right candidate wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Is it just an anecdote, or does it rather illustrate a broader phenomenon?
“There, I also saw two guys who identified as Amazighs (or Berbers); a dark-skinned, curly-haired woman, probably of Algerian descent; elder pied-noirs; black people; working-class families; hipsters… and young people, lots of young people. The sociological composition was very eclectic”, says Borràs, who has been reporting on far-right movements in Europe for years. An eclecticism that mirrors the success of Le Pen in softening and normalizing the FT’s discourse beyond the radicalism his father represented. “It’s interesting to see how her electoral poster is designed. She has got rid of his surname, only identifying herself as Marine, erasing all connnection with his father and humanising her cause. Even the logo and the acronym of the FT has been replaced by a blue rose without thorns, a symbol designed to appeal both to the conservative voters (being blue the republican color) and the socialist ones (being the rose the par-excellence symbol of the left) while presenting herself as harmless (note that the rose has no thorns).”
Decaying northern industrial towns with a solid left-wing, socialist tradition, feeling forgotten and betrayed, switched to the FN in this first round, as they already did in previous local elections. According to a study conducted by IFOP, the far-right candidate is the most popular among the blue-collar workers (43%), the less-educated voters (33%), the youngsters between 25 and 34 (30%) and those who inhabit rural areas (26%). By contrast, his support is weaker in Paris, among the higher educated, and among elder people.
Unlike the rest of the candidates, which almost immediately called to unite against her in a ‘Republican Front’, Jean Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who won nearly 20% of the first-round vote, refused to support Mr. Macron, arguing he is too economically liberal to endorse. Although he made clear he won’t vote for Le Pen neither, certain aspects of his anti-elitist, protectionist rhetoric bears similarities to that of Mrs. Le Pen — specially regarding the resentment to the European Union, NATO and globalisation.
Although a Le Pen victory is highly unlikely, she is currently polling at record-highs. On Friday, she posted a video targeting Mélenchon’s 7 million voters and calling them to unite with her to block Macron. Wether they finally back her or not (only 15% of people who voted for Mélenchon vs. 29% of Fillon supporters plan to do so according to the latest polls), Le Pen intends to fuel the hatred towards the establishment embodied by Macron and to encourage the ‘Neither Macron Nor Le Pen’ defenders to abstain. She knows the passivity of the left-wingers is a sine qua non if she is to have a remote possibility to win.