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Left to right: French presidential candidates François Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine Le Pen and Benoît Hamon (© ELIOT BLONDET/AFP/Getty Images)

No political observer in his right mind would have expected at the beginning of 2016 a Brexit vote in Britain in June, the resignation of David Cameron, a dogfight between the two main Brexit supporters and propagandists within the Tory party, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and eventually the rise of Theresa May. Nor would he have foreseen, for that matter, the election of Donald Trump in the United States on November 8.

Something similar is happening in France now — on a much larger and trickier scale. A few months ago, it was taken for granted that François Hollande’s ineffectual socialist administration would be succeeded after the 2017 election — on April 23 and May 7 — by a conservative government led either by former president Nicolas Sarkozy or former prime minister Alain Juppé: a simple matter of the swing of the pendulum, as is the rule among democracies. What the French are facing now, however, is an unprecedented upsurge of the National Front, the elimination of a generation of political leaders on almost all sides, and the collapse or near collapse of classic Left and Right parties. While many voters welcome the change, others are just in a state of shock. On March 18 — one month or so ahead of the first ballot — 34 per cent of the electorate and 43 per cent of voters under 35 had still not decided whether to vote or not.

On March 20, the five most prominent candidates debated for three and a half hours on TV. About 10 million people watched intently. It was indeed a great show — and probably a defining moment in the campaign.

All five candidates are rebels. Marine Le Pen, 48, the National Front leader, is a rebel by definition. She has managed to upgrade in many ways the party she inherited from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011, to purge it of many unsavoury elements, to trim its formerly racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric (including Holocaust denial) and to switch from Vichy nostalgia to a near-Gaullist statism. In fact, she has even been increasingly reluctant to use the name National Front, and has floated alternative labels, such as Rassemblement Bleu Marine (“Navy Blue Rally”, a play on words with her first name which means “Navy” in French).

For all that, she is still sticking to a binary, undemocratic and utterly revolutionary view of the world, positing a bitter fight between what she calls “the System” (the political and cultural elite, of both Right and Left, the “lobbies”, globalisation, multiculturalism, immigration, the European Union, the euro) and “the people” (the ordinary Frenchmen) whom she claims to represent exclusively. The implication is that either you side with the people and her against the System, and opt for a fully sovereign and autarkic France under her guidance, or you are, willingly or not, an enemy of the people. Interestingly enough, she used this logic against her own father, as he resisted the revamping and defascisation of the National Front, and did not flinch from expelling him from the party at the age of 86.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, a former minister of vocational education, rebelled against the Socialist party in 2008 to found the more hardline Parti de Gauche (Left Party) and then the Front de Gauche (Left Front) in association with a diminutive Communist Party. He eventually started a new movement in 2016, France Insoumise (Indomitable France).

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April 15th, 2017
2:04 AM
Open primaries followed by runoff elections between the top two vote-getters is pretty common in the USA. It does work.

Empress Trudy
April 14th, 2017
1:04 PM
There is pretty obviously no more political space within which Jews can navigate in France anymore. Just as they started flocking to Le Pen she let slip the mask that the new FN is little different than the old one. The socialists don't want them, the Muslims want them dead, and everyone else on the spectrum is playing for time until the whole country implodes.

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