French elections differ from American ones. Our politologue, Stephen “Etienne” Roop, is trying to help the rest of us figure out the French elections.
The last shoe in the candidate melodrama for the French presidency dropped just minutes ago: Francois Bayrou, three times previously a candidate for president of France, has decided not to run a fourth time. So now the personnel are set for the first round of the presidential election in late April.
But Bayrou did not go away quietly. He proposed some kind of alliance with his rival for centrist voters Emmanuel Macron. What the terms of this alliance might be Bayriou did not specify, nor, curiously, did anyone at the press conference ask about. (I listened live.) But it was not like being Macron’s vice president. Bayrou was, he said, skeptical of tickets, and that “… there is only one president of the republic.”
Will Macron be interested? He is faltering a bit in the polls lately, but not badly, and, generally, the overall race is tightening up again, after a few disastrous weeks for another of the (many!) candidates, Francois Fillon, involved in what is, even for France, a rather startling tale of no-show or little-heavy-lifting jobs for family members. (The whole sordid affair has come to be named, after Fillon’s wife of no-show job fame, “Penelopegate.”) Nonetheless Macron is far ahead of Bayrou in the polls and it is not clear what Bayrou brings to Macron electorally–Bayrou’s support comes from many pockets of the French political spectrum except the extreme right or left, and these add up to the meager showing of about 5% in recent polls.
This is not the only alliance in question. On the left it is a burning question. The recent and unexpected winner of the socialist party primary, Benoit Hamon, has had some pretty fiery exchanges recently with a rival, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has created his own party as a vehicle for a presidential run. Hamon has more support in the polls but unlike Bayrou’s, Mélenchon’s support is not negligible, is steady, and comes from a distinct spot in the French political spectrum, the far left. Hamon is to the left within the socialist party. Together an Hamon-Mélanchon alliance would command–assuming no desertions–30-32% support among French voters, more than the pretty solid 26-27% currently supporting Marine Le Pen. With 30-32% behind leftist-alliance candidate X, X would almost certainly get into the second round of the French presidential election, probably with Le Pen, and likely beat her. (Virtually all polls until recently have shown Le Pen would lose badly in the second round against any candidate but her numbers, in a few recent polls, have been rising for the second round.)
Even if Hamon and Mélenchon cannot make nice-nice, might their voters? The old party monoliths are crumbling fast in France, and this year has the carcasses of many old party lions on the field of political battle. Leftist voters might see the opportunity to capture the presidency as a pretty appealing prize.
And in this year of great divisions, just a few points of support can be decisive. Only the top two candidates get into the second presidential round, and its winner becomes president. Before all those dead lions accumulated, I might have said, “Impossible!” Now I’m not so sure.