The first round of voting is this Sunday so we’re reaching the final stages of the campaigns to be the next French president, but the politicking will continue until the runoff round of the legislative elections on 18 June. At this point it is probably worth doing a quick recap on what happens next as well as a round up of the state play.

  1. Assuming that no single candidate gets over 50% of the votes cast on Sunday there will be a runoff between the top two candidates two weeks later. There are four leading candidates (11 total) and none are expected to get more than 30% so, barring any really unexpected upsets, there are 6 possible run-off combinations (see more below) .
  2. While the president of France is very powerful he has to work with the legislative assembly and elections for that are in June. It is quite likely that the President’s party will not be the majority in the assembly and this will certainly limit the President’s ability to pass laws a majority of the deputies disagrees with (also see discussion below)

Round 1

Of the 11 candidates there are only 4 candidates that count. Le Pen, Fillon, Macron and Mélenchon who are respectively Far Right, Rightish, Leftish and (Dhimmi-) Communist. Opinion polls this year indicate that a large part of the electorate is uncommitted (or possibly unwilling to admit their preference to a pollster)

Opinion Polling for the French presidential election 2017 via wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_presidential_election,_2017 )

It is worth noting the rise of the commie Mélenchon versus the official socialist Hamon and the amazing poularity of Macron who came from nowhere with very little political history.

Candidate Platforms

In terms of who I’d want as president it goes: Fillon first then Macron then Le Pen then Mélenchon.

  1. Fillon promises to actually implement the “Thatcherite” reforms Sarkozy promised 10 years ago and didn’t do. If he has the guts to stand up to the bolshie unions and students (and I suspect he may do because he calculates that a majority of French people are sick of them) he’ll be able to deliver precisely the reforms that allowed the UK to excel in the 1980s.
  2. Macron promises some reforms but he’s probably lying because he appears to be a front for the énarques (as the graduates of the Ecole National d’Administration, the source of most of the top French bureaucrats and many politicians). Most likely he’ll be another Hollande (possibly rising to the level of Sarkozy), France doesn’t need that but it’s predictable in its gentle decline.
  3. Le Pen’s stated policies are essentially State-directed and Nationalistic (IMHO it more closely resembles Peronism or Francoism than Fascism/Nazism) but the chances of her managing to implement them are slim. More likely she causes chaos and that may not be a totally bad thing as it may be the only way that France (and the EU in general) can manage to actually reform. However the utter chaos could well involve mass riots and other disturbances not to mention a collapse in the Euro and global stock markets so one would probably prefer someone else.
  4. Mélenchon is an Islamic sympathizing communist. You are invited to guess how bad that would be, although as with Le Pen he probably wouldn’t be able to implement as much of his stated policies as he’d like.

One key element is the attitude of the candidates to the large Muslim minority in France and the reaction to the various Islamic inspired terrorist events. Le Pen is undoubtedly the most stridently anti-Islam candidate and Mélenchon the most pro Islam one. These attitudes were on clear display in recent coverage of a cafe that reportedly bans women in a heavily immigrant suburb. Macron appears to me (and I think to most people in France) as far softer on terrorism and Islamic activism than Fillon and both are somewhere between the other two. This may turn out to be critical since the French authorities just stopped an attack that is reported to have been targeted on Fillon and the fact that the bad guys went after him may suggest that he’s a perceived as a greater threat and hence better for the rest of the French population.

The Run Off

It looks like the second round runoff will be Macron vs Le Pen and the smart money says Macron wins but no one knows for sure. If that’s the run off then I suspect a number of Fillon voters will prefer Le Pen for all sorts of reasons including the fact that Macron looks like an establishment plant and that the establishment almost certainly leaked the documents that helped torpedo Fillon’s campaign. Another key could well be Macron’s attitudes to Jews and Israel (he’s a lot less sympathetic than Fillon or Le Pen) and the afore-mentioned perception of toughness in handling the threat of Islamic terror. Whether that will be enough I don’t know but I wouldn’t bet against Le Pen, especially if there is a terrorist “incident” and Macron comes across as wobbly.

You can be absolutely sure that Le Pen will be vilified by absolutely everyone in the establishment if she makes it through but this may actually help her since one thing the opinion polls are absolutely certain of is that the French want change and the implication will be that Macron is the (unchanging) establishment. It is quite possible to imagine Le Pen also attracting protest votes from all sides including from the far left (though this is more likely in a Fillon vs Le Pen run off) as well as Fillon voters and that the number of these will be sufficient to beat Macron.

My rational side wants Macon to win such a run off but I can understand emotionally why one would vote Le Pen. In a Macron vs Le Pen run off I am hesitant to go with the conventional wisdom that Macron wins by a landslide.

If it’s Fillon – Le Pen then Fillon will almost certainly win and IMHO that would be the best bet for the France. Fillon will certainly be able to gather the establishment forces and convince most of the non-far left to vote for him in a reprise of the Chirac-Le Pen (pere) run off 15 years ago. He can probably even make use of the same slogan: «Votez escroc, pas facho!»

The conventional establishment probably hopes for Fillon – Macron and in that case I hope Fillon would win but wouldn’t bet on it. Fillon would probably get most Le Pen supporters who show up to vote but I would not be surprised if a lot stayed home and sulked. Macron would probably get most of the votes from the other left of center candidates and against Fillon that could be enough to win.

In the various Mélenchon run offs the only one that would be hard to call would be Le Pen vs Mélenchon. That would be a case of pick your poison, aka a complete catastrophe, but in such a case you want Le Pen not Mélenchon and I suspect the majority of the electorate would agree. In the other two the non Mélenchon candidate would almost certainly win

So in summary, if Macron gets to the run off he has a very good chance of winning but his best chance is against Mélenchon and then Le Pen with Fillon being the closest. Fillon, if he gets through has to hope his opponent is not Macron. Le Pen, if she gets through hopes her opponent isn’t Fillon. I don’t see a way that Mélenchon prevails in the run off.

The National Assembly

As noted at the start, in addition to the presidential vote there are also Assembly elections in June. Normally the party leader with the largest number of assembly delegates is asked by the president to be Prime Minister and form the government although party loyalty tends not to be absolute and Presidents have considerable discretion. Given the collapse of the socialists and the failure to date of the National Front to win assembly seats, it is highly likely that whatever happens in the presidential poll the largest party in the Assembly will be Fillon’s center-right Republicans and close allies. In the event of a Fillon victory in the Presidential race this should lead to a straightforward situation where the Republicans form the government. However if anyone else wins things get complicated.

Lets start with the least likely: a Mélenchon victory. In that case we get “cohabitation” similar to the Mitterand-Chirac times of the 1980s. This is likely to result in gridlock and not be good for France but it is probably better than Mélenchon being able to form a government with a Socialist/Communist coalition and actually implement his policies.

Then there’s a Le Pen presidency. If Le Pen makes it then that will probably mean that the FN get more than the current handful of seats but it is unlikely that she’ll get enough to have anything like a majority, so either she’ll have to convince some deputies to work with her or she’ll do the cohabitation thing with, presumably, the Republicans. This is probably also going to be gridlock in most respects although it’s going to be gridlock with possible riots.

On the other hand riots seem likely no matter who comes to power because the French like riots and other similar kinds of protest.

Finally there’s the Macron victory. As with Le Pen Macron is likely to have very few deputies from his own party (En Marche!) but he may have enough that he can convince the Republicans to go into some kinds of unity coalition. Or he may manage to get the socialists and other lefties to form a coalition and get a few defectors. As I noted in my previous post, he’s seen a bunch of people from all major parties make friendly overturnes and/or join his new organization. I suspect he’ll end up with some kind of grand coalition of the center and that coalition will end up doing absolutely no useful reform because some part of the coalition will oppose every reform. This means stagnation in the near term and that in 2022 we will see (probably) a President Le Pen winning in the first round and forming an FN government.