On April 10, France will hold its first round of presidential elections. France has a semi-presidential system, where the president is elected every five years. Unless a candidate wins a majority in the first round, the top two candidates face off in a second round. Generally, many candidates run in the first round. This year’s presidential campaign, for instance, features 12 candidates.
Marine Le Pen: Absolute Leader of the Far-Right?
For the last five years, it seemed that “National Rally” leader Marine Le Pen had a high chance of making it to this election’s second round. Le Pen has been on somewhat of a streak since her second round loss in 2017. In the first round, she won 21.30% of the votes, placing her right behind Macron at 24.01%. On top of that, her party won the most seats in the 2019’s European parliamentary election, winning 23.34% of French votes.
Her party’s rise can be correlated to a recent increase in terrorist attacks on French soil, linked directly to jihadist groups such as ISIS. Since 2013, France has been the victim of various offensives, with their numbers increasing exponentially in 2015. This resulted in a wave of xenophobia and hate towards muslim citizens and migrants, which fueled right-wing populist political discourse. Marine Le Pen was key in propagating these narratives, which spread quickly amongst French voters.
This also coincided with the increasing influx of refugees arriving to Europe, following the war in Syria. The “National Rally” used this to create fear among parts of the French citizenry. The party portrayed these refugees as terrorists at worst, or as unemployed people leeching off French welfare at best. This helped them gain support, as it seemed many were dissatisfied with the current government’s relatively relaxed migration policies.
Another reason for the far-right’s rise can be found in the trends of increased globalization. As companies move their factories to countries with cheaper labor, more and more French workers feel abandoned by their government. This is where Marine Le Pen comes in. She reassures her electorate that she is there to listen to them, and will make sure that companies come back to France.
However, Le Pen was not the only one who benefitted from the far-right’s rise. Last November 30, French polemicist Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy for French President. A few days later, he started his own far right-party: “Reconquest”. Now, while Zemmour gradually gains support from Le Pen’s usual voters, many high profile members of the “National Rally” are defecting to his party.
Who is Eric Zemmour?
Before founding his own party, Zemmour was a political journalist for “Le Figaro”, as well as writer and panelist for the controversial media outlet: “Cnews”. It is the latter that made his name well-known in French society, as it gave him a platform to freely spread his opinions. Throughout the last few years, his statements on immigration and Islam in France boosted his popularity further. Zemmour has been accused of racial discrimination, and incitement of both discrimination and hate against the Muslim population in 2011 and 2018.
Additionally, the politician supports the conspiracy theory of the “great replacement,” which stipulates that the “French native population” will be replaced by non-European people by the end of the century. In fact, he previously explained that, France will become an “Islamic Republic” by the year 2100, with half of the French population being Muslim by 2050. His opponents called him out on these statistics on multiple occasions. For instance, during a televised debate on March 17, Green Party candidate Yannick Jadot accused Zemmour of using these numbers to scare the French population. Jadot claimed that a scared French electorate would vote based on fear, rather than logic. Zemmour’s statistics tend to focus on specific areas of the country, where the vast majority of inhabitants are foreign. Along with other French populists, the far-right candidate refers to these neighborhoods as “examples of separatism on French soil”.
Why is the Far-Right Fracturing, and What Could This mean for the Elections?
A few weeks after Zemmour officially declared that he was running, some of Le Pen’s key members left the “National Rally” to join him. Jérôme Rivière – a parliamentary representative in the EU – was the first to leave her on January 20. Soon after, he was joined by the famous lawyer Gilbert Collard, who had joined the party in 2012. Stéphane Ravier – a member of the “National Rally” for the last 30 years and its only senator – also left the party around the same time. Then, it was the turn of Nicolas Bay. This was a devastating blow to the party, as Bay was very well liked amongst their electorate. Throughout his career, he served as secretary-general, vice-president, and as a parliamentary representative at the EU, acting as Le Pen’s right-hand man. Last week, Zemmour caught his latest fish: Marion Maréchal Le Pen. Le Pen’s niece is also a highly influential member of the “National Rally.”
Le Monde’s Ivanne Trippenbach speculates that the way these members left is part of a strategic move by Zemmour. Rather than everyone leaving simultaneously, it seems that the “National Rally” is losing its members gradually. This makes Zemmour look like an attractive alternative, who is persuading members to leave Marine Le Pen on a regular basis. It could be said that the order in which the members left was also strategic. Indeed, it began with parliament members, then a senator, then their previous vice-president, and culminated with Le Pen’s own family.
What Pushed Them to Leave?
Last spring, when Eric Zemmour mentioned that he might want to run, Marine Le Pen decided to strengthen her position as “National Rally” leader by eliminating all dissenting voices within her party’s governing body. Some higher-up members fell victim to that decision. This was the case of Stéphane Ravier, who was not asked to join the executive committee last summer. The same can be said for Nicolas Bay. Many “National Rally” members saw this as Le Pen placing loyalty over competency. Eric Zemmour tapped into their disappointment to recruit these experienced, influential politicians.
What Does This Mean for the Elections?
According to several polls, incumbent President Macron is set to win the majority in the first round. IFOP (“French institute of public opinion”)’s poll predicts that Macron will win around 29% of the vote, followed by Marine Le Pen with 17.5%, then far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 13.5%. Eric Zemmour ends last on this predictive list with 13% of the estimated vote. Despite the strategy, it seems that Zemmour’s party cannot surpass the “National Rally” just yet…but polls cannot predict the future, of course.
Some journalists doubt that Zemmour’s “Reconquest” will end Le Pen’s “National Rally.” Indeed, they explain that the two parties almost echo another fracture in the “National Rally,” which emerged in 1998. At the time, Marine Le Pen’s father was head of the party. There were tensions between him and his right-hand man, Bruno Mégret, as he was gaining popularity. This resulted in him leaving the party and founding his own “National Republican Movement,” taking half of Le Pen Sr.’s executive body with him. The movement never gained as much momentum as the “National Rally”, disappearing after a few years. This similarity brings about the question: will “Reconquest” end up like the “National Republican Movement,” or will it gain enough momentum to replace the “National Rally” in the long-run? Only the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections will be able to shed some light on that.
French IE Students: How to Vote
Now, for those of us who wish to vote in the presidential elections but won’t be in France, here are the simple steps that need to be followed:
- You can get your “procuration” with the following link: https://www.maprocuration.gouv.fr/
- In order to complete it, you will need the full name of the person who will be voting for you, their date of birth, the city where they were born and, finally, in which city they usually vote
- Once the procuration is completed, you just have to take it to the French consulate and show it, along with your ID
- There is no need to make an appointment. However, there are specific times allocated for the procuration. For the consulate in Madrid, the times are the following:
- From Monday to Thursday: between 13:00 and 14:00, and then between 15:00 and 17:00
- On Fridays: between 9:00 and 13:15
Featured image by: The Times.