France’s Presidential Elections: Explained

Emmanuel Macron (left) faces a tough re-election against Marin Le Pen

France is heading to a run-off election — but what exactly does that mean, and how did Emmanuel Macron, a leader who had a comfortable 57% approval rating in 2019 get plunged into the toughest political election of France’s lifetime? Here, we explain.

France’s First Election:

French voters headed to the polls this past Saturday with 12 candidates aiming to secure the presidency. Since none of them were able to rally more than 50% of the vote, French voters will head to the polls again in a runoff between the two highest ranked candidates; those being incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. Macron was able to secure 27.8% of the vote whilst Le Pen garnered 23.2%, slightly beating Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left candidate, by 1.2% for the second spot in the runoff.

The final results of round one in the French election, CNN.

The first round of the election came to show, once again, how politically divided France is. Le Pen was able to secure the vote of souther and rural regions, whilst Macron won France’s left-leaning west. The polls in this election cycle show a much closer encounter than what was seen in the 2017 election, as both Macron and Le Pen increased their number of votes in comparison to what they had gained in the first round of the election in 2017 (Le Pen also had a bid for the presidency in 2017, but fell short). Analyses and polls from The Economist and other sources still put Macron as the likely winner, but two weeks in politics is in reality an eternity.

Who Macron Is Facing:

Marin Le Pen is spearheading the efforts of the French far right. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founded of the National Front (predecessor to Le Pen’s current political party). This year is Le Pen’s third bid at the presidency, and she has already (in both 2017 and 2022) outperformed her father in the first round (her father was never able to win or have an actual shot at winning).

Since 2017, when Le Pen campaigned as a right-leaning firebrand who vowed to protect France’s working class (whom she claimed was “forgotten”) from the immigrant influx and expanding technology developments. In 2017 she proposed to leave the European Union (EU), but she has since then abandoned that controversial proposal. But Le Pen has continued expanding on many of those controversial claims. This year, Le Pen’s campaign is based on her nationalistic stance and anti-immigration as well as anti-Islamic beliefs. For instance, Le Pen has proposed to make it illegal for women to wear headscarves in public. Her efforts as president will be to “stop uncontrolled immigration” and “eradicate Islamist ideologies.”

Nevertheless, Le Pen has taken a step back in her political tone as well, particularly around the EU and Islam. This election, her campaign is focusing on pocketbook issues, such as promising measures that will (as she claims) put 150 to 200 Euros in the coffers of each household, as well as promising to remove the sales tax on 100 household goods. Has the strategy worked? Simply put, yes.

Marine Le Pen pictured at a rally.

Emmanuel Macron & His Campaign:

Mostly, Macron has been known as a center-left political figure. Yet, certain controversial measures have put him on the wrong side of the aisle with many rural voters. For Macron, this is only the second political election he has ever been a part of.

Macron has had his share of failures and missteps too, nonetheless. His foreign policy has generally won his support both at home and abroad, but his domestic policies have not rallied the same popularity as he would have hope they would. For instance, his handling of the Yellow Vest Movement (one of France’s most prolonged protests by rural people against taxes, etc.) was widely criticized. Further, his response to the COVID-19 pandemic also brought about massive unrest and protests in France. In particular, his signature policy that required people to show proof of vaccination to go about their regular, normal lives. On January of 2022, over 100,000 people rallied in France to oppose Macron’s government to restrict the rights of the unvaccinated.

Macron has refused to debate his opponents during the first round of the elections, but a debate is scheduled for April 20th against Marine Le Pen. You can tune in to watch the debate in the French broadcasted France 2 and TF1.

President Emmanuel Macron pictured.

The Runoff & Its Significance:

The French runoff is set to take place on April 24th, 2022. The aftermath of the French election could be tremendous, due to the nature of the two candidates. Both hold vastly differing views on the EU, Russia, COVID, and economic policy. With Britain leaving the EU, France has become the bloc’s military superpower, as well as becoming the second-largest economy in the EU behind Germany. The French President, in other words, will have a prominent role in the European and global stage, and Le Pen could drastically change the course of action for France in comparison to Macron. What the future holds for France and its role in the world is up for grabs this April 24.

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