Amid scandals and the emergence of unexpected candidates, France is going to the polls this coming April, to choose the next President and decide the country’s future.
Although it is still early to consider surveys conclusive, right wing candidate Marine Le Pen and the youngest individual nominated, Emmanuel Macron, appear to be the favorites.
A recent poll cited by teleSUR, indicated that Le Pen would win in the first round, but that Macron would emerge victorious in the second with approximately 63% of the vote.
The Republican candidate Francois Fillon, and Benoît Hamon, nominated by the governing Socialist Party, would finish third and fourth respectively.
Marine Le Pen, from the National Front (FN), aspires to become the first woman to lead the country, and is putting forward a program “to return freedom to France, and to the French, the word.”
Her 144-point plan proposes a referendum to determine if France should leave the European Union – Frexit – and establish its “monetary, territorial, economic and legislative independence.”
Le Pen advocates limiting the rights of immigrants, restricting religious freedom, and pursuing economic nationalism, isolating the country from globalization.
Some experts note the similarities between the FN candidate’s proposals and those advocated by U.S. President Donald Trump, both in terms of anti-immigrant policies and economic protectionism.
In a press conference following Trump’s victory, La Pen stated, “The election of Donald Trump is good news for our country.”
Many fear a possible victory of the right wing candidate and its consequences for the future of the country. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls noted that the continuing advance of the right on the continent could lead to the demise of the European Union, adding that such a Presidency would “totally change the equilibrium of political life in France.”
On the other hand, Francois Fillon, nominated by the Republicans, and one of the favorites identified in early polls, has been pushed into the background following the PenelopeGate scandal.
According to the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné, Penelope Fillon, the center-right candidate’s spouse, received a hefty salary for allegedly serving as her husband’s parliamentary assistant, for 15 years.
An investigation into the issue was opened, now including the couple’s two sons, who were contracted as collaborators of then-Senator Fillon, well before they received their law degrees.
Despite all this, Fillon has not withdrawn from the Presidential race, insisting that he is a “viable candidate.”
Fillon, who served as Prime Minister during Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, has proposed a drastic cut in the number of government functionaries, the elimination of the 35-hour work week, and a reduction in immigration.
He advocates liberalizing the economy, cutting public spending, while increasing the defense and security budget.
The big winner emerging from the Fillon scandal is Emmanuel Macron, a candidate who holds the opinion that “the division between the left and the right has been overcome,” claiming to represent a political movement he himself launched: En Marche! (conveniently reflecting his initials, E.M.)
His government plans have not yet been fully explained, but it is known that he favors a more humane, effective policy on immigration, defends Muslims while denouncing Islamophobia, and proposes a revision of the country’s Labor Code.
During a speech in February, he commented that all French men and women alive today had seen the Berlin Wall fall, and will not forget that Europe has a past, stating, “In my program, there are no walls.”
Macron was appointed by current President Francois Hollande as Minister of the Economy in 2014, but resigned last year to devote himself to developing his Presidential platform, completed in April of 2016.
Also among the candidates is Benoît Hamon, nominated by the currently governing Socialist Party.
Hamon was Minister of Education for a period during Hollande’s administration, and his program is supported by most youth, given its social and environmentalist content.
The candidate proposes a cut in the work week to reduce unemployment, a new tax on companies automatizing production, and a guaranteed minimum income, considered his main selling point.
Hamon describes himself as Pro-Europe, in the face of advancing challenges to the EU, stating, “We need a Europe that better defends its citizens. The exterior borders of the EU must be reinforced, not the national ones. The cost is not much, given the threat of Marine Le Pen.”
Hamon has called on all representatives of the left in the nation to join together to construct a majority and form a social democratic government.
Although, if he is elected, Hamon will face the great challenge of reunifying the fractured Socialist Party, which has lost more than 60% of its members over the last decade.
Beyond the government proposals and plans, the new President of France will be obliged to deal with a country shaken, these past two years, by terrorist attacks which have kept the forces of public order, and residents, on edge.
THE FRENCH ELECTORAL SYSTEM
This coming April 23, the French will choose a new President via direct popular vote. If no candidate wins an absolute majority of over 50% in the first round, the two candidates with the highest votes will face off in a second round on May 7. The winner will serve as President for a five year term.
Following the Presidential voting, parliamentary elections will take place in June.