What has been dubbed ‘the most unpredictable French presidential campaign in decades’ is gaining momentum. With less than three months to go until the first ballots will be cast, Lyon is the political capital of France this weekend as three candidates host events there.
They included the far-right leader of Le Front National (FN), Marine Le Pen; the ex-economy minister turned independent Emmanuel Macron and far-left leader Jean Luc Mélenchon.
Many in France fear the country will follow the populist trend sweeping the West and vote in far-right leader Marine Le Pen.The polls put Le Pen in the lead for the first round but Macron well ahead of her in the second. Given the failure of the pollsters to predict the election of Trump or Brexit, confidence in their forecasts are at an all-time low.
The man once believed to be best placed to beat Le Pen, Les Republicans’ candidate, Francois Fillon, is embroiled in a scandal for allegedly paying family members around 900,000 euros from the public purse for bogus jobs.
With the “conventional right” in disarray, leaving the door wide open for the FN, key figures on the left are courting the idea of working together.
Jean Luc Mélenchon is a long-standing fixture in left-wing politics. Once a member of the ruling Socialist Party, until its New-Labour-style shift to the centre, this year Mélenchon is standing “outside the party political framework” with a movement called “Unsubmissive France”.
When asked if he would be willing to work with the Socialist Party’s new candidate, Benoît Hamon, he said, “why not?” adding “If Hamon has the courage to do some cleaning up, anything is possible… I’m ready to talk about anything but not to seem to be repackaging old furniture” in a clear reference to the party’s increasingly unpopular ruling centrists.
Around 10,000 people attended Mélenchon’s campaign rally on Sunday (February 5), where he appeared simultaneously in Paris and Lyon thanks to a live hologram of himself. At the time of writing, the video of his event had been viewed 650,000 times on Facebook.
Meanwhile just a few kilometres away, Marine Le Pen was hammering home her anti-EU and anti-immigrant message to a crowd estimated at between 3,000 and 7,000.
She presented herself as “France and the people’s candidate” and capitalised on the Fillon scandal hoping to welcome his disillusioned voters into the fold. Le Pen promised to ‘shield’ France from globalisation. She published a 144-point plan in which she calls for a “Frexit” referendum and a tax on foreign workers. In what appears to be an admirative nod to Donald Trump, Le Pen announced : “In reality, I defend the walls of our society.”
The current favourite, Emmanuel Macron also made reference to walls at his rally on Saturday, announcing: “I don’t want a new wall. I can assure you, there will be no wall in my manifesto. We have European borders… and that is our real security”.
The Kremlin has officially launched a smear campaign against Emmanuel Macron to save François Fillon’s ratings. pic.twitter.com/LwvL9EXK9t— Anton Shekhovtsov (@A_SHEKH0VTS0V) February 5, 2017
The 39-year-old has enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity since he quit the government and launched his own movement called “onwards” last April. The party boasts an impressive 177,000 members already and ‘Macron-mania’ is sweeping France with some comparing him to a ‘rock star’.
Macron’s venue was at full-capacity with an 8,000-strong crowd while thousands more reportedly watched him live on screens. The former investment banker is the only centrist with a viable chance at the presidency. This has meant strong support for him from across the political spectrum. Explaining his appeal, one woman told euronews:
“Modernity, renewal, the chance to take the best of each party, without actually being a party. And that is exactly what his strength is.”
IfopOpinion</a> vague 3<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LePen?src=hash">#LePen</a> 25% +0,5<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Macron?src=hash">#Macron</a> 20,5% +0,5<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Fillon?src=hash">#Fillon</a> 18,5% -1,5<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Hamon?src=hash">#Hamon</a> 16,5% -0,5<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/M%C3%A9lenchon?src=hash">#Mélenchon</a> 10% +0,5<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bayrou?src=hash">#Bayrou</a> 4,5% +0,5</p>— mathieu gallard (mathieugallard) February 3, 2017
Though it is still early days in an unpredictable race, one thing is certain, with most struggling to gain 20 percent of the vote, two-party dominance in French politics is over.