No earthquake in France – Emmanuel Macron, just as it was expected, wins his second term. Did he expect, though, that his victory will be so much less convincing than five years ago? That time, more than 66 per cent of voters chose him in the second round, many genuinely hopeful about his political movement, La Republique en marche, and his promises to “renovate French politics”. Now no more than 58,5 per cent actually want him to stay, including those who decided that he was no more than a lesser evil.
Many others understand already that Macron’s “new political quality” equals neoliberal anti-social policies, securing the capital’s well-being and brutal suppression of social movements and street protests. There is utter arrogance in Macron’s claims that he is now the president of all the French men and women. He is not. He is the president of the rich, which was proven in the campaign when he revived the idea of raising the retirement age, the idea that was met with resolute resistance once he had announced it back in 2019.
All this does not mean that there is a reason to lament Marine Le Pen’s consecutive failure.
The far right has always grown on grievances of working and middle classes, just to fail their hopes for redistribution, social security and fighting inequalities. There are signs clearly hinting that this would be also the case of the first female president of France. Le Pen had the political instinct to oppose the higher retirement age idea during the campaign,, but was not enthusiastic about higher minimum wages either. As Romaric Godin of Mediapart put it, her economic program was perfectly compatible with neoliberalism, being, in social terms, a step back even from what Le Pen promoted back in 2017 elections. Her xenophobia and harsh anti-immigration stance is yet another reason for which she was not a genuine anti systemic candidate that she wanted to appear. By the way, xenophobia and islamophobia are now part of French right-wing mainstream, used by Macron too, when necessary.
The Yellow Vests demonstration being forcibly dispersed with tear gas, Paris, January 2019. Picture by Christophe Leung, CC-BY-2.0.
What next with genuine change for France, the change that the Yellow Vests fought for, dreaming of more democracy and equality? The left sympathizers look with hope on the statistics showing that Jean-Luc Melenchon of La France Insoumise (LFI) was the most popular candidate among the youngest voters, with a fair share of working class’ support. In fact, his result in the first round was just a little bit worse than Le Pen’s. It is not an exaggeration then to say that an alternative is possible. Perhaps it is closer than we think: as LFI’s MEP Daniele Obono put it, the left intends to keep being with the workers, the inhabitants of small towns and villages, all those who were left behind neoliberal policies. The left announces to supporting their struggles and persuading that a more equal world, starting from strongly progressive taxation and free energy for the poorest, is possible.
And there are people to be persuaded. More than 16,5 mln of French men and women decided that there was no candidate in the 2nd round for whom it was worth voting. As you can see in the chart below, the percentage of those who did not choose their candidate is bigger than Le Pen’s share, and close to Macron’s result. The abstention indicator has not been so huge since 1969.
Some of the voters were so angry with the illusion of choice offered in the second round, that they made it to the streets after the voting closed. This is not how the feast of democracy looks like, if we treat democracy seriously.
The jubilating Macron, the self-confident Le Pen who declares satisfaction with her result despite failure, and Melenchon who already rallies his voters to help him become the prime minister – they all know that the confrontation is not over. Just like the contradictions within French society are still there.
History, which is a history of struggles, continues.