This Sunday April 23rd, the people of France will cast votes in the first round of their presidential elections. Unlike the United States, it is likely that no president-elect will emerge from this initial ballot. Right now, five candidates are registering above 5% in the polls. If one of these people were to receive over 50% of the vote in the first round, the election would be over. However, this rarely happens, and this year will be no exception. The more likely scenario is a second run-off election between the top two finishers from the first round. Because of this structure, the outcome of the final vote is quite difficult to predict, even now.
The current president, François Hollande, is eligible for another term but has decided to forgo the option due to low approval ratings. His party, the leftist Socialist Party, is running a candidate by the name of Benoit Hamon. In addition to this mainstream party candidate, the other major party of France, The Republicans, selected François Fillon to run. Three other fringe parties are polling well enough to register on the world stage right now. France Unbowed’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and On the Move!’s Emmanuel Macron both introduce niche options on the far left and the center, respectively. Perhaps most famous, however, is the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who has often been described as the Donald Trump of French politics.
France’s presidential race has tightened dramatically over the past several days, according to Bloomberg. Le Pen, who enjoyed front-runner status nearly the entire campaign season, has dropped somewhat in the polls, with Macron moving into first place as of April 13th. Mélenchon (the Bernie Sanders of the election) is also enjoying a doubling of his standing in the polls, from 10% to 20% in just a month. The scandal-plagued Fillon and under-performing Hamon, the two mainstream candidates, look increasingly likely to be eliminated in the first round of voting.
While it is impossible to predict the winner of the presidential elections in France, or even to say who will make it to the second round, it is becoming more and more probable that a fringe candidate will fill the position. Once the field is reduced to two, logic would state that the more centrist candidate would win. In this case, that candidate would be Macron, who is fiscally conservative yet pro-EU. He favors sanctions against Russia and would like to hire more police and raise defense spending.
It looks like voters in France will reject the traditional political establishment, at least at the presidential level. Therein lies the challenge for the eventual winner. Without the backing of a sizable coalition in Parliament, the new president will likely find it tough to enact any sweeping reforms. Since Le Pen has virtually no existing presence in the legislature, her agenda will be severely hampered. Macron looks to be the best bet for the eventual winner right now, and he may be able to stitch together a ruling coalition in Parliament thanks to his centrist views. Those who are expecting another disruptive event along the lines of Brexit or the Trump victory will be disappointed. Regardless of who wins, the France of the future is now looking very similar to the France of today.