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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: Macron will win the French election – and then his real problems begin

Incumbent president Emmanuel Macron is widely tipped to win the second round of the French elections. But, argues John Lichfield, the fragmentation of the French vote into three 'tribes' means that he faces a very difficult five years at the head of an increasingly divided country.

OPINION: Macron will win the French election - and then his real problems begin
Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

There are two ways (at least) of viewing the second round of France’s presidential election on Sunday.

Some commentators see a confrontation of “bloc versus bloc”; of people versus elites; of anti-System versus System. They imagine that it will be a battle between an anti-Macron front and an anti-Le Pen front.

They are wrong, luckily.

If you combine the votes for all “anti-system” candidates of both Right and Left in the first round you reach 58.7 percent of the total. How could Emmanuel Macron be re-elected this weekend if the “anti-system” voters were a coherent, political force? He would not have a chance.

As it stands, the opinion polls give Macron a lead of between 9 and 12 points. How can that be?

The answer is that “bloc versus bloc”, “people versus elites” is an incomplete and misleading description of the French electoral battlefield.

I have been arguing for months – in this column and elsewhere – that the old French Right-Left system has mutated into a  muddled pattern of three broad tribes: the scattered Left and the Greens; a pro-European, consensual Centre; and a nationalist-populist, anti-migrant and anti-European Right.

I thought that these three blocs would become clearly defined and maybe develop party structures in time for the next presidential election in 2027. I was wrong. Events have moved much more rapidly.

If you assemble the first-round votes along my new fault lines, France divided on April 10th into three, almost equal parts. The six candidates of the Left got 32.2 percent; Macron’s Centre and the Valérie Pécresse rump of the centre-right got 32.4 percent; the three candidates of the nationalist Right got 32.5 percent.

The remaining 3 percent went to the eccentric and egocentric Jean Lasalle, a man who defies all categorisation.

The geology of this new electoral landscape is unstable. The boundaries can be drawn in different ways. (Should all the remaining Pécresse be counted as part of the Centre?) Each camp or tribe is internally divided. Each tribe contains parts of the “elite” and parts of “the people”. 

Nonetheless, I believe that this “Tripartite” pattern is a more accurate and useful description of the politics of France in 2022 than People v Elites schema beloved of some French philosophers, politics professors and commentators.

The division into three broad tribes explain why Macron will win on Sunday. However much they may detest Macron, far more members of the Left/Green tribe will support the Centre than will vote for the Far Right. A big chunk will, of course, abstain or stay at home.

The People v The Elite obsession is not entirely an illusion. Marine Le Pen’s electorate is heavily weighted towards the poor and the struggling, the less educated and the unhappy. One in three low-income voters – 33.8 percent – cast a ballot for her on April 10th.  

The rest of the so-called “popular bloc” is more disparate: it is neither all “popular” nor really a bloc.

Le Pen’s far right rival Eric Zemmour appeals little to the suffering working class or the alienated rural voter. His electorate is dominated by a well-heeled and well-educated part of the “elite” which detests the pro-European and racially tolerant consensus.

Mélenchon’s electorate, both his core vote and his enlarged 22 percent broader Left vote on April 10th, is even more difficult to categorise. It contains many young people from “elite” backgrounds who have passionate left-wing, ecological and anti-racist opinions. It includes only one in four working class voters but two-thirds of all Muslim voters. It includes relatively few voters in rural areas or the outer, hard-scrabble suburbs.

Equally, the 41.3 percent “elite”  or Macron-dominated bloc includes 20 percent of working class voters.  His vote was less Metropolitan than it was in 2017. He did surprisingly well in parts of rural France.

In my own village in Normandy, where Le Pen topped the first-round poll in 2017, Macron came first on April 10th with just over 30 percent. That was a great surprise to me and that of most other local people I have spoken to.

There used to be a hidden Le Pen vote in rural France. Now it appears that there is a hidden Macron vote.

The three-way electoral split should, in theory, make for difficult parliamentary election for a newly re-elected President Macron in June. I doubt it. His one third of the popular vote, if it remains united, will benefit from the oddities of the parliamentary election system in which three or four candidates can fight the second round. Then the first-past-the-post wins.

Following the calamitous performance of Les Républicains and Pécresse, the Macron-dominated Centre is well-placed to swallow up much of what remains of the moderate, pro-European centre-right. If they can resolve their own quarrels, then Macron’s allies could get a working majority in the new parliament

The Left tribe, or collection of tribes, is now dominated by the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. They may scatter  once again before the parliamentary elections on June 12th and 19th. If the Left does manage some kind of electoral alliance, it could win a biggish chunk of seats in the new National Assembly.

The Far Right seems irreconcilably divided between its Le Pen and Zemmour wings. If they run separately in the assembly elections – as seems inevitable – they will underperform badly.

Conclusion…

 Macron will be re-elected on Sunday. He will also get a parliamentary majority.

Wednesday evening’s televised debate may shift his winning margin, upwards or downwards a little. It won’t change the result.

Le Pen will do better in the debate this time. She could hardly do worse than she did in 2017. The fundamentals of her programme – on economy, on Europe, on climate change, on race and migration – are just as incoherent and dishonest as they were five years ago. 

If Macron teases out the contradictions (without being too aggressive) he should go on to win on Sunday by an eight to ten point margin.

And then his troubles will begin. The new political landscape means that two-thirds of all voters still regard him as an upstart and an interloper.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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