New Developments in French Presidential Election By Nathan Richmond
As the French presidential election approaches, several new developments have occurred. The election is held in two rounds. The first is scheduled for April 23rd when all candidates who have secured the signatures of 500 elected officials by March 17 will be on the ballot. The second round, this year on May 7th, is when the top two candidates from the first round square off if no one wins an outright majority in the first round. No one ever has won outright on the first round since direct elections were adoptedby constitutional amendment in 1962 and first implemented in 1965. Polls indicate that this time no one will win on the first round either.
The leading candidates who have qualified for the first round are: Marine LePen, leader of the far-right National Front, François Fillon, candidate of the conservative party Les Republicains, Emmanuel Macron, founder of his own centrist party, En Marche!, Benoit Hamon of the center-left Socialist Party, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the far left movement called Unsubmissive France. Any of these five candidates might make it into the second round although current polling suggests that Macron and LePen are the most likely to advance.
Several minor candidates, none of whom are expected to reach the second round of the election are: Natalie Arthaud, a French communist/Trotskyist, Jacques Cheminade, candidate of the Solidarity and Progress party which is affiliated with the left-wing LaRouche Movement in the US, Nicholas Dupont-Aignan, founder of his Arise France nationalist party, and François Asselineau, a far, far right candidate and founder of his Popular Republican Union party.
While it appears that Macron and LePen are headed for a second round showdown, with Fillon currently polling close behind in third place, this election is still very much wide open as new developments involving the major candidates occur on a regular basis. Fillon, the conservative standard bearer of Les Republicaines (LR) has been formally charged by the prosecutor’s office with misuse of government funds connected with hiring his wife and two of his adult children as parliamentary aides. While it is not illegal to hire family members as legislative assistants in France, there does not seem to be a trace of his wife's work. And it is reported that his children were paid for legal work before they fully qualified as lawyers.
Fillon has other legal troubles as well. He did not disclose a €50,000 interest-free loan (since repaid) and he is newly accused of accepting gifts of very expensive suits (worth some €50,000) from a billionaire friend. Fillon has angrily brushed aside the accusations claiming he did nothing wrong and added that next they'll look into his shirts and underwear. Fillon is apparently hoping that the voters will overlook his legal problems as they did when they elected Jacques Chirac president in 1995 and reelected him in 2005 while corruption accusations swirled around him. After he left office Chirac was indeed convicted of various corruption-related charges but was given a suspended sentence due to his advanced age.
Meanwhile, Marine LePen, the candidate of the National Front (FN) has her own legal problems. She and a staff assistant are accused of misappropriating EU parliamentary funds of nearly €350,000 provided to hire her legislative staff. LePen, a lawyer by training, denies the charges and for awhile claimed immunity based on her position as a member of the EU Parliament. The EU Parliament then took the extraordinary step of voting to strip her of her immunity. She was summoned by the prosecutor's office but has since refused to comply, claiming that it is an attempt to undermine her campaign. Unlike Fillon, she has further indicated that she will not cooperate with the investigation. She has slipped slightly from first to second place in the first round polls.
Emmanuel Macron, who founded his own party, En Marche! (EM!) last year, has ascended to the top position in the polls in both rounds of the election. But the satirical, investigative newspaper Le Canard echainé which broke the story about Fillon's wife alleged fictional employment, is reporting that in 2016, while he was Minister of the Economy, a unit of Macron's ministry organized a €400,000 tech conference and show in Las Vegas on a no-bid basis to a company that some members of Macron’s minisrtry used to work for.
And finally, the former Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has declined to officially support his party's nominee, Benoit Hamon of the ruling Socialist Party (PS), even though Valls had earlier pledged to support Hamon if he beat him (Valls) in the primary, which Hamon did. Instead, with many Socialist Party members in the National Assembly supporting Macron, the former Prime Minister is refusing to choose between his former Minister of the Economy, Macron, and his party’s designated nominee, Hamon.
With at least two of the major candidates,LePen and Melenchon, and some minor ones as well, promising a referendum on France remaining in the EU (resulting in a possible Frexit), the stakes are high. A month and a half to go before the first round of the French presidential election, the political situation remains very fluid.
Nathan Richmond is Professor of Government at Utica College and currently resides in Southern France.