Wednesday, April 26, 2017

France: As Fillon Switches to Macron, Many of His Voters Break for Le Pen

By Michele Antaki

The French voted on Sunday to elect their president and their verdict came like a thunderbolt, marking their desire to turn the page on their big traditional parties .
The two candidates to go into a run-off in a fortnight are Emmanuel Macron - the globalist candidate who claims to represent both the right and left, and Marine Le Pen, the nationalist candidate who refuses to be defined by right or left.
With the nominal conservative, Francois Fillon defeated, it was the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic instituted by Charles de Gaulle that a large right-wing party was not represented.
But the real bombshell occurred when Fillon announced he would vote for Macron, moments after the results were out. He cited the fight against the extremist course that Le Pen represented as his motivation.
The man who, not so long ago, mockingly called  Macron "Emmanuel Hollande” or “Hollande’s towel holder,” was asking now for his his fans to rally behind him? In doing so, Fillon also revealed his true colors and proved he was, in fact, a globalist, even though his version of globalism was softer than Macron’s and could have represented a real alternative to Le Pen, had the establishment not mounted a defamation campaign against him.
In the "Les Républicains” camp, Alain Juppé (Fillon’s defeated rival at the primary) and François Baroin, his presumptive prime minister, also rallied for Macron. The spokesman for Les Républicains said the political bureau was to meet to adopt a common position but that "not a voice should go to Le Pen."
It was the first time that the LR party departed from the line of neutrality it had set for itself, by taking sides in the second round.
Fillon’s decision to back Macron, to block the Front National did not sit well with some of his voters for whom Plan B had never been Macron, but Le Pen. First comments revealed that they felt betrayed and unlikely to follow Fillon’s voting instructions.
This was the case for George Fenech, a judge and member of Les Républicains party, who told journalists with irritation that of course he would never vote for Macron or instruct Fillon’s voters to do so. For how could he back a candidate that he had previously fought without losing all credibility? He also believed that such a wholesale transfer of votes to a rival party was a tactical mistake, a political suicide, for it meant for LR would cease to exist as an independent political entity, and would effectively merge into Macron’s En Marche movement.
Fillon’s speed in backing his former competitor was especially shocking given the circumstances of his campaign. Fillon had been investigated for a claim of fake jobs that cost him his lead in the polls. He had counter-attacked and accused Hollande of dirty tricks against him to boost his protégé Emmanuel Macron, even going so far as filing a claim with the Public Prosecutor for the President, a French office, to investigate the president.
In the camp of the old Left, political alliances also began to recompose as soon as the results were announced. Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a solemn appeal to vote for Macron to combat "regressive forces." The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, followed suit.
As for socialist party leader Benoit Hamon, despite his enmity toward Macron, and the latter's betrayal of the party, which he left six months before the campaign to run as an independent, he announced he was supporting Macron, who was “a mere political rival” while Marine Le Pen was an "enemy of the Republic.”
Hollande himself made a solemn appearance on the following day to say he was voting for Macron. In a pathetic display of demagoguery, he lashed out at Le Pen who he claimed represented “extremism, narrow parochialism and discrimination against a whole segment of the French citizens, based on their origin and religion.”
All this political effervescence was captured in a humoristic show
In view of the outpouring of support from the traditional left and right for the candidate of La France en Marche, the gap separating him from the candidate of the Front National is likely to widen further.
Macron could conceivably embody "renewal" for voters with his youthful looks that get him likened to “the ideal son-in-law,” provided they are able to filter out his “Rothschild candidate” profile - a reference to the four years he spent at Rothschild & Cie Banque as a managing partner. Rothschild bankers are known as globalists and some believe that in case of a Le Pen victory, they would block all credit to France.
Le Pen does not miss an opportunity to say that Macron stands for “unbridled globalization” and “a world without borders.” When he was Minister of Economy and Industry, he sold Toulouse airport to the Chinese, and Alstom [a French multinational company in the rail transport industry] to General Electric.
Polls indicate that many French are reluctant to embrace globalization with open arms - especially in rural France where Le Pen has widespread support.
In the second round of the election, the key topic of globalization and the EU, “euro-globalization’ as it is called in France, will be brought front and center in the political debate, which explains Le Pen’s declaration that the real debate would then finally begin.
She said she did not fear having Macron, that media creation, as her opponent. She repeatedly said he was the one she dreamed of confronting, for he represents her polar opposite and thus offers her an opportunity to showcase her program in the areas of terrorism, migrants, financial dictatorship, the EU and globalism.
Macron, on the other hand, does not have a defining theme that could mobilize his supporters. He distinguished himself during the campaign by the vacuousness of his speeches. He gave the impression of being a 'default' candidate, while Le Pen could count on a base of convinced fans.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father, interviewed on the BFM TV channel on election night, described Macron as a smiley but masked man, whose intentions were largely unknown.
In his message to his supporters  that night, Macron positioned himself as the future president “of all patriots facing the threat of nationalists." By introducing this specious distinction, he was laying claim to patriotism. He had been criticized as unpatriotic a few weeks ago for saying - while on a trip to Algeria - that French colonization had been a crime against humanity. He celebrated his victory  at the Rotonde-Montparnasse with his wife Brigitte, friend and mentor Jacques Attali, and European MP Daniel Cohn-Benditt, all of them inveterate globalists.
Le Pen enjoyed another kind of treat - “anti-fascist demonstrations," where nine were wounded, including six policemen, and 29 were arrested. They were likely financed by non-government organizations affiliated with the ubiquitous George Soros, who was reported to have invested in Google to step up its “Fake News” campaign designed to depress the vote of anti-globalist Le Pen. Soros has also invested 970,000 euros this year to thwart France’s counter-terrorism efforts, under the guise of defending "human rights."
Beyond the euphoria of the Lepenistes, the chance for Le Pen to win on May 7 is objectively slimmer than Macron's, unless the 21.75% of voters who abstained in the first round decide to come out and massively cast their ballots for her. True enough, her anti-globalization stance is shared by 50% of the French population, but a good segment of this potential electorate is ‘sterilized’ as it perceives her as a “racist” and a “xenophobe.” The way forward in the rest of her campaign is, therefore, to focus more on the anti-globalization dimension of her program, and less on the migrant issue, in order to capture as much of that dormant electorate as possible.
Other than that, she might be able to tap into 33% of François Fillon's electorate, mainly from members of  'Sens Commun.' This is a movement which had opposed same-sex marriage back in 2013 and formed the last bastion of loyalists to Fillon during his judicial woes. There is no way they could identify with Macron's values and therefore, they are likely to switch to Le Pen or abstain from voting altogether. Moments ago, that movement, also calledLa Manif pour tous, because it had called people to take to the streets to protest same-sex marriage, asked supporters not to vote for Macron, “the openly anti-family candidate.” Meanwhile, on Royalists' Facebook pages (yes, France still has royalists), its adherents are also voicing opposition to a Macron vote, such as this one of the Prince of Orleans.
Other sympathizers go so far as to express a preference for Le Pen.
A reader of the conservative magazine Valeurs Actuelles wrote: “We want a fighting party, with a warrior at the head. Not weather-vanes rotating in every direction .”
Another denounced the “patronizing approach” of Fillon's call to vote for a designated candidate. "The best for him would have been, like Melenchon, to shut up and tell his voters to follow the promptings of their conscience. We are not children to be told what to do.” He added that he would personally vote for Le Pen, and that five years of Hollande were quite enough without having to endure five more years under his “spiritual heir.”
As things stand now, two days after results came out, and depending on whom you pop the question to, only around one-third of former Fillonists are saying they will vote for Le Pen, while one-third will abstain or return a blank ballot. The remaining third will dutifully do as told and rally behind Macron. However, abstentions will ‘mechanically’ boost Le Pen more than Macron, and this prompted Juppé to warn against them in a tweet this week.
Le Pen may also possibly count on the 5% votes obtained by the sovereignist Dupont Aignant - who had been asking Fillon to desist and transfer his votes to him. He announced that he would communicate his voting instructions early next week.
She could perhaps also benefit from a small segment of Jean-Luc Melenchon's electorate (19.4% of the votes), since he left his voters free to vote for whomever they wanted. He said he was not mandated by his constituents to represent them at the poll. Consequently, he would not ask them to vote for a particular candidate. The leader of La France insoumise remained unbending to the end.
Although Melenchon is a populist like Le Pen, his is a leftwing and socially liberal brand of populism, and he recoils in horror at what he views as her "racism" and “xenophobia.” Consequently, very few Melenchonists could realistically cross the Rubicon into Le Pen’s lap. Furthermore, the spokesperson for Melenchon’s party, called today on voters to refrain from giving a single vote to Le Pen’s Front National. He also told them not to vote for Macron and abstain altogether, focusing on the next legislative race instead. It was not clear whether he was speaking in Melenchon's name or his own
Le Pen, who was also interviewed today on prime time TV, winked at Melenchon’s electorate when she portrayed Macron as a the “submission” candidate who bowed to everything and everyone - lobbies, banks,  Brussels…etc. She said France under Macron would be a “submissive France,” as opposed to the France Insoumise in Melenchon's motto, meaning, unbending France.
According to political scientists, the Front National can realistically gain 10% to 15% during the second round. This party has previously shown its ability to gain traction even between the two rounds of an election. Polls are currently predicting 38% for Le Pen, versus 62% for Macron at the end of the second round.
Le Pen has taken leave from her party’s presidency to devote herself to her campaign, and she is traveling all over France to speak to the people.
Last night, another thunderstorm brought the curtain down on Fillon’s political involvement in the foreseeable future. He kissed goodbye his Les Républicains party, announcing to its political bureau that he would not campaign for the legislative elections next June. "I no longer have the legitimacy to lead the fight," he said. "I will become a militant in spirit among the rest of you.” He said he now intends to rebuild his bruised family.
The knives were out for him in his own clan. Alain Juppé, his crushed rival at the presidential primary, said the defeat of the Right in the first round was partly attributable to Fillon, the other part being his program - too liberal economically but too conservative socially, with its emphasis on the ‘work, patriotism and family' trinity. Others echoed his denial of Fillon, so subtly that poison would be more appropriate a term than knife.
Almost simultaneously, rearguard maneuvers started, indicating that good old Nicolas Sarkozy could perhaps vie for the party’s leadership. He denied it, claiming all he was interested in was the unity of his political family and to provide ‘the unifying cement” among its members. A meeting organized at the party’s headquarters on the day following the results of the first round pointed to a Right feverishly trying to strategize to win the upcoming legislative elections and avoid political death.
A working breakfast on Wednesday morning, supposedly among members of Les Républicains, but in actual fact with only a subset of 40 Sarkozyistes, was also held to devise a way forward. It emerged from it that François Baroin - formerly slated to become prime minister in a Fillon presidency - would probably become the leader of Les Republicains. This would position him to also be selected as prime minister under a Macron presidency, given that the LR is the largest political formation and that Macron has no MPs of his own, having created his En Marche ‘party’ a mere six months before the presidential campaign. A final statement was issued, urging voters to block Le Pen, but falling short of instructing to vote for Macron because of lack of consensus.
The winners of the presidential first round are, too, already projecting themselves into the legislative elections of June 11 and June 18. Given the recomposition of the political chessboard, neither Macron nor Le Pen would have a majority in the National Assembly if elected president. But if Le Pen is unable to win the presidency, her party is in a position to win many constituencies in Spring 2017. The Front National is now a party that carries substantial political weight. Le Pen is looking, therefore, to turn it into a fixture of the political landscape.

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