2017 French election: who could have known?

Marine Le Pen, candidate for the far-right Front National is likely to capitalize on growing anti-EU sentiment and win the first round of the French presidential election.

In less than a fortnight, France will have to choose between eleven candidates on who will be the next President of the French Republic. Polls today show that Marine Le Pen, far-right leader of the Front National, will win the first round followed by centrist Emmanuel Macron and centre-right François Fillon, but that she’ll lose against Emmanuel Macron in the second round. However, distrust of polling organizations and their findings is growing among the French people after their failure to predict Donald Trump’s election and Brexit. Indeed, the past year of campaign showed that the true winner of this election is the unknown.

It should have been François Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen fighting for the crown all over again. If we put aside the six “small candidates”, the candidates who have real chances to win the elections are: Marine Le Pen if François Fillon is against her in the second round, Emmanuel Macron if Marine Le Pen is against him in the second round, Melenchon and Hamon if they work together… You get the idea: we have no idea who will win the presidential election. The French people voted during the primaries for unexpected candidates and pushed out the “presidential” ones. Current French President François Hollande had such low polls numbers that he did not even try to run for a second mandate.

The former Socialist minister and now centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is tipped to beat Marine Le Pen in the second round on 7 May and become the next President of France.

Let’s start from the beginning: the centre-right primary. Nicolas Sarkozy, President from 2007 to 2012, Alain Juppé the favorite, François Fillon, ex-Prime Minister under Sarkozy and more conservative than the others, and Bruno LeMaire, the young figure of the right. François Fillon won the primary thanks to the support of 4 million voters when everybody thought he was going to lose to Sarkozy and Juppé. After his great victory, he became the favorite for the presidential election.

After François Hollande announced he would not be standing again, the center-left, weakened by its President’s policies over the last five years had to choose a new candidate from the Parti socialiste. Eleven candidates, among them Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, two members of the “frondeurs”, far-left members of the Socialist Party who left after Hollande’s political turn to the right, running against Manuel Valls, the former Prime Minister who left government to run. The two favourites in the polls, Manuel Valls and Arnaud Montebourg lost unexpectedly to Benoit Hamon, a unique figure in the French political sphere and a favourite of the far left of the party.

Between the centre-left primary and the official beginning of the campaign on 17 March, two things happened. Firstly, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the great left-wing orator, and Benoit Hamon’s negotiation to unite behind one candidate for the left failed, even though they could have beat Marine Le Pen in the first round and stand a good chance in the second. Secondly, a French newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé published a story that sent shockwaves across the political establishment. François Fillon, the centre-right candidate who based his campaign on truth and political honesty, was shown to be corrupt, having stolen money from parliament and the taxpayer for years and given to his wife and children. His and his party’s chances of getting into the second round are now ruined.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has seen an explosive rise in the poll, to displace former front-runner François Fillon in third-place after Le Pen and Macron.

This election was supposed to be a boring déjà-vu. It was supposed to lead to the election of Marine Le Pen. Nothing is less certain today, especially now that Jean-Luc Mélenchon is on the rise, with polls showing him nudging into third-place. Before the first round election on 23 April, I am sure we will see yet more surprises.

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