Presidential elections in France:
WORLD

Presidential elections in France:

Towards a historical rupture

Will the political regime of the Fifth Republic, introduced by the General de Gaulle in 1958, survive the presidential elections? By eliminating the two traditional parties in the second round, this election has confirmed the end of bipartisanism in France. The duel between the two finalist candidates, who both present themselves as being “outside of the system”, constitutes a true upheaval in the history of French political life, reinforcing a true need for change.

Text : Tigrane Yegavian

 


Sunday, April 23, 2017 will certainly mark a special place in the history of the Fifth Republic with the qualification of Emmanuel Macron (23.9%) and Marine Le Pen (21.4%) through to the second round of the presidential elections. The first (39 years old) is presented as a champion of liberal globalization and fervent proponent of European integration, while the second (48 years old), is an anti-liberal and anti-EU populist leader of a far right-wing indirect line of descent with the authoritarian regime of Vichy (1940-1944), nowadays engaged in a process of “de-demonization”.
The results of this first round are the culmination of a campaign full of twists and turns, a long and stormy campaign, underpinned by terrorist attacks, that began in the fall of 2016 with the holding of the primaries in the camp of the right and the center. At the end of the poll, the two favorites (former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime-minister under Jacques Chirac, Alain Juppé) were swept away in favor of Francois Fillon, a conservative candidate, close to radical Catholic circles. The other rebound was Francois Hollande’s decision in December 2016 not to stand again for a second term, accelerating the predictable implosion of the Socialist Party; which already became a moribund party torn between a liberal reformist wing and the “slingers” opposed to the economic line of government.

Dazzling rise of an ambitious young man and a breakthrough of the far right
Taking advantage of the extraordinary circumstances resulting from Francois Hollande’s withdrawal, Francois Fillon’s legal setbacks and the fall of the Socialist Party, the former Minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron, achieved a meteoric rise. In the aftermath, a quasi-sacred union even formed behind him, and the majority of the leaders of the right and the left officially supported him. The candidate of the movement “En Marche!” is more than ever in a favorable position to succeed Francois Hollande. If he is elected, it remains to be seen what majority he will depend on in Parliament after the June legislative elections.

Just three years ago, this young overqualified business banker was a perfect unknown to the French public. For the first election of his political career, Emmanuel Macron achieved first place in the first round. If he took advantage of his “neither right nor left” strategy, he was favored with strong support from the main media outlets and a large part of French employers. For her part, Marine Le Pen settled even more comfortably into French political life. With 21.4% (7.7 million votes), this is the highest percentage that the National Front has ever secured in a presidential election and has surpassed the historical record number of votes that the party has received in any election. However, it wasn’t sufficient to win first place, despite the poll forecasts.


Debacle of historic parties

The first consequence of this election is the explosion of the left and the right of government. If many French commentators see this result as the sign of the agony of the current political regime, it marks above all the end of bipartisanship. The reconfiguration of the political chessboard will be painfully done without leading to any clear majority. We would then enter a new era: the uncertain and unstable age of parliamentary coalitions.
The candidate of the PS Benoît Hamon (6.3%) was dropped by most of the cadres of the centrist wing of the party, while Francois Fillon from the party The Republicans (19.9%) registered a total of 26%, a historically low score, and found themselves eliminated from the second round for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. François Fillon who had been given great favor to win the election has suffered various setbacks due to the various scandals that have spangled his campaign in recent months. For the Republican party, and significantly for François Fillon, it is a historic decline of more than two million votes compared to Nicolas Sarkozy who was the outgoing president in 2012.
As for the socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, a large winner of the primary of the left, he never managed to create a dynamic around his campaign and saw intentions to vote for him drop day after day, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, at the far left (19.6%), managed a major breakthrough. In this, the off-system strategy will have been successful. The French left is on the way to being recomposed by two antagonistic poles.

The Cold War invites itself to the election
For France’s European business partners, the result secured by Emmanuel Macron was welcomed with relief. Le Pen, who wants to put an end to the euro and free movement in the European Schengen area, risked causing a “major disorder” and a “dislocation” of the European Union, warned the Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde.
If the right-hand division does not make sense in reality then France does not offer such a fractured image so much as the duel between two finalists resembles a class struggle. From this perspective, the National Front vote was massive among the popular layers and those “forgotten by globalization”, whereas it is more the well-to-do and graduated of the population that have given their votes to Emmanuel Macron. Those whose jobs benefit from the breakdown of international borders.
On the other hand, if foreign policy issues seem to have been stifled, a cold war revival has taken place around the campaign. A supporter of Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation, Marine Le Pen officially met Vladimir Putin on March 24, 2017. Informal meetings were held in 2014 and 2015, where the FN and Jean-Marie Le Pen had managed to secure two loans amounting to a total of € 11 million. In 2014 the far-right party sent Moscow a request for financial needs estimated at 40 million euros, by 2017, mobilizing a range of intermediaries and oligarchs.
For his part, E. Macron conducted an “American-style campaign”,  the results of the first round were testament to this “show”. This former business banker would now like to play a central role in the reorganization of a social-liberal pole making his future party a pale copy of the American Democratic Party. Little is known about the links between the Liberal candidate and the French American Foundation (FAF), the instrument of soft American power in France which aims to encourage an active dialogue between the two countries. One of its main activities is to organize seminars for French and American young leaders (Young Leaders) from the areas of politics, finance and the media, of which Emmanuel Macron was awarded in 2012.

The Armenian community’s worries
For Armenians in France, this election marks a profound rupture that foreshadows strong uncertainties about the future. Armenian leaders in France, who are organized around the French Armenian Association Coordinating Council (CCAF), are pleased that they have succeeded in promoting visibility of the community and attracting the sympathies of many right-wing and left-wing politicians. It was during Francois Hollande’s tenure that the Genocide commemoration ceremonies on 24 April and the traditional annual dinner of the CCAF were held with the attendance of the Head of State. Indeed, close ties already existed because of the close proximity between the co-chair of the CCAF and a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s world bureau Mourad Papazian, and François Hollande when the latter was secretary-general of the PS who became president in 2012. The Armenian community has attempted to build a relationship of trust and work with the socialist power, but the record has been mixed. Apart from the strong symbolic and emotional burden, little progress has been made on central issues such as the recognition and integrity of Artsakh and the issue of penalization in regards to the denial of the Armenian genocide. The Parliament had been censured by the Constitutional Council headed by a close relation to President Hollande. It is also under his mandate that arms sales to Azerbaijan have increased significantly. Disappointment at these arms sales to Azerbaijan fuel a popular distrust among the Armenian community towards the notables who represent it. Most of the critics point out the lack of vision and long-term strategy.
In the context of the deep breakdown of the PS, no instructions were given to the Armenian sympathizers to campaign in favor of Benoît Hamon, candidate “default” of the party, which had been the only candidate invited to attend the traditional CCAF dinner in February. While a good number of Franco Armenian notables among whom officials of the AGBU have expressed their support for the candidacy of François Fillon who had clearly taken the lead in the vote of the French of Armenia.
Nouvelle d’Arménie News magazine, for its part, sent questionnaires to the main candidates which questioned their level of sympathy towards Armenians in France, and their position on the memory of the Genocide, reflected a profound ignorance regarding the question of Artsakh. The sharpest was the position of Marine Le Pen, who called for a pure and simple attachment of Artsakh to Armenia, while waiting for the Armenians of France to assimilate, denying the right to commemorate and remember the Genocide to be included in the calendar of official commemorations of the Republic.
Also the climate was deleterious on this April 24 Armenian Genocide commemoration day, the day after the results of the first round in the presence of François Hollande but also his successor and heir Emmanuel Macron. If the remarks of the Liberal candidate made on the respect of the memory of the genocide reassured the Armenians of France, these remarks on the issue of Artsakh remained evasive.
For French citizens of Armenian descent, the wait is mixed with a sense of urgency to adapt to the new political situation, characterized by strong instability.