French elections: Why winning could be the easiest part for Macron

French elections: Why winning could be the easiest part for Macron

On May 7, France will vote to elect its president in a runoff between far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the centrist Emmanuel Macron. Macron is predicted to win but will face political challenges to govern after the elections.

After a first round of voting on April 23, the leader of the far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, the founder of the centrist movement En Marche! (On the Move), will be heading for a runoff on May 7th. Both candidates have cast themselves as outsiders to France’s mainstream parties and have almost no representatives in Parliament (Le Pen’s party has two while Macron’s movement has none). Whoever wins the elections will have difficulties forming a majority government and bringing the country together after an unprecedented election campaign which has dealt a blow to traditional French parties. Macron remains the favourite to win the second round and has the support of a substantial part of the business community, but he is already facing criticism from both ends of the political spectrum.

Macron’s complicated path to victory

Having accurately predicted the results of the first round, polls are now suggesting that Macron should win the election against Le Pen on My 7th with around 60% of the vote, a lower margin than former president Chirac against Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 (80 to 20%). Several factors have nonetheless weakened Macron’s candidacy, especially in the days before the final vote.

By presenting himself as a centrist determined to form a coalition of like-minded (moderate) socialists and conservatives, Macron has, one the one hand, emerged as France’s best chance against the rise of the far right during the election campaign, and on the other hand, attracted a substantial vote by default. The perception by many voters that Macron is a strategic choice rather than a choice motivated by political preference could create long-term challenges for the candidate and weaken his prospects of securing a large victory.

While mainstream parties have encouraged their voters to rally behind the centrist candidate, over 50% of voters did not back Macron in the first round and polls indicate that voter abstention will be high on May 7. The fact that far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who pulled 19.5% of the vote in the first round) has refused to endorse either candidate further complicates Macron’s position.

The challenges of forming a parliamentary majority

A narrow victory for Macron would embolden the National Front, which aspires to become the first opposition party in the country. With parliamentary elections being held on June 11 and 18, Macron’s ability to form a parliamentary majority in the lower house (Assemblée Nationale) will be tested. Whether En Marche will become a full-blown political party that can win seats remains uncertain. While Macron has managed to create momentum around his candidacy, his movement has never been involved in an election and will be challenged by traditional parties locally. Failure to secure a parliamentary majority would hamper Macron’s ability to implement his program of bold structural reforms.

Macron will in all likelihood have to form political alliances with other parties, including the centrist MoDem party led by former Cabinet minister François Bayrou. Politicians on both sides of the political spectrum started rallying to the leader of En Marche in the immediate aftermath of the first round. This, however, raises fresh questions about his ability to reconcile diverging interests within his potential cabinet and in Parliament.

Macron’s personal background could be a setback

A pro-European whose program includes various measures to liberalise the French economy, Macron has been endorsed by investors and the business community. Investors reacted positively to Macron’s victory in the first round, giving a nine-year high boost to the French Stock Market. There is indeed hope that Macron can implement wide-ranging economic reforms at home and reinforce European cooperation. Yet, Macron is a political novice who has never held elected office and is facing criticism about his lack of experience. If Macron wins the election on Sunday, he will have to prove, more than any leader, his ability to govern.

Macron will also have to deal with wide-ranging opposition from the start of his presidency, ranging from the radical left to the National Front. Put together, radical parties gathered over 40% of the vote in the first round, tapping in the electorate’s distrust of the elites. Le Pen has framed the campaign as an opposition between the elites – to which she has accused Macron of belonging – and patriots. This dichotomy will survive beyond the elections and Macron’s past as a banker and his elite education are likely to fuel further opposition.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Cecile Guerin

Cécile Guerin is a London-based analyst. She has worked as a Counterterrorism Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a policy assessment think tank monitoring emerging geopolitical threats. She holds an MSc in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.