By Soumya Ghosh
Utopia: A place with minimal crime and societal harmony; an egalitarian society devoid of all the vices that surround our perilous planet. However, if there were to be one country which is the complete antithesis of utopia, it would undoubtedly be France. The French Republic is grappling with high unemployment rates, societal fissures and the ominous and perennial terrorist threat.
The ramifications of next year’s French Presidential elections are quite far-reaching. The French voters are now at crossroads, facing a dichotomous choice. They must choose between the far-right candidate Marine le Pen and the Republican candidate former Prime Minister Francois Fillon. While le Pen is an anti-globalization, anti-EU candidate, Fillon promotes a free-market propaganda with a tincture of social conservatism.
Since the French Fifth Republic, conventional wisdom has always rallied around the candidate best suited to protect the state. However, events that have unfolded this year have depicted a narrative which has been on the contrary. Fillon, with his radical vision of contracting the public sector and decreasing the corporate tax rate, won by a landslide against the centrist Alain Juppe in the Les Républicains primaries.
Francois Fillon, as his critics allege, is a “medieval reactionary”. With his Catholic-infused social conservatism, he propagates moral values and is hostile to abortion and gay marriage. The standard bearer of traditionalism is also hostile to militant Islam which he compared to the “totalitarianism of the Nazis”. He has also repeatedly vowed to reduce immigration.
It seems Francois Fillon wants to outshine Marine Le Pen at her own game. The ascendance of Fillon to the mainstream of French politics is undoubtedly a signal of the demise of the centrist and left-liberal politicians of the French Republic.
The French system
France peculiarly follows a two-round Presidential system where the two-maximum vote-getters of all the candidates in this first round – will progress to the second round. The Left, as always, is deeply divided. There are four major leftist candidates: Jean-luc Melenchon of the Communist Party, the maverick Emmanuel Macron who is also the former Economy minister, the Centrist Francois Bayrou of the Democratic Movement and the to be decided candidate of the Socialist Party, who in all likelihood will be, the recently resigned former Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
It can be reasonably inferred from the opinion polls that Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen will progress to the second round.
But the bone of contention in their tussle is the controversial question of French membership of the European Union and the Euro.
Marine Le Pen is positioning herself as the candidate of the lower classes. In her argumentum ad populum, she wishes to ignite a mini-revolution akin to the original, where the ordinary masses overthrow the iniquitous establishment residing in Paris and Brussels. While at the same time espousing the politics of Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil): the nativist belief that the prosperity of a Nation lies in race and tradition.
Furthermore, Marine Le Pen accused the European Union of absolving France of its sovereignty and vilifies the Brussels establishment as a group of individuals with no popular mandate. In her attacks against Francois Fillon, she railed against his support for economic liberalism and austerity.
One thing should be certain from what has been witnessed in this year, prognosticators were flat out wrong in the Brexit vote and the US Presidential elections. Similarly, even this time around, the outcome of the elections cannot be predicted.
The upcoming Presidential elections can be interpreted as a referendum by the French on France’s position in the European Union. The European Union resistant to democratic reforms must ameliorate the supranational hierarchical structures or wish dying out to the populist tide engulfing much of the Western World.
As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “We must live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”. The conscious citizenry of France must vote according to their rational self-interests, keeping in mind the potential economic and political ramifications of their elections.
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