By Ingrid Melander
PARIS – The French vote on Sunday in the first round of a presidential election that will determine who runs the European Union’s second-largest economy, and its only member with a permanent U.N. Security Council seat, as war rages on the bloc’s doorstep.
The incumbent, President Emmanuel Macron, is the favourite in opinion polls. But his projected margin of victory is much narrower than when he was elected in 2017 and he is facing stiff competition from the far-right’s Marine Le Pen.
Even if he succeeds, a narrow win could bode ill for his capacity to implement reforms, not the least because Macron’s centrist La Republique en Marche (LaRem) party could then struggle to win a parliamentary election in June.
* WHAT IS THEELECTIONFOUGHTOVER?
- Opinion polls show purchasing power is voters’ top concern, amid a huge increase in energy prices and growing inflation. Le Pen has successfully focused her campaign on that.
- The election campaign started amid the war in Ukraine. Polls showed an initial boost for Macron, but that has waned.
- The economy. Surveys show voters are unhappy with Macron’s economic policy, but unemployment is at its lowest level in years and those polled don’t think any of his opponents would do better.
- How Macron handled the coronavirus pandemic could also play a role, at a time when restrictions have been largely lifted but the number of COVID-19 cases is growing again.
* WHAT TO WATCHFOR:
- Voter uncertainty. Opinion polls show many are unsure who they will vote for, and turnout could well be much lower than usual, adding more uncertainty.
- Can there be a major surprise? Polls have for weeks consistently pointed to Macron leading the first round ahead of Le Pen, with both qualifying for a run-off. The far-left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon polls third, a few points behind Le Pen.
- How big a gap there is between the top two candidates in the first round.
- Deals before a second round: will the far-right’s Eric Zemmour rally behind Le Pen? Is the “republican front” where all would back a mainstream candidate against the far-right a thing of the past?
* WHYDOES IT MATTER?
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves through Europe and beyond. The winner of France’s election will have to deal with the fallout.
- Now that Britain has left the EU, France is the bloc’s main military power. It’s also the undisputed second-biggest economy in the EU, and Angela Merkel’s exit as German chancellor has given Macron a more prominent role in Europe.
- The next French president will face soaring public deficits to tackle the impact of the pandemic, a pension system many say needs reforming, and moves to re-industrialise France.
- The political landscape is still feeling the shockwaves from Macron’s 2017 election, and the reconstruction of both the right and the left will very much depend on how the presidential and parliamentary elections pan out.
* KEYDATES https://www.vie-publique.fr/en-bref/283138-election-presidentielle-2022-les-dates-cles
April 10 – Presidential election first round
April 24 – Second round held between the top two candidates.
May 13 – The latest day the new president takes office.
June 12 and 19 – Parliamentary election.