“…People who don’t feel they’re being taken into consideration, who feel resentment … who feel humiliated or looked down upon… I try to listen in an objective way… We have to reconcile the working class with politicians.”
- French President Emmanuel Macron, during his re-election campaign
With the backdrop of despair and hope in Ukraine, till the last moment of the campaign, which stretched into the sublime country squares and by-lanes, even as mass empathy overshadowed the heated debates between ‘science, reason, ecology versus xenophobia and irrationality’, ‘The Guardian’ of London quoted a 72-year-old former elected official in a village in the Oise, where a majority had voted Le Pen. He said: “People’s mood can be summed up in one word: uncertainty. Uncertainty over health, over part-time job contracts, over how much you’ll be overdrawn by the end of the month. Uncertainty over the prospect of nuclear war, and the planet burning.”
He was, obviously, right. In an anti-elite vote and a popular mood of random resentment in France, Macron, facing serious anti-incumbency, still young at 44, compared to Marie Le Pen at 53, has won the mandate for his second term by around 60 per cent, still less than the 66 per cent he polled last time. His rival, more measured, matronly and mature, less xenophobic, one-dimensional and irrational, pitched on the uncertainty and insecurity across the margins, especially among the post-pandemic working class and the middle class, and scored around 42 per cent, still higher than her score last time. Macron’s eventual victory, therefore, was predictable, and, not really, inevitable.”
That a simmering stream of ecstasy has swept over Europe and America, rekindles the vintage veneer of French wine: the values of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – or Death! Well, now all but forgotten, even as the entire political class had come into doubt, with almost 30 per cent not voting in these French elections, with a country driven with the bad faith of polarization, division and a fractured political consciousness.
Significant is the sizeable gain by the French Left led by Jean-Luch Melenchon, who pushed the plank of ecology and environment, climate change and social justice, to cut into the ‘climate-sceptic’ Right-wing votes. Another newcomer, Eric Zemmour, inflamed sections of the electorate with his fiery hate speeches, targeting the usual suspects: immigrants.
Fortunately, his rhetoric was pushed decisively into the margins, even as Le Pen, while being a poster girl of his old totalitarian buddy, Vladimir Putin of Moscow, dumped the extreme hate rhetoric in the same manner as she had earlier dumped her extremist Ku Klux Klan type of polarizing figure, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father.
She took control of her father’s Front National Party in 2011 and thereby went on a gradual spree of spring-cleaning, moving away from the vicious underpinnings of ethnic cleansing to an equally strident and shallow political discourse. Her father had earlier shocked the secularists and rationalists when he scored a place in the second round of the presidential polls with only 16.9 per cent of the vote in 2002. He scored 17.9 per cent in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections in which the socialist, François Holland, fought against Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy won. In 2017, Le Pen was able to get 21.3 per cent of the votes, while Macron won, finally.
Marie Le Pen had earlier announced that this would be her last battle in Paris. She would therefore choose to be a mentor and guru, working to consolidate the unprecedented gains her party has discovered due to the general unhappiness in the post-Covid era, with massive unemployment and economic crisis – a global phenomenon. Antoine Bristielle, director of the Observatory of Opinion at the Left-leaning Jean-Jaurès Foundation has analysed that she could face an internal party struggle if she chooses to move into the shadows.
Surprisingly, moving into the space left by an eventual departure of Le Pen is a new Right-wing shining star. Jordan Bardella, 26, with an inheritance of Italian migrants, is the new toast the town, even while new and raw shining stars are waiting in the gallery, including Marion Maréchal, her niece, who, surprisingly, backed Zemmour in the first round, going publicly against her aunt.
Even as Ukrain fights a resilient battles, and the Tsar of Russia finds himself beleaguered and isolated in the Eastern Front, having conceded defeat in Kiev, the capital of Ukrain and most other towns, the Paris Mandate will certainly bring in a stronger wave of unity in the European Union. No wonder, Le Pen dumped ‘Frexit’ even while Boris Johnson’s Brexit finds itself in the dumping ground.