French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Vote

  • Socialists, center-right could both miss out on second round
  • Traditional parties hurt by poor records, constant infighting

Soc Gen's Juckes Sees Populists From Left and Right

The old order is fading in France.

Every election since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic more than half a century ago has seen at least one of the major parties in the presidential runoff and most have featured both. With Republicans and Socialists consumed by infighting and voters thoroughly fed up, polls suggest that neither will make it this year.

For the past month, survey after survey has projected a decider between Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old rookie who doesn’t even have a party behind him, and Marine Le Pen, who’s been ostracized throughout her career because of her party’s history of racism.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go with a certain way of doing politics,” said Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling company and author of a book on voters’ disillusionment. “Everyone feels the system is blocked.”

Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview with Le Monde Tuesday he may back Macron because he doesn’t “identify” with the more extreme platform put forward by his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon. De Gaulle’s latest standard-bearer Francois Fillon has spent the past week facing down rebellions in his party triggered by a criminal probe of his finances.

Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls hasn’t campaigned for Hamon since losing to him in the primary and Socialist President Francois Hollande hasn’t even endorsed his party’s candidate either. Instead, senior figures from the Socialist camp are endorsing Macron, with former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe the latest to offer his backing on Wednesday.

“There’s a breakdown of parties in France,” Francois Bayrou, a two-time centrist candidate who is now backing Macron, said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There are hostile battles between factions within each party, which has ruined the parties and ruined the image of politics.”

Years of Frustration

With Le Pen promising a rupture with the European Union and Macron seeking to renew the Franco-German partnership and reinvigorate the bloc, the decision voters reach will shape the future of the continent. 

The French elite is facing a wave of frustration built up over more than a decade of financial crisis, economic stagnation and political drift as successive governments failed to find a way forward for the country and the insurgents have tapped in to that anger.

Macron refuses to say if he’s from the left or the right, while picking up ideas -- and support -- from both sides. Le Pen says there’s no difference between the two traditional parties anyway. Both are capitalizing on trends that stretch far beyond France.

Center-left parties from the U.K. to Greece are struggling to bridge the gap between their core supporters’ views and the demands of a modern economy and, as a result, are either blamed for the failings of capitalism or marginalized by voters. Often both in succession.

Fillon, like counterparts in the U.K. and Germany, faces an anti-immigration rival to his right and has fallen victim to the changing attitudes to elite privilege like many officials in Spain’s People’s Party. Fillon admitted voters are no longer willing to accept that politicians hiring their relatives on public salaries as he tried to limit the damage from a criminal investigation into his wife’s allegedly fictitious post as a parliamentary aide. He said what he did was legal, but now unacceptable.

Tuesday’s daily OpinionWay poll showed Fillon five percentage points short of making the May 7 runoff at 20 percent, with the Socialist Hamon even further back at 16 percent. Le Pen and Macron were at 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, with Macron projected to beat Le Pen in the second round by 20 points.

Broad Appeal

Macron has emerged as the surprise front-runner by pulling in voters of all stripes. According to Ifop, 39 percent of those who normally support the Socialists, 59 percent of those who consider themselves centrists, and 14 percent of people who consider themselves to be on the right are supporting Macron.

Alice Parmentier, a former manager at a nuclear engineering company, was waiting to see Macron at Paris’s annual farm fair last week. “He’s young, dynamic, and is taking France into the 21st century,” she said. “We need a new generation, and I say that as a 72-year-old,” she said, adding that she used to vote for the Republicans.

The newcomers though will face challenges in governing if they win office from outside the political mainstream, since they’ll be unlikely to secure control of the parliament in June’s legislative elections. Drilling down into the polling numbers also suggests their lead may not be as solid as the headline numbers would indicate.

A Kantar Sofres survey for Le Monde released Tuesday said that 58 percent of the French see the National Front as a “danger to democracy,” up from 47 percent during the last presidential election in 2012.

And despite the excitement at his rallies across the country, only 49 percent of those saying they will vote Macron are sure of their choice, the lowest of any of the candidates, according to an Ifop poll March 7.

”Macron has benefited from the collapse of the others but he doesn’t have much momentum of his own,” Dominique Reynie, a professor at Sciences Po institute said on LCI television Monday.

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