Allez, les candidats ! State of play and main contenders in the French presidential elections

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The French Socialists have voted for Benoit Hamon, former Minister of Education, to enter the presidential elections on the socialist ticket. With a number of strong candidates already in the race, Hamon’s chances to succeed President François Hollande are slim. Guillaume Périgois, Publishing Director of the liberal news platform Contrepoints, takes a closer look at the candidates’ profiles.


Benoit Hamon (Socialist Party)

Hamon has just won the second round of the centre-left primaries, dismissing Manuel Valls, the former prime minister of François Hollande, who was previously seen as a favourite.

The most radical candidate of the primaries, he wants a universal monthly income for all French citizens. Many critics rejected his plan as unviable given its costs. He also proposes to legalize cannabis, tax robots and rigidify labour law. The controversy around his proposals put M. Hamon in the spotlight.

His victory over Manuel Valls revealed the growing gap between the sympathizers of the left wing of the Party and the more centrist line embodied by the socialist government currently in power.

With 15% of voting intentions, there is a good chance that M. Hamon will capitalise on his traditional left-wing positions in order to frame the presidential campaign as a classic duel against the markedly conservative candidate Francois Fillon.


François Fillon (The Republicans)

Fillon was the rather discreet prime minister of Nicolas Sarkozy between 2007 and 2012. His surprise victory in the centre-right primaries was based on the fact that he could be seen as the natural candidate of the different families of the right: the Christian-Democratic right, the liberal right and the Gaullist right, all of this while colouring his programme with light touches of identity politics to appeal to Marine Le Pen’s electorate.

His economic program is marked by austerity with the cutting of 500,000 public jobs, the repeal of the 35-hour working week and the scrapping of the wealth tax.

Several sources indicated that M. Fillon’s wife was paid large sums of money for fictitious work as a parliamentary assistant, in addition to a sinecure job in an intellectual magazine. The former prime minister promised to withdraw his candidacy if he was placed under investigation by the French courts. These allegations tarnished M. Fillon’s image: from being seen as a champion of sobriety and self-sacrifice, he became yet another politician taking advantage of public money. Voting intentions for M. Fillon are now at 22%.

So far these leaked allegations of corruption benefited his centrist competitor Emmanuel Macron, a rising star in French politics.


Emmanuel Macron (Onwards!)

President François Hollande’s protégé, Emmanuel Macron became minister of the economy in 2014. He has never run in an election before and at the age of 38 he is the youngest of the main candidates.

His reputation was forged through a controversial reform that deregulated a few parts of the economy and allowed stores to open more often on Sundays. The law passed despite a strong opposition coming from the left of the political specter. But for the French private sector, M. Macron became the symbol of a new generation.

Capitalizing on this new reputation, he founded the centrist political movement En Marche ! Economically and socially liberal, his program is partly built by the new sympathizers of his movement.

With 21% of voting intentions, M. Macron’s dynamic campaign upsets balances and creates bridges between electorates. He could attract both centre-left voters who think M. Hamon’s platform is too radical and center-right liberal voters. His growing popularity is beginning to worry the National Front whose entire strategy rests on the certainty that Marine Le Pen will qualify for the second round.


Marine Le Pen (National Front)

Ms. Le Pen has been trying to update the image of the party since she took its leadership from her father in 2011. The last French regional elections in 2015 showed that the National Front was the most popular party in the country but that it could be kept out of power if the centre-right and centre-left parties cooperated.

The National Front has not yet published its electoral platform, but its 2012 program pushed for a reduction in immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 entries per year, the deportation of illegal immigrants, national preference for French citizens in housing and jobs and an exit from the European Union and the euro.

The qualification of Marine Le Pen in the second round remains the most probable hypothesis at this stage, with 25% of the voting intentions. But whatever her final opponent, Ms. Le Pen will eventually be beaten in a duel.

Her economic program has a strong social-democratic dimension, championing public services and vilifying globalization and liberalism, making it a threat to left-wing candidates, first and foremost Jean-Luc Mélanchon.


Jean-Luc Mélanchon (Left Party)

Having left the Socialist Party in 2008 to found the Left Party, Jean-Luc Mélanchon received 11% of the votes in the 2012 presidential elections.

Mélanchon demands the departure of France from European treaties, arguing that the economic liberalism of the EU impedes France’s ability to make democratic changes. The French Communist Party backs his program.

With only 10% of voting intentions, and because of the fluidity between his and M. Hamon’s electorate, M. Mélanchon will have to drive the debate if he wants to beat the Socialist Party’s candidate.




The struggle for the second place

All candidates are trying to qualify for the second place in order to compete and eventually beat Ms. Le Pen in the second round.

A Le Pen-Fillon second round would see M. Fillon win with 60% of the votes; a Le Pen-Macron second round would see a M. Macron’s victory with 65% of the votes; a still improbable Fillon-Macron second round would secure a win for M. Macron with 58% of the votes.

So far, liberal ideas of personal liberty, limitation of power and an open society are better represented in 2017 than in the last election in 2012 with some key points in M. Macron’s and M. Fillon’s programmes. But competing politically fault lines on such hot-button issues as immigration or identity could take liberal reform off the debates.

With surprise victories of challengers in party primaries, timely and targeted accusations of corruption or hypocrisy, the campaigns remain very dynamic and the outcome of this presidential election appears quite uncertain.





Guillaume Périgois is Publishing Director at