When is democracy not that democratic? When the system tells you “We didn’t like your first answer, please try again.” So French voters will go to the polling stations again on Sunday 24 April in the second round of the elections for president.
A second round is necessary almost always
Historically this has been the case since Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte succeeded at the first round in 1848. It is also symptomatic of a divided Right (Les Républicains – remember them?) and an equally if not more decimated Left (ah, le Parti Socialiste, yes that rings a bell!).
The results of the first round in 2022
The candidate with the most votes, Macron, got only 27.84%. Under a first past the post system, as with elections in the UK, the one with the most votes wins outright. But the French Presidential election is designed to attract more candidates from diverse parties. There were 12 parties in the first round, but eight of them did not get even the 5% of votes that is required to claim some refund for electoral expenses. The candidate for the extreme right, Eric Zemmour, for 7.07%, while the candidate for the hard left, Jean-Luc Mélanchon, got 21.95%, and Marine le Pen with a nationalist manifesto got 23.15%. So Macron and le Pen go into the second round, just as in 2017.
It’s clear that for many voters in the second round of the French election they have little or no choice but to opt for someone they had no intention of voting for and with whom they have little or no affiliation.
How Macron changed expectations
Historically, elections have been a battle between the right and the left. At the last election, in 2017, these expectations were changed as Emmanuel Macron, in the space of 18 months, started a movement (En Marche!), then a party (La République en Marche!) which was sold as neither right nor left wing but centrist. Macron managed to win the 2017 election, defeating the nationalist candidate, Marine le Pen in the second round. The French electorate can be excused for feeling a sense of déjà vu, as for the third time in five elections they find themselves having the option of the same far-right alternative party ‘all but in name’ as the only other option to Macron.
Whilst Marine Le Pen has to some degree successfully distanced her party from its founder and former chief rabble-rouser Jean-Marie, her father and the party’s life president (with whom she has cut communications), for many voters they simply see a rehashed plot with the same ending.
What has happened to traditional parties?
So how come we have the same scenario as 2017 (centre right vs far right) and what happened to the traditional right-wing and left-wing parties?
For the right wing, through bad press and the criminal convictions of its last victor, and a general lack of direction, Les Républicains (formerly known as the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, which effectively evolved from the Rassemblement pour la République) have slipped so far out of the picture that they failed to get even 5% of the vote.
On the left, le Parti Socialiste failed to muster 2% and that with the incumbent Mayor of Paris at the helm, showing itself to be equally if not even more out of touch with its traditional voters.
Why did the Socialists fail in the first round?
So how do we account for the 17.2 million votes that didn’t go to Macron and Le Pen? Well, it was only the lack of 421k or so votes that kept far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise party out of the second round, after he polled 21.95% to Le Pen’s 23.15%. In fact, had he joined forces with another far-left party, in the form of Fabien Roussel’s Parti Communiste Français who gained 802,422 votes, we would have had an entirely different scenario.
Who is likely to win on 24 April?
So the big question for this second round of the election is, where will the 17.2m votes go? Will there be the ‘barrage’ against the far right that we’ve seen in recent elections, or will the far-left voters show their disdain for Macron by doing an ideological somersault and backing Marine Le Pen in an ‘anything but status quo’ scenario?
The former looks the most likely option if the opinion polls are to be trusted, which they should be after their accurate prediction of this year’s first round. It will certainly be very close, much more so than the 34% to 66% gap in 2017. Come 24th April, millions of French voters will face that ‘impossible decision’ which will ultimately decide who governs France for the next five years.
Editor’s note: Dan lives in Kent, but the French constitution makes provision for all French citizens living outside France to vote. The French government has even organised a polling station in Ashford.