Reset

The sense that a fundamental change was coming had been growing week after week, after Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French Presidential election last month.  Like tectonic plates shifting and crumbling around a new eruption pushing them apart, the left and the right, just as they had been edged out by Macron’s En Marche movement (On the Move), began to give way to the newly baptised La République en Marche (the Republic on the Move, or LREM for short).

The conservative Republicans (“LR”) had busily prepared for a cohabitation with President Macron, putting forward the baby-faced but bass-voiced François Baroin as their Prime Minister-to-be.  Their hastily concocted party platform, which differed significantly from that of their now disavowed Presidential candidate, François Fillon, flopped and their campaign stuttered.  Their confidence at the beginning of the campaign now looks like hubris.

On the left, the Socialists (“PS”) hoped and prayed that, by painting the Macron government as conservative, the left would flock to the polls to “correct” the Presidential vote, while quietly shelving Benoit Hamon’s platform and putting his under-performance down to the candidate’s personal failings.  Instead what little support they had appears to have either decamped to LREM or stayed at home.

Last Sunday was just the first round – where the top two candidates (plus anyone who gets over 12.5% of the electoral roll) go through to a run-off this Sunday – but already the picture is clear.  Whilst LR finds itself likely reduced to a rump of 70 to 110 seats, the PS is almost completely wiped out, likely to secure only 20 to 30 seats.  The far left and far right also under-performed their Presidential scores.  The Greens will be totally absent from the chamber.  LREM will reign supreme with between 415 and 455 seats – way over the majority of 289 seats which a party needs to govern without other parties.

With perhaps as many as 43% of deputies being female, two thirds of deputies being first timers in the National Assembly, and a range of ethnic minorities present for the first time, this new parliament will be significantly different to any before.  But the political effects resulting from the LREM hegemony may be even more significant. Continue reading

The Debate

There is little evidence in previous French Presidential elections of the single debate between the two finalists having much effect on the result.  The debate in 2012 between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy seemed to confirm the result several days later – Sarkozy seemed already to have accepted that his defeat was inevitable.  In 2007, Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal never seemed to be a fair match, as Sarkozy rode high in the polls and in steering around Royal’s scattergun approach to the issues.

Wednesday night’s debate was very different.  Whilst in 2012 the debate was often dull and plodding, this debate offered some shocking moments.  It was sometimes difficult to hear the candidates over their shouting at each other.  The two moderators were largely ignored (and looked thoroughly miserable throughout.  This was not a great debate on the issues that we might have hoped for.  But, if the final polls released today are to be believed, it might have changed quite a few minds. Continue reading

Strategies: Part Two

The French electoral process is designed to whittle down a field of candidates to two finalists in a second round.  It is therefore odd that the second round campaign is full of speculation about the tactics of unlucky candidates who found themselves knocked out on the night of 23 April.

But speculation about the strategy of various political groupings who fall by the wayside has been rife.  Partly, this is because even rolling news channels can get sick of a diet of just Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but fundamentally the race for the Legislative elections, where the French will choose new members of the National Assembly on 11 and 18 June (yes, two rounds again), is hoving into view.  Whilst the President presides, his government needs to secure a majority in the National Assembly.  Who wins on 7 May is therefore only one piece of the constitutional puzzle. Continue reading

Strategies: Part One

The campaign for the second round is different to the first round, encapsulated by the expression: in the first round voters choose, in the second round voters eliminate. The first round often sees candidates pitch to their respective bases, hoping to get over 20% (at which point qualification to the second round becomes more likely); the second round, where 50.1% is needed to win, is often a campaign for national unity.  No electoral college nor first past the post constituency votes get in the way of the need to score a majority of the popular vote.

As a result, the second round can seem oddly disconnected from the first, an example being Nicolas Sarkozy’s unsuccessful second round campaign in 2012, where he lurched wildly to the right with speeches and policies that would not have been out of place in Marine Le Pen’s manifesto.  His rightward shift may have turned off a sufficient number of centrists and independents to hand victory to François Hollande.  Hollande’s job in 2012, once he had rallied the majority of the left to his cause (a job he did by March), was not to be Sarkozy.  Thus he was hobbled early on by a chunk of his support consisting of anti-Sarkozy protest votes.

This year, despite the top two finalists having been long predicted by the polls, there was an eerie sense of surprise and relief on the night of 23 April.  Macron’s stilted and overly confident speech and Le Pen’s brazen nationalism left many feeling unsettled.  The prospects for a real substantive debate during the two weeks allowed for the second round campaign seemed slim. Continue reading

20%

A candidate for the French presidency should not be able to win with 20% of the vote – the two round system is specifically designed to ensure that 50% plus one vote is the minimum threshold for the winner.  Yet 20% is the magic number this year, for any candidate above that in the first round held this coming Sunday will almost certainly go through to the second round two weeks later.  And if a candidate finds themselves against Marine Le Pen in the second round, they will probably be the next President.

For the last two weeks, four candidates have consistently polled around or above 20%, all of whom are currently within four percentage points of each other – effectively within a broad margin of error.  Who gets through out of the four is anyone’s guess only four days out.  How did we get here? Continue reading