French presidential election: An earthquake? Yes and no

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Manifestation of France Insoumise with Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 18 March
By Maxime Benatouil April 27, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Transform Network — After the predicted but non-the-less spectacular result of the first round of the presidential election, on the left urgent questions are burning each and everyone’s lips: what shall we do in two weeks? Going for Emmanuel Macron to make sure that Marine Le Pen looses? Abstaining from voting, thus taking the risk to see her move in the Élysée Palace? Would not five years of ‘more of the same’ politics be ultimately leading to the victory of the far-right in 2022? The French Communist Party has decided, without mentioning Emmanuel Macron’s name, to call its activists to vote against the Front National. Jean-Luc Mélenchon decided otherwise, and did not give any recommendation. Through its internet platform, France Insoumise will proceed to an online consultation open to the 400,000 subscribers in the coming days, therefore respecting the internal democracy of the movement.

Competing narratives

Meanwhile competing narratives have emerged to make sense of the first round of the French presidential election, held on Sunday the 27 April. Emmanuel Macron (En Marche, centrist-neoliberal political movement) and Marine Le Pen (Front National, far-right) are the two qualified contenders. Polls and predictions of all sorts turned out to be true, even though the gap between the two leading candidates is much closer than expected. Neither of the usual ruling parties – Les Républicains (LR, conservatives) and the Parti Socialiste (PS, social-democrats) – made it to the second round. An earthquake? Yes and no. While looking at the outcomes of the previous elections, Marine Le Pen’s score and accession to the second round fall short of surprise. Her rise has been steadily confirmed, vote after vote, over the past years. It was however unclear whether she would manage to end up first, which she failed to achieve. Emmanuel Macron – unknown to the French public three years ago – is now sacred as the enfant chéri de la République. Without campaigning under the label of a party, he launched his political movement claiming to belong neither to the left nor to the right, but surely anchored within the neoliberal project and designed to further implement the labour market’s structural reforms he carried out as François Hollande’s Minister of Economy. Can we then truly speak of an earthquake?

Incredibly high performance of the left

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (France Insoumise, left-leaning and independent political movement, backed by the components of the Front de Gauche), flirting with 20% of the votes, gave to the left an incredibly high performance it was no longer used to. He bore the fruits of a very creative and efficient strategy, taking inspiration in Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s concept of left-wing populism by targeting ‘the people’ on the basis of a progressive programme but without clear references to the left. Polls indicated his meteoric rise in the last weeks of the campaign, making him the de facto candidate to vote for in order to oppose the far-right, the radicalised right-wing and the neoliberal centre – thus contributing to squeeze even more Benoît Hamon (PS), caught between him and Emmanuel Macron with less and less room for manoeuvre – and to engage in a profound change based on popular sovereignty, social justice and ecological planning. With a score lower than 7%, Benoît Hamon also paid the price of François Hollande’s discredit – as well as that of the PS as a whole. Such a weak result will play a tremendous role in the inevitable recomposition of the left, whose process will start no later than on the day after the presidential election’s final round. It is too early to tell which shape it will take, but one thing is certain: the PS will no longer play the leading role it had been playing since the erosion of the French Communist Party.