With the results of Sunday’s first round vote in France’s presidential election tallied and posted, centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen finished at the top, with 23.86% and 21.43% of the vote, respectively.
The two will move on to the second round of voting on May 7th where the candidate with the majority of votes will become the next president of the French Republic. Here are four big takeaways from the results of the first round.
1. The era of the outsider
For the first time in six decades, neither the mainstream left-wing or right-wing parties has a candidate in the second round. Macron founded his own liberal-centrist party, En Marche! (“Let’s Move!”) in April 2016, and resigned from Hollande’s socialist government only a few months later to launch his campaign. There are no elected officials representing his party in government, a fact that certainly could make it difficult for him to form a governing coalition. While Le Pen is at the head of an established political party, le Front National (“The National Front”) can hardly be considered mainstream—or at least it couldn’t until recently. She and her followers are often associated with the far-right, right-wing extremists, nationalists, and occasionally the alt-right, defined as a “racist, far-right fringe movement.” By choosing Macron and Le Pen to face off in round two, French voters made clear their exasperation with the current establishment.
2. The Front National is here to stay
Founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s father) the Front National has not always been such a player in French politics. In April 1997, only 13% of Front National voters actually supported the platform (the other 84% of voters chose them in defiance of other parties). Jean-Marie did make it to the second round of the 2002 presidential election, but was trounced by Jacques Chirac. After years of stalling in neutral, Marine revved the Front National into gear in 2011. She toned down the racist rhetoric, and spun the xenophobic positions into a “France-first” platform. In the 2012 election, Marine received 17.9% of the first round vote. In 2014, the Front National received the most votes in the European Parliament elections, and gained 21 seats. In 2015, when Jean-Marie minimized the Holocaust, calling the gas chambers “a detail of history,” Marine booted him from the party. Now, in 2017, 40% of the Front National’s voters actually support the platform. They may only hold two seats in the French National Assembly, but that could change in June, when rance holds its election for the parliament.
The Parti Socialiste itself is falling apart. What was once a large coalition of voters has splintered over core beliefs, and rallied in smaller factions around several politicians. The Parti Socialiste’s official candidate Benoît Hamon won nomination in an upset over Manuel Valls, the former prime minister of President Hollande who resigned in 2016 to run for president. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a 30-year member of the socialist party, also defected from the party in 2016 to start his own party, La France Insoumise (“Unsubmissive France”). And of course Macron, another member of Hollande’s socialist cabinet, left the government and party to found En Marche!. After a divisive primary and Mélenchon and Macron’s defections, it’s unlikely the Parti Socialiste will maintain their current levels of power and influence.
4. A face-off of ideals
In her first round victory speech, Le Pen gleefully announced, “The great debate will now take place.” And she’s right, the two final candidates really do have many opposite views. Macron believes in France’s role in the European Union, and Le Pen wants a Frexit. Macron does not want to close France’s borders and believes that France should do more for refugees, while Le Pen wants to reduce legal immigration and the intake of refugees. Macron wants to adhere to laïcité as it is and add the teaching of different religions into school curriculum, and Le Pen is adamant about laïcité in a way that would result in banning the burqa and all religious symbols in public. This second round vote between Le Pen and Macron truly is a referendum on two opposite outlooks on France’s role in the world, the role of government, and what it is that makes up the French identity.
Featured image: Stock Photos from Guillaume Destombes/Shutterstock