French elections – left eliminated from first round…again.

Dave Kellaway provides his initial analysis on the first round of the French presidential election results.


First Round results based on the latest estimates (21.00 CET):

A re-run of 2017?

Sometimes history does repeat itself. The incumbent president, Macron, will face a re-run of the 2017 second round against the far right Marine Le Pen. He has continued to hold on to the blocs of ex SP voters and some moderate conservatives from the right wing Republicans party. Melenchon has by a significant margin has been the most voted candidate on the left.  His score is two points better than last time and puts his movement in a strong position in relation to the rest of the left. He is the undisputed leader of the left although he is now likely to take a step back, since he will not stand again for president.

Coalitions or agreements for the upcoming parliamentary elections have already started.  Given the near existential crisis of the PS and the poor score of the ecologists it is likely there will be some new political projects put forward.

The Revolutionary Marxist candidates of Poutou and Arthaud did a little worse than last time but brought together hundreds of thousands of supporters on a clear position of a breaking with the capitalist system.

As in 2017 Macron is likely to win the second round as the majority of French voters refuse to vote in the reactionary Le Pen. A survey taken on election night predicts a 54-46 % victory for Macron, a significant reduction in his score but still a comfortable gap.  He will become president as most people’s second choice. The failure of both the right and left to overcome their political crisis and fragmentation will most likely give him a second term. Disillusion with the political system continues to rise as the level of abstention was the highest since the record of 2002 with 26.5% today compared to 22.3 in 2017. Melenchon’s campaign for a new constitutional assembly and a more democratic 6th Republic is as relevant as ever given the perverse nature of this electoral system.

Some Differences

There are a few. Macron did 4 to 5 points better than in the first round last time. The gap with Le Pen is bigger. His recent prominence on the international diplomatic stage over Ukraine may have been a factor. He had failed to push through his pensions cut and provoked the Gilets Jaunes  movement. Like previous presidents he has embraced the way the undemocratic presidential system allows his to take on special powers. He has used the police to crack down on protests and has ridden the right wing drift of French politics expressed by the relative success of the Zemmour candidature. His legislation on ‘separatism’ and attacks on islamo-gauchisme  (left wing Islamism)  reflect this.

Last time the Communist Party supported Melenchon so the 2.4% Roussel won made the task of JLM getting into the second round more difficult. His score was a percentage point greater than the last time there was a CP candidate. CP militants will see this as a reassertion of their party identity.

Jadot, the ecologist candidate, withdrew in 2017 to support the PS so his votes meant it was even more difficult for Hidalgo to do that much better than the two revolutionary candidates.  She has won the wooden spoon for the lowest ever score for a PS candidate. Her election expenses will not even be repaid by the state. Some sort of deal with the ecologists will be vital for the PS to make a showing in the parliamentary elections.

A common red/green candidate would have had a good chance of getting to the second round. Melenchon’s go it alone strategy, although building a bigger base of support for radical left policies, still did not get across the line. It is unlikely that he will stand again so there will be a contest for a new leadership inside his movement and there may also be a strategic discussion since this is now the third time in the last twenty years that the left, in its broadest sense, has not made it to the second round.

Zemmour’s impact

This time around the intervention of Zemmour, a neo-fascist candidate more extreme than Le Pen has helped to halve the vote for the mainstream right wing party, the Republicans. Paradoxically his ambition of smashing what he considers is the ‘moderate’ right wing policies of Le Pen has had the reverse effect. His defence of war time collaborator Petain, his  proposal for a ministry for sending migrants home and banning Muslim names make Le Pen look a lot less extreme. At the same time his intervention has tapped far right votes that Le Pen has not been able to reach. These voters could then switch to her in the second round. Already some early supporters abandoned Zemmour to make sure there was a hard right challenge to Macron in the run off. 

Some commentators, including on the left, got a little carried away with Zemmour’s early rise in the polls and thought he might get to the second round. That was never going to happen but his intervention has increased the overall far right score. His strategy of becoming the new leadership of the far right failed. Le Pen’s greater understanding of the need for populist demands on pensions or the cost of living meant she held onto her support among some working people. Zemmour’s neo-fascist project may have mobilised some of the reactionary catholic and more middle class racists but it could not eat into Le Pen’s base.

Another key difference with 2017 is the combined score of 30 percent for the far right candidates of Zemmour and Le Pen. It is an electoral confirmation of what has been deemed the droitisation (rightward drift) of French politics and society. The historically low score of 4.7% for the mainstream conservative, Valerie Pecresse shows how the advance of the far right has eaten into the traditional party of the right. She has already called for a vote for Macron in the second round. Rebuilding the mainstream right wing given the continued rise of the far right is not going to be easy.

What next for the left?

The maintenance by Melenchon’s movement of 21% for a radical left challenge to the status quo is no mean achievement. It is a counter weight to this droitisation and a base of tens of thousands of activists for continuing the struggle. The left has to fight both a second Macron government which will pursue neo-liberal reforms like increasing the pension age and combat the continued rise of the extreme right. A new unity in struggle needs to be forged between the Melenchon movement, the CP, radical ecological activists and the revolutionary Marxist currents. This unity needs to find a political expression so French working people are not again faced with the depressing choice of a neo-liberal pretend centrist and the far right.

An immediate task in the anti-fascist struggle is to stop a Le Pen victory in the second round. Although Le Pen is two points further behind Macron than in 2017 there is the 7.1% for Zemmour that could mostly go to her in the second round.  Zemmour has clearly called for a vote for her in the second round. The maths still points to another Macron victory if you consider the 30% who voted for left or ecologist candidates in the first round and the endorsements he has already received.  Le Pen/Zemmour has already reduced the mainstream conservative vote to 5% so there is little more to gain there. Indeed its candidate, Pecresse has already called for a vote for Macron. 

For the left it is important to take the lead in the campaign to stop Le Pen. It means voting Macron without any support for his politics or government and building militant struggles to defend working people. Not explicitly calling for a vote against Le Pen means that you see no difference between a government led by Macron or Le Pen.  It would be irresponsible and very dangerous if people who voted for left and progressive parties stayed at home for the second round. Roussel for the CP has called for a vote for Macron to stop Le Pen. Melenchon has already called in his post-election address for his supporters to give not a single  vote at all to Le Pen. Excellent.  He combined this with a clear call for all the struggles to continue. Phillipe Poutou, candidate of the anticapitalists, has called, like Melenchon, for not one vote to be cast for Le Pen. He called for the biggest possible mobilisation against the far right on the 16 and 17 April.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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