France goes to the polls marked by the rise of the right and the war in Ukraine

Macron arrives as a favorite against a group that includes for the first time two far-rightists with options

France faces elections this Sunday that will mark its political future — and to a large extent that of Europe — for the next few years. It will be the first stop in a broader electoral process that comes preceded by an unprecedented rise of the extreme right and the military offensive launched by Russia on Ukraine at the end of February.

The first round of the presidential elections confronts the current tenant of the Elysee, Emmanuel Macron, with a list of more than a dozen candidates. In this group, three candidates from the right of the political spectrum stand out –Marine Le Pen (National Group), Éric Zemmour (Reconquest) and Valérie Pecresse (The Republicans)– and, to a lesser extent, a leftist –Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France)–.

Macron is no longer the newcomer who blew up the traditional parties in 2017 with a newly minted movement, La República en Marcha, which would eventually end up dominating the parliamentary arena as well. He now presents himself with the endorsement of the five years that have elapsed and with the message that there are still things to be done, even setting himself up as a leader within the EU as well.

The announcement of his candidacy, in fact, was delayed first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by the start of the war in Ukraine, in such a way that it did not arrive until a few hours before the deadline. His clear messages against Moscow and his mediation efforts seem to have pleased a large part of the electorate, a kind of ‘flag effect’ that draws voters to side with the leader in times of crisis.

THE FAR RIGHT, PROTAGONIST

The polls place him as the favorite, but the French electoral system does not allow anything to be taken for granted. Thus, except for surprises, Macron will prevail in the first round, since he has a consolidated voting intention of even above 25 percent, but it remains to be seen who will accompany him on the ballot two weeks later, on April 24.

Le Pen, who already achieved the long-awaited face-to-face with Macron in the 2017 elections, is ‘a priori’ the best positioned candidate. She is not a newcomer either and has suggested that this will be her last attempt to reach the Elysee, for which she hopes to take advantage of an electorate apparently more tilted towards right-wing positions and a blurred left threatened by abstention.

Having abandoned radical positions such as leaving the EU and the euro, its main challenge in improving its image in recent months has been to get rid of the shadow of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has gone from being his ally I confess to the elephant in the room. Rally National destroyed thousands of flyers for an image of Le Pen and Putin together, shaking hands.

Le Pen has established herself in the polls as a second option after an initial phase in which she was directly affected by the eruption of Hurricane Zemmour. This journalist hardened in social gatherings at the stroke of controversy aspires to govern with a program even more tilted to the right than that of Le Pen, which has even contributed to soften the image of the latter.

Zemmour already made it clear when announcing his candidacy that he wanted to “save” France in the style of the great historical leaders and his messages have included xenophobic statements that, according to Macron, have contributed to generating a kind of “tandem” of the extreme right in a France where anything can happen now.

THE OTHER CANDIDATES

The list of presidential candidates also includes the name of Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region and winner of a primary process with which the Republicans managed to mobilize a center-right that went from ruling the country until 2012 to a journey for the desert that it has managed to support due to the weight it still bears at the regional and local level.

Pécresse has lost some steam in this final stretch of the campaign, but the polls see her as a candidate with viable options to defeat Macron if she goes to the second round, given that the current president could not argue that he is the option of the State against hypothetical more radical rivals such as Le Pen or Zemmour.

Mélenchon, for his part, is again running for the presidency with the aim of causing a surprise and attracting the useful vote of the French left. Not surprisingly, he is the favorite candidate of this political spectrum in the polls, in which the mayor of Paris, the socialist Anne Hidalgo, appears with meager percentages.

Hidalgo has accused Macron of giving wings to the extreme right in search of his own benefit, an idea that the president tries to get rid of. “People choose in the first round the project with which they feel closest. The time for debate and project-by-project confrontation will be in the second round,” he declared this Friday on RTL.

ELECTORAL PROCESS

Polling stations will open in mainland France at 8 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. generally. In the overseas territories, the elections are called a day earlier, on Saturday, April 9, to prevent their data from delaying the final count due to the difference in time zones, and results can already be known on Sunday night.

In total, more than 48 million people are called to participate in a process that will mark a starting point for the general renewal of the institutions in France. In June, the country will hold legislative elections, already by then with Macron in his second term or with a new president opening accommodation in the Elysee.

By Editor

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