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A l’isoloir: what you need to know about the French Elections

Niamh Woodhouse

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

The French head to the polls this weekend to elect their next President. With many candidates from all sides of the political spectrum, controversial campaigns and troubling times, Niamh gives the rundown of everything you need to know this French election season.

Election season has begun in France as voters head to polling stations this weekend to elect who they wish to be their President for the next five years. The current term, under Emmanuel Macron, has certainly been eventful, with the Gilets Jaunes movement of 2019, an increasingly severe climate crisis, two years of a global pandemic and now a potentially devasting war in Europe. All these issues and more will be on the electorate’s minds as they go to the ballot box. With this article, you’ll be filled in on all the basics you need to know for the upcoming election across la Manche.

How does the election work?

The French election process consists of two rounds of voting, held 14 days apart. The first round, this year on 10th April, allows candidates, who have managed to collect at least 500 signatures of support from elected representatives, such as mayors, to run in the race for President. If one candidate out of this initial group gains more than 50% of the vote, then they win the election and will become the next president of the 5th Republic.

But, if no one wins the first round, as is looking likely this year, the two candidates with the highest number of votes progress to the next round. This year they will go head-to-head on 24th April. Finally, the winner of this round will take office in the Elysée Palace on 13th May.

Politics fans will be glad to hear that this is not the end of the French election season – the following month there is another vote to decide on the Députés (MPs) to represent each constituency in the National Assembly. The newly elected president will hope for a majority from the 577 places up for grabs so they can run the government the way they promised in election campaigns.

Who is in the race?

This year, there are 12 candidates running for President - eight men and four women.

Starting in the centre, we have the current President, Emmanuel Macron, representing his party République En Marche! (Republic on the move!), which attracts voters from both sides of the political spectrum. Last election season, En Marche were the new party on the scene and took the political world by storm, winning the election in the second round.

Of the five remaining frontrunners, we have two from the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Yannick Jadot. Mélenchon stands for the Union Populaire, a far-left party focusing on issues such as governmental and constitutional reform. While Jadot represents France’s equivalent of the Green Party, Parti Socialiste, the party of former President François Hollande, and its candidate, the Parisian Mayor Anne Hildalgo, have failed to overcome major setbacks over their reputation. This has lead voters of the traditional left to look elsewhere, especially to Macron and the centre.

Moving on to the contenders from the right side of French politics, Valerie Pécresse is from the more moderate party Les Républicains, whilst Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour represent the far right. Le Pen, along with her father Jean-Marie, has been an infamous name in French politics for many years, having a strong anti-immigrant rhetoric. New to politics, the Reconquête nominee, Eric Zemmour, holds more hardline views, promising to implement a ‘zero immigration’ policy.

What are the important topics and issues up for debate?

Opinion polls suggest that the most important issues of the election debate have been the economy, immigration, and security.

The current economy is relatively strong, having bounced back from the impact of the pandemic. As well as this, unemployment has decreased to 7.4%, just above the European average. Both of these factors will draw voters to Macron, as it has been under his government that these improvements have occurred.

The next issue, immigration, has always been an integral part of French society, albeit a controversial one. There are around 7 million immigrants living in France, mostly coming from countries across Europe and the Maghreb (Northern Africa). The topic is most prominent in the campaigns of the right-wing candidates, with Madame Le Pen promising a referendum on the matter if she succeeds.

France has experienced a number of terror attacks over the past few years, so understandably security is an important topic for both voters and nominees. Macron promises to put more police on the streets to reassure the French public, pointing to the fact that crime has fallen under his presidency.

What are the predictions?

According to the polls, Macron is strongly out in front in the race to the Elysée. This advantage has recently been strengthened by his strong response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, he does not have strong enough support to claim victory solely from the first round. So, the question is who will he go against in the second.

Marine Le Pen looks to be the strongest contender, gaining more support after remarks came out from her far-right rival, Eric Zemmour, saying that he ‘admired’ Putin. Le Pen has also had controversy surrounding links to the Russian President, having to bin a number of flyers featuring the pair together. Nevertheless, her message on purchasing power, made worse by the crisis in Ukraine, has resonated with many, especially the working class.

Then, currently polling at 14% is the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Melenchon’s principal policy is to change the political system, creating a 6th Republic. Even though he is the strongest contestant from the left, his vote suffers from the fragmentation on this end of the spectrum. So many parties representing similar political ideals lead to confusion and division amongst voters. As a result, the left once again are being shown to lack a strong foothold in this election.


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