Vot­ers re­ject main­stream for French pres­i­dent

Macron, Le Pen reach fi­nal round

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELENA BER­TON

PARIS | The next pres­i­dent of France will ei­ther be a pho­to­genic cen­trist ex-banker who set up his party just a year ago or the leader of a far-right party who wants to close the coun­try’s bor­ders and leave the Euro­pean Union, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary elec­tion re­sults.

On Sun­day, French vot­ers went to the polls and gave in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Em­manuel Macron the lead in the race with 23.90 per­cent of the vote. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Na­tional Front, came in sec­ond with 21.42 per­cent, with 96 per­cent of the vote tal­lied.

Trail­ing them were Com­mu­nist Party Can­di­date Jean-Luc Me­len­chon and Repub­li­can for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Fran­cois Fil­lon, nearly tied at about 19.56 per­cent and 19.94 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

Be­cause, as ex­pected, no sin­gle can­di­date re­ceived more than 50 per­cent of the vote, the top two will face off in the sec­ond round May 7, an elec­tion that most view as cru­cial to the fu­ture of the Euro­pean Union. France is a found­ing mem­ber and the third-big­gest econ­omy in the 28-mem­ber bloc af­ter Ger­many and the United King­dom, the lat­ter of which is ex­pected to leave the union in the next few years.

Mr. Macron told his cheer­ing sup­port­ers that they are “the faces of French hope” and vowed to be a pres­i­dent “who pro­tects, who trans­forms and builds.”

Ms. LePen de­clared her­self “the great al­ter­na­tive” for French vot­ers and said, “The time has come to free the French peo­ple.”

The elec­tion has been a closely watched lit­mus test of French anger at the po­lit­i­cal

es­tab­lish­ment, not least be­cause of the vic­to­ries of the Brexit camp last sum­mer and Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber.

Still, it was the first time the es­tab­lish­ment par­ties — the So­cial­ists and the Repub­li­cans — both failed to pass the first round of elec­tions in mod­ern French his­tory. The re­sults high­light vot­ers’ dis­ap­point­ment with tra­di­tional par­ties, per­ceived in­ca­pable of deal­ing with vot­ers’ con­cerns about un­em­ploy­ment, se­cu­rity and re­forms.

“I have voted So­cial­ist in the past, but Benoit Ha­mon’s pro­gram did not con­vince me,” said Fran­cois Dor­leans, 38, a pay­roll spe­cial­ist from the Parisian sub­urb of As­nieres-sur-Seine. “So it had to be Macron — his pro­gram is re­al­is­tic, and he doesn’t be­long to a tra­di­tional party.”

“The po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in France is par­a­lyzed and po­lar­ized be­tween (main­stream) left and (main­stream) right,” he said. “At the same time, a lot of peo­ple are say­ing, ‘Ev­ery­one but Le Pen.’”

Al­most 47 mil­lion French peo­ple, at home and over­seas, voted in the first round of the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — a high turnout that sur­prised many poll­sters. There were con­cerns about vot­ers ab­stain­ing in record num­bers out of dis­gust for the can­di­dates.

For the first time in France’s mod­ern his­tory, a con­sti­tu­tion­ally el­i­gi­ble out­go­ing pres­i­dent did not stand for re-elec­tion. Though Fran­cois Hol­lande’s ap­proval rat­ings have cratered to as low as 4 per­cent. Mr. Ha­mon, his suc­ces­sor as can­di­date, polled at a mere 6.35 per­cent.

Still, the mood was tense mainly be­cause of fears of fur­ther ter­ror­ist at­tacks, with al­most 60,000 po­lice and mil­i­tary de­ployed at polls and across the cap­i­tal and the coun­try. Sev­eral polling sta­tions were briefly evac­u­ated af­ter false alarms in Be­san­con, Saint-Omer, Hague­nau and Paris.

Af­ter the re­sults be­came ap­par­ent Sun­day night, an­ar­chist and “an­tifa” pro­test­ers clashed with po­lice, set­ting cars ablaze and dancing around the fire. Au­thor­i­ties re­sponded to the ri­ots with tear gas.

Late Thurs­day, one po­lice of­fi­cer died and three other peo­ple were in­jured af­ter a gun­man — a 39-year-old French na­tional who sup­ported the Is­lamic State group — leaped out of a car and opened fire on a po­lice bus on the Champs-El­y­sees, one of Paris’ most iconic land­marks.

Some wor­ried that the “ter­ror” fac­tor would help Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Fil­lon, both vo­cal about the mea­sures the coun­try needs to take to com­bat ex­trem­ists.

But Mr. Fil­lon, the cen­ter-right for­mer prime min­is­ter who was once seen as the front-run­ner, has been caught up in a scan­dal in­volv­ing his fam­ily’s ap­pear­ance on the gov­ern­ment pay­roll for jobs they didn’t do.

Anger and frus­tra­tion over a fail­ure to stop ter­ror­ist at­tacks — France has ex­pe­ri­enced three ma­jor at­tacks since 2015 — as well as the slug­gish econ­omy with un­em­ploy­ment hov­er­ing at around 10 per­cent that pro­pelled non-main­stream can­di­dates to the fore­front, an­a­lysts said.

Mean­while, dis­like for the Euro­pean Union has taken a foothold on both ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, while in gen­eral the pub­lic has grown weary with a po­lit­i­cal class they see as priv­i­leged and out of touch with real life.

This anger has been chan­neled into grow­ing sup­port for Ms. Le Pen on the far right and Mr. Me­len­chon on the far left, who have promised a more se­cure life with more wel­fare, free from the shack­les of the Euro­pean Union and NATO and with pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies to shield the econ­omy from the ef­fects of glob­al­iza­tion.

Vot­ers who wanted to avoid ex­tremes were left with Mr. Macron. A for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter in Mr. Hol­lande’s gov­ern­ment, he started the En March (On­wards) party to pro­mote a plat­form that is so­cially lib­eral but pro-busi­ness. He pledges to loosen France’s fa­mously re­stric­tive la­bor laws even as he says he will re­tain the cher­ished so­cial safety net.

Ms. Le Pen has worked hard to san­i­tize the rep­u­ta­tion of the Na­tional Front — founded by her fa­ther, Jean-Marie, whom she ex­pelled from the party in 2015 — and present a “softer” im­age to vot­ers be­yond its mostly male, blue-col­lar sup­port­ers.

As such, she has gar­nered sup­port from women and the unem­ployed youth, and even Mus­lim vot­ers in the French sub­urbs.

“To­day nei­ther the (main­stream) right nor the (main­stream) left won,” Michael Amaouz, 31, a sales man­ager, said af­ter Ms. Le Pen was of­fi­cially in the sec­ond round. “It shows that a new po­lit­i­cal world is hap­pen­ing.

“It’s truly sat­is­fy­ing, and we’ll be even more satisfied in 15 days,” he said of Ms. Le Pen’s solid show­ing and her po­ten­tial pres­i­dency. “We be­lieve in it, and to­day we are mo­bi­liz­ing — all of France is mo­bi­liz­ing. Peo­ple are fed up.”

Re­spond­ing to the wave of Is­lamist ter­ror­ist at­tacks that have shaken France since early 2015, Ms. Le Pen has re­newed her com­mit­ment to a mas­sive re­duc­tion in im­mi­gra­tion and has said that jobs, wel­fare, hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion should go to French cit­i­zens be­fore they get to non-na­tion­als.

She has also pre­sented her­self as the cham­pion of work­ers and farm­ers against “wild and an­ar­chic” glob­al­iza­tion.

Ms. Le Pen, who wel­comed the U.K. vote in June to leave the EU, has promised a sim­i­lar ref­er­en­dum in France within six months of tak­ing of­fice and warmer ties with Rus­sia.

Her elec­tion man­i­festo also in­cluded plans to strengthen po­lice num­bers and pow­ers, as well as cre­at­ing 40,000 more prison spa­ces.

Mr. Macron was gar­ner­ing sup­port from some of the de­feated can­di­dates. Mr. Fil­lon said Sun­day that “ex­trem­ism can only bring un­hap­pi­ness and di­vi­sion to France. … There is no other choice than to vote against the ex­treme right.”

As she pre­pares to face Mr. Macron, Ms. Le Pen is ex­pected to work hard to woo cen­ter-right vot­ers in the next two weeks.

But his­to­rian Ni­co­las Le­bourg said in an in­ter­view with the daily news­pa­per Lib­er­a­tion that as she faces Mr. Macron in the sec­ond round, Ms. Le Pen will have a tough time rep­re­sent­ing “the new” with vot­ers and will strug­gle to ap­peal to the cen­ter­right vot­ers, who are likely to pre­fer Mr. Macron’s eco­nomic pro­gram.

It will likely be an up­hill bat­tle for the Na­tional Front leader: A flash poll by Ip­sos for French daily Le Monde on Sun­day shows Mr. Macron beat­ing Ms. Le Pen 62 per­cent to 38 per­cent.

Geral­dine Marot, 39, whose pre­ferred can­di­date, Ni­co­las Dupont Aig­nan of the eu­roskep­tic cen­ter­right party De­bout la France gained only 5 per­cent of votes, al­ready knows who will get her vote in her sec­ond round.

“In the first round, I have al­ways voted for can­di­dates that res­onate with my con­vic­tions,” she said. “What an­noys me about the sec­ond round is that peo­ple have to choose the lesser of two evils. In any case, if it’s a con­test be­tween Macron and Le Pen, I will vote Macron.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

French cen­trist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron, ad­dress­ing cheer­ing sup­port­ers in Paris on Sun­day, told them they are “the faces of French hope” and vowed to be a pres­i­dent “who pro­tects, who trans­forms and builds.” The cen­trist ex-banker who set up his party just a year ago gar­nered the most votes.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen blew a kiss af­ter exit poll re­sults of the first round of the elec­tion were an­nounced. At her cam­paign head­quar­ters in Henin-Beau­mont, Ms. LePen de­clared her­self “the great al­ter­na­tive” for French vot­ers and said, “The time has come to free the French peo­ple.”

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