With local and mayoral election results coming in over the course of today and a General Election in a month’s time, it’s easy to forget about elections happening across the Channel. But on Sunday, voters in France return to polling stations to cast their votes in the final round of the French Presidential election: a vote that could also have serious ramifications for the future of the UK.
For the first time in modern French history, the two final candidates are not from an established mainstream party, after knocking out candidates from the two political groups – the Socialists and the Republicans – that have held the French presidency for the last 60 years.
The selection of far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron as the final two candidates presents voters with a stark choice in differing world views. Patriotic Le Pen is spreading a nationalist message: vowing to hold a referendum on France’s membership of the EU, promising to close France’s borders and introducing protectionist trade barriers. On the other hand, Macron presents himself as the progressive candidate. He is fiercely pro-European, expressing a desire to reinforce ties with Germany and keep France part of the global trading system. As such, a win for Macron will be hailed as evidence that pro-European liberalism can still triumph over populism and nationalism.
In the first round, Macron received 23.8% of the vote, with Le Pen on 21.5%. Following the elimination of centre-right François Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, both said they would vote for Macron in order to defeat Le Pen, encouraging their voters to do the same. Despite far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon leaving his intentions ambiguous and an anti-Macron campaign encouraging abstention on polling day, second round predictions since then have consistently suggested Macron will receive around 60% of the vote, with Le Pen tailing behind on 40%.
Following the final TV debate that took place this week, after which French media and viewers declared Macron the winner, polls showed Macron had received a boost, on track to win 62% of the vote compared to 38% for Le Pen. It is also worth noting that unlike some high-profile failures in other countries’ recent elections, the French polls proved accurate in the first round.
In the new Brexit and Trump world order, we are often told that it is wise to expect the unexpected. But in France’s case, it seems it would take a pretty big upset to prevent a Macron victory on Sunday.
Having said this, Marine Le Pen’s achievement should not be understated: with a first-round score of 7.7m votes, she has already set a historic record for the National Front. Whether her party has peaked – much like UKIP in the UK, who after a historic number of votes in the 2015 General Election, have been all but wiped out in today’s local elections – or whether the time for populism in France is not yet over remains to be seen.
And with the lowest score for a leading first round candidate since 2002, Macron is going to inherit a divided country. Winning the election is just the first hurdle in his quick rise to the top of French politics.