20 | ENE | 2019

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Supporters of François Fillon cover posters of Emmanuel Macron prior to the first electoral round for the French presidency 2017- Photo: Bob Edme/AP

The anti-establishment vote

Jerónimo Andreu/Correspondent
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France calls for a political regeneration at any cost, “We have witnessed a very meager debate, with no word on the current crisis of the European Union nor of the real problems that lash against France.”

The world expected to be part of the perfect celebration. Bearing witness to the exemplary demonstration of the vigor of Republican values in France seemed to be the best remedy to escape any authoritarian temptation, the Russian strain, and Euroscepticism. However, the outcome of the General Election in France has been, unexpectedly, quite the opposite.

The French electoral campaign of 2017 came to an abrupt end last Thursday evening, a day ahead of schedule, as a consequence of the jihadist attack in Champs Elysees where a police officer was killed. Somehow, the malaise had manifested itself much earlier, since the morass of corruption scandals that hit the establishment candidates, at early stages of the run for the French presidency, and which fuelled the far right and far left ambitions, respectively.

France calls for a political regeneration at any cost, “We have witnessed a very meagre debate, with no word on the current crisis of the European Union nor of the real problems that lash against France; we’ve heard nothing but Penelopegate”, says Carine Marcé, Associate Director of global social research company Kantar Public.

Penelopegate” hit centre-right Gaullist candidate François Fillon, after allegations that his wife, Penelope Fillon, received payment for “fake jobs” while in the French General Assembly. Before the scandal, Fillon was a clear favorite to win the second round of elections against the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.

For René Dosière, a socialist congressmen specialized in the control of public expenses, this political morass reflects change and regeneration:“This shows how French democracy is perfecting its detection mechanisms against corruption practices.”

Dosière notes how the approval of anti-corruption laws in recent years allowed for the exposure of Fillon corrupt practices:“We are talking about transparency practices that have enabled journalistic and judicial investigation, as well as raising public awareness on the matter. In the past, these scandals would have been dismissed without any further explanations.”

French susceptibility to such display of corruption, plus its candidates' devotion to the presidential seat have been the perfect environment for an unpredictable political campaign. As soon as a candidate has positioned itself in the lead, the polls have quickly provided a sound reality check. Take Emmanuel Macron, who burst in as a hurricane in the run for the French presidency, and whose hesitation in the political debates has decreased his chances significantly.

With a far-left project and keen on dismantling the European Union as we know it, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has positioned himself in the lead, both in the polls and in the public eye, during the final stretch of the French presidential race, as a result of the anti-establishment perception that prevails in French electorate, “Establishment flagships have lost the primaries within their parties, take centre-right, Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Manuel Valls; at present, all anti-establishment proposals have better chances of success.”, says Ignacio Molina from the Elcano Royal Institute.

Anyone who moves on to the second round of elections against Le Pen will have to rely on the support of all far-right opponents in what it has come to be known as the “Republican Front”, the same cordon sanitaire that enabled Jacques Chirac to win against Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002.

Despite the fact that 58% of the French electorate considers Marie Le Pen’s National Front a serious threat to democracy, recent corruption scandals could change the electorate views and turn them into extreme displays of discontent at the presidential ballot box.

Should Le Pen or Mélenchon be defeated, Europe will buy precious time to wait for the Brexit turmoil to pass in the hope that public discontent with the sitting political class dispels.



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