French presidential election

Macron over Le Pen: In France’s devastating slide to the right, the choice is obvious

In this case, a vote for the banker is a vote against fascism
Photo: Sylke Ibach

The day before the last U.S. elections, I wrote about how imperative it was to elect Hillary Clinton as president, addressing those who believed there was no difference between her and Donald Trump. When I woke up the next morning to find that Trump had won, my heart sank. I felt the world was coming apart and there was nothing I could do about it.

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French voters will cast their ballots in the second round of the elections tomorrow. I don’t want to see Marine Le Pen elected to office and have that sinking feeling again. History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Donald Trump is a clown; Marine Le Pen is a serious evil.

Vote Emmanuel Macron. It’s preferable to have a banker as president than a fascist.

To have the world’s fifth-biggest power fall into the hands of Le Pen, whose Front National party has been the torchbearer for far-right parties across Europe, would arguably be more consequential than the Trump presidency. During the debate with Macron a few days ago, Le Pen showed her real face — at one point even insinuating, without evidence, that Macron was hiding money in an offshore account. French newspaper Le Monde, in its admirable editorial the following day, called a spade a spade and rightly noted that her program is to cause destruction.

A Le Pen presidency will signal the end of the EU, a project that, despite its problems, has ensured Europeans don’t go to war with each other again. It will put France on a path of retreat and withdrawal from the world. Seven decades after the defeat of Nazi Germany, France will be led by fascists — those who collaborated with Hitler, deported Jews to their deaths, tortured Algerians with impunity, and still today deny their crimes.

To his credit, Macron does seem cognizant of the need for change.

There’s no doubt that if Le Pen comes to power, we will see an acceleration in crimes against vulnerable populations in France today, namely Muslims and immigrants. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

The good news is that French polls seem to be very accurate, and Le Pen is predicted to lose. Her own camp thinks that it’ll be a miracle if she gets 40 per cent of the votes in the final run-off. While this will prevent the worst, it will only delay the inevitable. If Macron doesn't address pressing socioeconomic issues as president, Le Pen will come back stronger in the next elections.

The time has come for France and the EU to change the policies that have resulted in so much suffering for people. To his credit, Macron does seem cognizant of the need for change.

He wanted a softer approach to Greece, and overall understands that austerity is not the way forward. He is also honest in acknowledging that France’s discrimination toward Muslims creates fertile ground for radicalization. He has no qualms about accepting the crimes against humanity committed by France during the Algerian War of Independence and the Nazi occupation of the country. He is sensible enough to know that some sort of dynamism needs to be injected into what has become a stale and ailing French society and economy. If he were for more of the same, he probably would not have left the Socialist Party and run as an independent candidate (a rather remarkable feat given the nature of French politics).

How far Macron can go in shaking things up remains to be seen. He will need the support of the parliament to run the country. In a month’s time, France will vote in legislative elections, which will determine what the parliament looks like and who the prime minister will be. It is possible that Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be a candidate — and a JLM prime ministership doesn’t sound too bad.

French society has continued sliding more and more towards the right.

France will be entering a peculiar phase in its post-war history. If Macron wins, a big question is how the country’s institutions will run, since the president will not belong to either of the major parties. If Le Pen wins, France will perhaps see a sort of civil war. The country’s major centres — Lille, Marseille and others — voted for Melenchon and are staunchly left. Paris, too, is left-leaning. And let’s not forget the country’s banlieues. Le Pen’s attempts to bring France under control will be met by resistance.

But even if she doesn’t win, Le Pen and her propaganda will still leave a mark on the French psyche, or what’s called the lepénisation of the mind in France.

When Jacques Chirac beat Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2002, he chose Nicolas Sarkozy as his interior minister. Sarkozy is well known for his high-handedness during the 2005 riots in the French suburbs. When he later ran for president, his party consciously opted for very right-wing language on security and immigration in order to undercut the far right.

French society has continued sliding more and more towards the right, and traditional parties have been unable or unwilling to prevent the shift. In fact, they have contributed to it in their own ways.

Let’s hope the young Macron can do what the old guard of French politics hasn’t.

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