Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

France’s decision time

The center may hold in a campaign of extremes


Round One of what are expected to be two-round French elections takes place Sunday, with four credible candidates out of the 11 on the ballot. If no one candidate receives a majority of Sunday’s votes, the second round is set for May 7.

The candidates are spread across the political spectrum, from left to right and with special French characteri­stics in between. The determinat­ion of the front-runners has shifted during the campaign. As of Friday, Emmanuel Macron is considered to be in the lead, ahead of farright, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, who was judged to be the front-runner during most of the contest.

On the other hand, neither Mr. Macron nor Ms. Le Pen is the candidate of France’s hitherto strongest, traditiona­l parties, the Socialists and the re-named Republican­s. This time, however, the Socialists have been badly damaged by the weak presidency of Francois Hollande, whose numbers were so abysmal after five years of rule that he was not chosen by his party to run for a second term.

Francois Fillon, the choice of France’s second traditiona­l party, is not charismati­c, warm or fuzzy and has probably been damaged by reports of having put his wife on the parliament’s payroll in a non-working job.

Mr. Macron, 39, is the new face, position-wise reasonably placed on the ideologica­l spectrum, and would satisfy French voters’ desire for change. Jean-Luc Melenchon is running from the far left, supported by the Communist Party. He has surged in the closing months of the campaign.

Ms. Le Pen is what she is and always has been, a right-wing zealot made-up as a nationalis­t, unhelpfull­y anti-European Union and opposed on paper to the immigratio­n that France depends on for labor and, to some extent, for economic growth. It is also not 100 percent clear that the French are ready for a female president. The Thursday night attack on Paris police officers, killing one and wounding three, may look likely to drive more voters into the National Front camp. But the specter of terrorism has been factored into the decisions of most French voters by this point.

A lot of stock was put in the possibilit­y that the Netherland­s would choose right-wing outsider Geert Wilders as prime minister in March, based on the unexpected British vote to exit the EU and America’s election of Donald Trump. The Dutch didn’t. On Sunday we will see if the French turn to the right, or in which direction. The centrist, Mr. Macron, leads going in. He is likely to be the best choice in terms of prospects for future good U.S.-French relations.

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