I’m only just coming to terms with the results of last year’s American elections and now I find myself having small panic attacks over the upcoming French elections. I’m an expat living in Paris, proudly holding a French passport, which means my vote counts towards who will be the country’s next President. If I seemed obsessed watching politics in the US, I am now hypnotized by how the French campaign is unfurling. You can’t write better scripts these days for political intrigue and global upheaval. It seems as if pollsters and pundits around the world dole out wrongful predictions as easily as a bad weather forecast.
Remember the last French presidential elections when Socialist candidate and economic genius Dominique Strauss Khan was expected to be a shoo-in? Doesn’t ring a bell? Let me rephrase that. Remember the former French head of the International Monetary Fund who was accused of raping a maid in his New York hotel room? Now who could have seen that coming?
2017 is just as unpredictable but in a different way. This year, I feel my vote is particularly important and that whoever wins will have considerable impact on my family and myself living in France. Although there are 11 candidates in the running, the race boils down to two persons: Marine Le Pen representing the alt-right Front National, and whoever squeaks through the first round of voting on April 23rd to face-off with her. So what’s at stake?
THE TOP FIVE CANDIDATES:
Marine Le Pen – No Madame Le Trump
When I first arrived in France, I read all about Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right Front National (FN) party, built on an anti-immigration platform, and who repeatedly reduced the holocaust to a “small detail of history”. Le Pen’s popularity peaked in 2002 when he got through to the second round of the presidential election to face former President Jacques Chirac. French voters scrambled to the polls and rallied in the runoff to elect Chirac with a resounding 78 per cent of the vote.
Today, his daughter, Marine Le Pen, has a solid base of 24% of voters and hovers as one of the frontrunners in the polls. A former lawyer, she is extraordinarily eloquent, even poetic, as she speaks about governing “in the name of the people.”
She has successfully undemonized the FN by convincing her populist base that only the French can decide and control their destiny. If she wins, she advocates holding a referendum on France leaving the EU, getting rid of the Euro, abandoning NATO, closing the borders, deporting illegals and taxing foreigners for using French schools and social services.
In fact, I once heard her say in a speech that foreigners should even be taxed for walking on French soil. I know if Madame Le Pen wins, I will have to give up one of my two nationalities to live in France.
Some American media have dubbed her Madame Trump but they are wrong to do so. Marine Le Pen’s populist support existed long before the birth of the Tea Party movement. Her economic policies don’t resemble conservative America’s approach to small government and free markets. The FN President believes in federal price controls on basic food products such as flour and butter to feed all French people. Madame Le Pen needs no lessons from Mr. Trump or America on how she plans to make France great again.
Francois Fillon – “Mr. Clean” who is completely tarnished
The former Prime Minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s government won the candidacy of his Republicain party hands down last fall. Long seen as a man of integrity and experience with leadership skills, Francois Fillon was expected to stop Marine Le Pen from gaining any new conservative votes and win the presidency with the support of frustrated and disappointed left-wing Socialist voters. Not so fast.
The presidential candidate is now under formal investigation for creating false employment for his family to collect public funds and accused of accepting expensive suits and luxury watches. The charges have flipped his clean image inside out, creating moral outrage from the press, opposition and supporters.
People in his campaign jump ship daily, yet the beleaguered captain is clinging to his sinking vessel. You’ve got to admire politicians today for the incredible thick skin they wear to weather these ugly accusations.
Still, his loyal conservative base stands firmly behind him. He has after all apologized for any misconceptions, and he did return the fancy suits. The embattled politician has a solid economic program, tough immigration plans to reassure a population faced with a constant terrorist threat, and his Catholic background appeals to traditional voters when he argues against abortion and gay marriages.
Emmanual Macron – A French Obama
He’s never been elected to office, but this 39-year old former banker has already served as Finance Minister in President Hollande’s government and now has created his own political party En-Marche. Plus, topping the volatile polls, he’s touted to be THE candidate most likely to defeat Marine Le Pen.
For the longest time, Emmanuel Macron had no real program but pushed heavily a desire to bring the right, left and center together. A pro-business candidate, his financial background means reform is in the picture for big, small and independent business. His youth means he has no dirty baggage or any kind of political record to dredge up.
He’s charismatic, dynamic and a fresh face. His devoted wife is 24 years older than him and he’s proud of their partnership. A modern man – independent, unorthodox, optimistic and pragmatic – in these troubling times.
His press spokesperson calls him “the French Obama.”
I’m not sure why. But if elected, like Obama, will he be able to appease factions and live up to everyone’s expectations?
Benoit Hamon – Standing alone
He’s a Socialist standing alone. Even Prime Minister Manuel Valls has abandoned his former Education Minister and several of the government’s ministers have declared support for the upstart Emmanuel Macron. This is what you get for being a staunch rebel in your own party. Yet, Benoit Hamon holds his head high and upholds strong Socialist values.
Hamon wants to reduce the working week from 35 to 32 hours, levy a tax on robots and provide a monthly universal basic income for 18 to 25-year-olds that will then be extended to all French people. He is pro-immigration and pro-action on climate change.
Still, he can’t expect full Socialist solidarity after an abysmal Socialist presidency under Francois Hollande.
Left wing and liberal votes are flocking to the hard left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is backed by the Communist Party. The feisty anti-capitalist is an inspiring orator who appeals to workers and the young. Mélenchon advocates a non-violent citizen’s revolution and his popularity has soared in recent days.
Political change is in the air
It’s often said that for change to actually happen in France, it needs a revolution. French voters today are fed up with establishment, too. They’re tired of the false promises, the corruption, elitism and stagnation.
There’s concern that with 11 candidates to choose from, the first round of voting will be so split that the country could be in for a major surprise. Having witnessed the BREXIT vote and the election of Donald Trump, French voters, including myself, realize how important it is to go to the urns this year and make a wise, calculated choice.
Hopefully, my vote will make a difference. It’s a nailbiter. And if I can’t live with the results, I suppose I can always go back home to Canada where a young Prime Minister called Justin Trudeau seems, so far, too good to be true.