Two candidates in the French presidential election – centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen – advanced Sunday and are gearing up to face off against each other in the May 7 runoff for the presidency, and it looks promising for one of them.
The events playing out during this election seem to be mirroring those that occurred during the 2002 presidential election, during which Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, then the leader of the National Front, ran against the incumbent President Jacques Chirac.
Jean-Marie Le Pen and conservative Chirac emerged the two winners in the first round of that election. As the results rolled in, the Socialist prime minister who came in third place behind Chirac and Le Pen, Lionel Jospin, announced that he would no longer seek political office, and he endorsed Chirac for the presidency.
Soon after, politicians from the left began calling for their supporters to – if reluctantly – cast their ballots for Chirac as a vote of opposition to Le Pen. Rallies leading up to the runoff garnered over 1 million protesters who demonstrated against Le Pen’s vision, which was denounced as anti-Semitic and xenophobic. Some held signs comparing him to Hitler.
In the end, Chirac secured a landslide victory, winning 82% of the vote.
Chirac won the biggest majority in a French presidential election since 1958, and it was due in large part to the fact that those across the political spectrum united in opposition to Le Pen’s divisive nationalistic vision.
This year, the preliminary events seem to be playing out similarly. Marine Le Pen and Macron have come out at the top of the first round and will most likely face off May 7.
Le Pen, who endorses an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union vision for France’s future, got 22% of the vote, according to the pollsters Harris and Elabe. Macron got about 24% of the vote.
As the results came in, other contenders for the presidency began bowing out. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who got 19.8% of the vote, conceded the election and announced support for Macron. There is “no other option but to vote against the far right,” Fillon said, according to AFP.
Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon – who hails from the other side of the traditional political spectrum – made similar remarks Sunday, urging supporters to vote for Macron, even though the independent “is not a man of the left.”
“There is a distinction between a political adversary and the enemy of the Republic,” Hamon said.
Le Pen has taken steps to soften the inflammatory image of the National Front party her father helmed, and she has gained significant support among younger voters who find her antiestablishment and pro-French-worker stances appealing. But despite her actions and Macron’s relative inexperience, opinion polls leading up to the election show him easily winning in a showdown with Le Pen, according to Reuters. One Harris Interactive poll found that 64% of those surveyed would support Macron, while just 36% would cast their ballot for Le Pen.
If those polls hold true and candidates and voters across the spectrum vote for Macron, it seems Le Pen may face the same fate her father did in 2002.