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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

With the French presidential election days away, let's have a quick review....

When French President Francois Hollande was elected in 2012, he was faced with an unenviable task.  Unemployment was nearing ten percent, terrorism had become a normal topic of conversation around French dinner tables, and the economy demanded reforms that the French Unions were loath to accept.  Hollande attacked each problem by staying faithful to his Socialist philosophy, which, not surprisingly, made everything worse.  The French people love nothing more than to cheer a candidate all the way to the Elysee Palace, then wake up the next morning screaming for his/her head, because the problems have yet to be addressed.  Be that as it may, Hollande ends his one-term as arguably the most unpopular President in memory.  The Socialist Party (PS) candidate to replace Hollande, Benoit Hamon, never had a chance.  Instead, behind closed doors, PS movers and shakers were instructing the faithful to support one of two other leftist candidates.  Emmanuel Macron, a youthful, attractive former Hollande cabinet minister, created his own political movement "En Marche" (translated as "working"), which was picked up early on by the media, and pushed right to the front of the pack before he reminded everyone that he resigned from the Hollande government in 2015 (a move which earned him the "Titanic; last seat in the lifeboat" award for 2015). As the left let out a sigh of relief at the immediate success of "En Marche", an unexpected, additional candidate elbowed his way into the left-wing political conversation.  Jean-Luc Melanchon is an old-school French Socialist, whose policies and politicking remind older French folks of the deceased but still-popular former President Francois Mitterrand.  For the average French voter on the left, they must choose between the PS standard bearer Benoit Hamon, the youthful newcomer Emmanuel Macron, and the traditional, "familiar" Socialist, Jean-Luc Melanchon.  For the record, the once-powerful French Communist Party has endorsed Melanchon, but no one paid any attention.

The right side of the dial is much less of a headache.  Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) has been running for president since coming up short against Hollande in 2012.  Le Pen never had a serious chance of winning that election, even though she received the most votes in the first-round.  As was predicted, all of the other candidates urged their supporters to vote for the Socialist candidate
Hollande, and Le Pen was swamped.  Subsequently, Marine Le Pen made changes within the FN which are meant to make it appear more inclusive.  Le Pen took important steps to distance the FN from the ideology and pronouncements of its founder (and her father), Jean-Marie Le Pen, who seemed to hate everyone who wasn't white, male, Catholic and French.  She molded the FN to suit her political agenda, which focused heavily on lower-income Frenchmen,the working class, crime and immigration.  Le Pen should have little difficulty banging out twenty-five percent, which makes her much more likely to qualify for the second-round as opposed to the Republican candidate, Francois Fillon.  After surprising many by earning the Republican nomination by beating former President Nicolas Sarkozy and mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe, Fillon was crippled by a scandal involving his family and government money.  Everyday the scandal appears less and less significant, but when it first hit the headlines, the left played it for all it was worth.  But the Gaullist Conservative bloc in France tends to stay loyal, and lately Fillon has shown some life in the polls.  Analysts are trying to determine if he has enough gas to either join Le Pen in the second round, or topple her, and make the election an old-school right versus left affair.

With less-than one week to go before the election, Le Pen and Macron appear steady at between twenty-three and twenty-five percent each, with Fillon and Melanchon both inching up to roughly twenty percent.  As many as thirty percent of French voters are either undecided or open to changing their mind.  At the end of the day, the safe bet has Le Pen moving on to the second round vote on May 7, and her opponent being the next President of France.  No matter the opponent, polls show Le Pen losing the second round by at least fifteen percentage points.  French polls have a tendency towards being accurate, but if Le Pen manages to show thirty percent or more in the first round, I think she can win.

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