Testing populism in the Fifth Republic

Apr 27th, 2017 | By | Category: 2016-2017, Opinions

By Quinlyn Manfull
Staff Writer

The two front runners in France’s most consequential vote in recent history are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. This election is not only influential for France and its future, but also the future of the European Union, and will give us insightas to just how popular this Trump form of populism can be.

This outcome — with two party outsiders in the lead — is extraordinary. This is the first time in modern French history that the second round of French elections, to occur on May 7, will not include a candidate from either of the two main political families that have held the Presidency since the Fifth Republic was established in 1958 — the Socialists and the Republicans.

Voter turnout was around 80 percent this past weekend, showing how immensely popular these extremely polarizing parties are. Le Pen, from the National Front (FN) is running on a Trump-esque nationalism: Le Pen vows to hold a referendum to remove France from the European Union, introduce protectionist trade barriers, tax firms who hire foreigners, strengthen ties with Russia and stop immigration.

Macron set up his party, En Marche!, just a year ago. His party’s campaign was all about maintaining a liberal world order and keeping France in the center of it. He wants to reinforce ties with Germany, maintain trade agreements, build cross-party support in order to “unblock” France’s economy and support transatlantic alliances.

Macron came in first this Sunday with 23.7 percent of the vote. He is polling 20 points ahead of Le Pen in a head to head election because of the likelihood of pulling voters from the center-right and far left in order to keep Le Pen out of office.

This victory is impressive not just because of the high level of support for outside parties, but because of how new the leading party is. Macron, 39, has never stood for elected office and his party has never gone through an election. His far-left party has shifted France’s political map completely.

Republicans in France thought this election was in the bag and Socialists are heavily disappointed — Hamon came in with a dismal 6.2 percent of the vote. Neither of the reigning parties are popular this cycle in any regard.

Anti-establishment is winning on both sides of the aisle — only insofar as Macron is not from an earlier established party and most of his views fall in line with most standard Socialists. This begs the question of whether anti-establishment needs nationalism or if it just needs to not be a political dynasty.

Although no poll has put Le Pen winning the general election in two weeks, she should still consider this second place a win. She has spent recent years trying to ride the National Front of her father’s toxic legacy. True populism is represented in the FN now that she has spent time disassociating from the elites and calling herself a candidate of the people.

From Brexit to Trump, I have been confident on the day before an election, and then heartbroken that evening. I sincerely hope that France will be the first country in this trend to fulfill my expectations and refuse to succumb to nationalist xenophobia.

Trump has always viewed his victory as a part of the global trend of populism, not just in the UK, but with the far-right parties gaining support in Austria, the Netherlands, Greece and even Germany.

May 7 will be the test of France’s future and will determine the future of the EU. It will be time to see if a Western Liberal Democracy can withstand a populist rise, defy the trend and keep its liberal goals in mind.


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