IN THE CONTINUING saga that is the unravelling of western democratic liberalism, France is preparing itself for one of the most unpredictable elections in the history of the Fifth Republic. Former leading candidate Francois Fillon finds himself embroiled in a corruption scandal of epic proportions. He stands accused of large scale embezzlement of public money to pay his family for work that allegedly did not take place. He has rejected the accusations and vowed to stay in the race. Previously, he enjoyed a strong lead, predicted to beat the National Front contender Marine Le Pen by at least five points. At the time of writing, he looks to be defeated in the first round. The scandals don’t stop there though.
Marine Le Pen is being investigated by the European Commission for not paying back hundreds of thousands of euros, not to mention the unproven allegations that she is taking Russian money to fund her election. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist former banker and Finance Minister who was a political nobody six months ago, has just had to defend himself from accusations that he is having a gay extramarital affair. Without a doubt, however, the candidate suffering the most is Fillon. Campaigning on the basis of honesty, this particular scandal stands to derail his candidacy.
This then leaves Macron and Le Pen to contend for the Presidency. Macron’s popularity, reflected in the polls, should not give us any respite just yet – we have seen the limitations of polling first hand in the last year. However, one silver lining exists: France’s two-round election. Votes are split in the first round between four candidates, hence Le Pen’s strong lead. However, only two may advance. It is unlikely that Le Pen will gather more voters. Much like Donald Trump, her backers are a very vocal minority, thereby giving non-Le Pen voters a strong candidate to coalesce around.
And a good thing too. Brexit, although highly uncertain, is unlikely to unravel the European project. However, taking France out of the Euro, as is Le Pen’s rallying cry, most certainly will.