France's Presidential Election: Cost Of Living Emerges As Main Issue; Who Will It Be, Macron Or Le Pen?

by Swarajya Staff - Apr 8, 2022 07:05 PM +05:30 IST
France's Presidential Election: Cost Of Living Emerges As Main Issue; Who Will It Be, Macron Or Le Pen?Apathy and anger loom in a gloomy France ahead of the 1st round of polls on this Sunday.

Élection en France. France goes to its 1st round of poll this Sunday. There are 12 candidates in the fray. All candidates except two will be eliminated in this round. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are most likely to be the two finalists who make it to the 2nd round.

Whilst news about the war in Ukraine has received most attention in Europe, the French voters are primarily concerned about domestic issues.

Macron has for most of the campaign been busy with the ongoing war in Ukraine. Initially, this shuttle diplomacy worked in his favour. It bolstered his stature as a statesmen in France. The war in Ukraine shadowed most political debates and made Macron appear above political bickering. Due to the ongoing war in Europe, there was a 'rally around the flag' effect which benefited the incumbent Macron.

However the person who appeared above political bickering and mudslinging, responsible for the most important task of war and peace in Europe, is now being perceived as aloof by a significant section of the French population.

Macron, on his part, has expressed regret over starting his campaign so late. "It is a fact that I entered (the campaign) even later than I wished", he said in an interview to a French radio station.

A month earlier, his victory looked imminent, with a ten point lead in most polls. Now, it doesn't. Marine Le Pen is slowly but steadily closing the gap. Opinion polls suggest that a Le Pen victory is within the margin of error.

What explains this? There are multiple factors.

The presence of a candidate like Eric Zemmour makes Marine appear more moderate. In her campaign, she has consciously focused more on bread and butter issues such as the cost of living, wage stagnation, etc. Her hope is that this will give her a wider appeal as she heads to the 2nd round.

Ipsos online survey
Ipsos online survey

Her hope is rooted in the fact that most polls indicate purchasing power is by far the biggest concern of voters in this election. She has combined this focus on bread and butter issues with an attempt to soften her hardline image without vying too far from her own worldview.

As the refugees from Ukraine moved westwards, Marine did something that surprised many people. She welcomed the Ukrainian refugees to France. Last month, whilst campaigning, when she was confronted by a French woman who questioned what she was doing about the war in Ukraine, Marine replied,"what we can do is welcome refugees, keep hope (alive,) and work for peace".

She added that this doesn't contradict her past stance on migration. The Syrian refugees who entered France were islamists and most of them were men, whereas, Ukrainian refugees are mostly children, women or elderly, she said.

Macron has barely done any actual campaigning. Whilst his shuttle diplomacy was being covered by news networks in France, Le Pen was campaigning in La France profonde, which translates to the 'deep France'. Picture small French towns and villages.

Marine Le Pen's rally
Marine Le Pen's rally

Her campaigns didn't receive much attention in the national media but they were widely covered in the local press. She has also leaned into the fact that she is a single mother. These factors have the possibility of making the French feel that she is a candidate who cares about the daily struggles of common people.

It is important to stress that Macron still remains the candidate who is most likely to win. Whilst admitting in the radio interview that he did in fact start his campaign quite late, he added that he retained a "spirit of conquest, not defeat".

Macron has attempted to dissuade voters from voting for Marine by claiming that her policies will create mass unemployment in France as the level of international investments will go down.

Macron is not a traditional politician. He was a bureaucrat before he turned into a banker. Later he served as a technocrat minister in France's socialist government, after which he started his own party and became president. Although he has changed the face of French politics by ensuring the decline of traditional left and right-wing parties and according to some people, is the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte, his own achievements pose a risk to him.

Due to the fact that he served as minister under a socialist party, many left-wing voters supported him in the 2nd round of previous election. These left wing voters are now disappointed by him. 'President of the rich', is how he is perceived by a certain section of France's left wing voters, who not so long ago, voted for him. His policies to increase foreign investment in France and increase France's competitiveness when compared to other economic powers in Europe, are the primary factors why the label of 'President of the rich' sticks.

Measures proposed by Macron recently aren't helping him in shedding this label. These proposals include - retirement at the age of 65, establishing additional conditions for the Revenu de Solidarité Active (Active Solidarity Income), which is an allowance providing minimum income for unemployed and underemployed workers. Are these measures socio-economically sound or unsound? To be honest, that's another debate. What is certain is this, these proposals are quite unpopular.

In the previous elections, fear of a Marine Le Pen presidency was significant. Therefore, in the second round, many of these voters chose Macron to keep Marine out of Elysee. A repeat of that remains a highly likely possibility this time too. However, one variable has changed. The fear of a Marine Le Pen presidency isn't what it used to be anymore.

It is unclear if Macron will succeed in creating a boogeyman (well, boogeywoman, to be precise) of Le Pen and ensuring he gets most of the left-wing votes in the 2nd round. To reduce the chances of this happening, Marine, according to a report by FT, has stated that she is open to appointing leftists as ministers if she wins the election, claiming her main concern is France and the French people.

The 1st round of voting is not that far now, but there is still some time for the 2nd round of voting. It will be held on the 24th of April. This gives Macron enough time focus on bread and butter issues. He must address the concerns that matter the most to the average French voter, be it rise in food prices or energy prices. The bump he received from the war in Ukraine is gone, trying to squeeze more advantage from it by appearing to be above 'daily politics' will be counterproductive.

Anger and apathy looms in France ahead of the polling on Sunday. Macron's warning that he might loose the election is a clever attempt to galvanise voters and burn away any sense of complacency that exists.

The campaign for the first round of the presidential election ends when the clock strikes midnight in France. A silence électorale will be implemented which prohibits dissemination of opinion polls or quoting candidates. Polls will open at 8 am on Sunday and close 12 hours later.

To know how the French election system works and its unique history, click here.

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