If we might borrow from Thomas Paine: These are, indeed, times that try men’s souls.
A disquiet, a sort of mass angst, seems to have settled over much of Europe just as in the United States. Three of the four great democracies have chosen to roll the dice rather than depend on tried and true establishment politicians and policies. Polls in the fourth great democracy, Germany, have gyrated back and forth, although Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has been gaining strength in recent polls.
Refugee and Immigration issues have weighed heavily throughout the European Union and voter preferences are hyper sensitive to terrorist attacks and to the type of outrages that occurred in Cologne and other German cities a year ago when women were attacked by gangs of Arabic-speaking refugees. The sane world is holding its breath, hoping the final May 7th election in France won’t be whip-sawed by a mad-man shouting Allahu Akbar.
Also, roiling voters, especially in the United States and Great Britain has been the ever-increasing centralization of power. Tens of millions of American have become fed-up with Washington, just as millions of Brits have had it with the constant flow of dictates from Brussels.
Right now, all eyes are on France. Nearly half of French voters cast their votes this week for candidates whose main appeal is that they’re ardently anti-establishment. Emmanuel Macron’s claim to fame is, essentially, that he’s never been elected to anything. He even had to create his own political party in order to run.
And Marine Le Pen, well, she’s a piece of work who has waited, perhaps impatiently, for just such a national angst to make a serious dash for the presidency. Le Pen, and her bizarre father, Jean-Marie Le Pen have been odd fixtures in French politics for a long time. Marine broke with her father who founded the anti-immigrant National Front forty-five years ago. While she has tried to distance herself from papa’s fame as a holocaust denier, France’s Muslims and Jews will unite behind Macron, just to keep a Le Pen from stepping foot in the Élysée Palace. We suppose that’s a good thing.
Over half of French voters cast their ballots for neither Macron nor Le Pen so there is apt to be widespread discontent no matter who wins the May 7th tally. Already, there have been violent protests at, of course, the Place de la Bastille by demonstrators who do not like the idea of either Macron nor Le Pen becoming their next president. Other protests erupted after the election at the Place de la Republicque as well.
We expect that Emmanuel Macron will become the next President of France, if for no other reason, than because every other political party will campaign for him rather than see Marine Le Pen ascend to the presidency.
While all of the current attention is focused on the second-round elections to be held on May 7th, the real fly in the ointment may prove to be the legislative elections that follow a month later. A French President without most the parliament behind him or her is in a decidedly weak position. Such an outcome is not only feasible, but it seems to us probable. Neither Le Pen nor Macron have much of party machine behind them, so the June legislative election looms very large. Without a majority of legislators in his or her corner, the new president could be a very crippled chief executive at the Élysée Palace, and that could utterly paralyze the French system of government. Sound familiar?
Le Pen’s party, the National Front, has never done well winning elections at the legislative, or local, level. While Le Pen has developed a following of sorts, the National Front has elected only two deputies in the 577 member National Assembly. This could make governing extremely difficult should Le Pen ascend to the presidency.
Macron doesn’t seem to be in much better shape. He split from the Socialist party to run for president and created his own party, En Marche or “the movement.” En Marche, has never run a single candidate in any election before, either national or local.
Arguably, the fact that the legislative elections take place well after the presidential election might give whoever is elected president time to rally support for local candidates who support their candidacy, but that looks, to us, unlikely. Local politics in France are, well, very local, and neither Le Pen nor Macron have a well-disciplined party apparatus working for them at the local level. If neither Le Pen nor Macron can rally support for local candidates who support them in the few weeks following the May 7th presidential election, the President of France could be what the revered Polish hero Field Marshal Jozef Pilsudsky once called the Polish Presidency a hundred years ago— “a bird in a gilded cage.”
Regardless of the outcome of the May 7th election we expect rough sailing in France for the foreseeable future. Stability on the continent may prove elusive for years to come, and that’s not good for anyone.
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