Jonathan Miller

French election: Macron has been weakened

And France is divided

French election: Macron has been weakened
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The polls have closed in France and projections show President Macron on 28.5 per cent with the rightist Marine Le Pen on 24.6 per cent. The ultra-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon is in third place on 20.3 per cent and is thus eliminated from round two on 24 April.

The result looks dangerous for Macron. The nationalist right has never been so close to power. The President will now attempt to assemble a ‘Republican Front’ against Le Pen. He’s got what he always wanted: Le Pen as his opponent in the second round. But the result shows that his support is narrow.

The rest of the field is distant. A cold shower for Valérie Pécresse on 4.8 per cent, candidate of the Républicans; humiliation for Anne Hidalgo, a miserable 1.9 per cent for the Paris mayor who represented the once-mighty Socialist party; insurgent Éric Zemmour in fourth place but on a terrible 7 per cent. Speaking to his adoring supporters this evening he endorsed Le Pen in the second round. Perhaps not insignificant as he beat both the Socialists and Républicains and may have realigned the dynamics of French politics by making Le Pen appear more moderate.

Pécresse has called on her supporters to vote for Macron in the second round – but they are not that numerous. Mélenchon’s voters may hold the balance. On TV tonight he was as cocky as ever, promising a ‘new phase’ of combat, and refusing to endorse Macron but demanding his supporters give ‘not one vote for Le Pen’ in the second round. It remains to be seen if his voters are so disciplined to take his advice.

The results still suggest that Macron is likely to be re-elected but by nothing like the 64 per cent to 34 per cent margin of his 2017 victory over Le Pen. His coattails look short. He’s unlikely to emerge from the forthcoming National Assembly elections with a presidential majority. Marine Le Pen as good as declared victory this evening in a speech to swooning supporters. 

President Macron appeared this evening to declare victory in a very brief speech lacking much dynamism and not apparently inspiring even his own militants. A new poll this evening put him ahead of Marine Le Pen in the second round by just 51 per cent  to 49 per cent. Macron, who barely campaigned in the first round, is unlikely to be so detached in the second. He immediately indicated that his campaign will now focus on the danger of the ‘extreme right’ represented by Marine Le Pen.

But will the Republican Front hold? The key may be the abstentionists who stayed away from the polls today – 35 per cent of voters stayed away, the highest abstention since 2002. Macron’s challenge is to persuade them to vote for him in round two. Even with the endorsement for round two of the Socialist party and Les Républicains, the Greens and much of the media, he is much more exposed than he’d wish.

If a week is a long time in politics, the fortnight remaining to round two is an eternity. Much may now depend on next Sunday’s televised debate between Macron and Le Pen. He wiped the floor with her in 2017 but is unlikely to find his opponent such a pushover this time. I’m still thinking that Macron will ultimately prevail but as a reduced figure with a project he cannot implement. Tonight, France looks horribly divided and Macron weakened in his ambition to lead Europe, with 72 per cent of voters rejecting him in the first round. Jupiter has been decisively pushed off Mount Olympus.

Written byJonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller, who lives in Montpellier, is the author of ‘France, a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (Gibson Square). His Twitter handle is: @lefoudubaron

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