France | When a formality becomes an election…

(Paris) This election to the presidency was to be a simple formality: Emmanuel Macron was going to be re-elected without difficulty in front of opponents who did not come close to his ankle. And, suddenly, it became a real election, the outcome of which is no longer written in advance.

Posted at 6:00 a.m.

President Macron made his first campaign rally last Saturday, eight days before the first round. That’s because he’s spent the last few weeks dealing with the war in Ukraine and playing the part of the Western leader who can talk to Vladimir Putin.

At first, this role of “war president” served him rather well. He was at 32 or 33% of the first round of voting intentions, which, when there are a dozen candidates on the ballot, is both honorable and comfortable.

Today, the polls place the outgoing president at 28% and his rival Marine Le Pen at 21.5%. No one doubts anymore that the two candidates who faced each other in the second round in 2017 will do so again in 2022.

Except that the second round polls show Macron at 53% and Le Pen at 47%. This is dangerously close to the margin of error, especially since the campaign did not excite the French and abstention could reach a record number of 30%.

In these cases, the outcome of the second round becomes very uncertain. Who’s going to vote? How will the carry forward of the votes of the eliminated candidates be done? And, as tradition dictates, the debate between the two finalists, a few days before the second round, will be decisive.

But we can see that Marine Le Pen no longer has the same reputation as a woman who sows division and whose slogans would never translate into a government program.

His party remains associated with the extreme right and still plays on the themes of immigration and insecurity. But she abandoned the most divisive elements of her program, such as leaving the European Union.

It must be said, however, that she always offers a kind of Frexit without the name, or to withdraw from several of the treaties that have made Europe a political institution and not just a geographical entity.

But what has most helped to soften Marine Le Pen’s image is the presence of a candidate even more to the right and even more divisive than her, the journalist-polemicist Éric Zemmour, who played on the same themes of immigration and insecurity, but with unparalleled virulence and disregard for facts.

It’s as if having a highly publicized candidate who was even more on the right than her and who saw her voting intentions slowly drop to below 10% had, in a way, made Marine Le Pen more acceptable.

It must also be said that President Macron, by wanting to be the great diplomat who is above the partisan fray, gave the impression of being above the concerns of his fellow citizens.

The big question that worries the French these days is much more purchasing power and the rising cost of living than the international situation.

All of this makes the outcome of the second round more unpredictable than ever. Especially since the electoral campaign has never really raised with an electorate exhausted or distracted by the successive crises of COVID-19 and Ukraine. This means that abstentions should reach a record level, more than 30%.

This makes the second round very unpredictable. Enough, in any case, to bring down President Macron from his pedestal and force him to launch himself squarely into the electoral campaign.

On two themes that show that he is worried. First, he presented himself as “the bulwark against the far right”, with a number of perches towards the left-wing electorate whose candidates will not be in the second round – the leader of France insoumise, Jean -Luc Mélenchon, should get around 15% – and who could be tempted to abstain.

“The extremist danger is all the greater as hatred and alternative truths have become commonplace,” said Mr. Macron.

At the same time, former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe – who remains very popular – was the first to speak openly about the possibility of the election of Mme The pen. Another way to warn everyone that the figures are worrying and to sound the rallying of the troops.

But one thing is now certain, Emmanuel Macron will not be able to count on a glorious victory with two-thirds of the votes, which he had obtained in his first confrontation against Marine Le Pen.

This will undoubtedly be the price to pay for not having followed the advice of La Fontaine’s fable on the need to “leave on time”…

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