After the anti-capitalist left's unprecedented achievement in the first round, attention will now focus on Mélenchon’s engagement with the movement, writes Susan Ram
With the results now in from the first round of voting in France’s presidential elections, the two frontrunners, Emmanuel Macron of En marche! and Marine Le Pen of the fascist Front National, are drawing breath after making it through to the run-off.
On the basis of a high voter turnout of 78-80 %, both victors in fact performed short of projections made earlier in the campaign. Macron, the top scorer, mustered 23.86% of the votes, against 21.43% for Marine le Pen.
Francois Fillon, the corruption-besmirched candidate of Les Républicains, the mainstream party of the Right, barely managed to come in at number three, on 19.94%. Very hard on his heels, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise won the support of 19.62% of voters, an unprecedented achievement for a candidate of the anti-capitalist Left.
As if in another contest altogether, Benoît Hamon, leader of France’s traditional centre-left party, the Parti Socialiste, limped home with just 6.35% of the vote.
Among the remaining six candidates, Philippe Poutou of the NPA (New Anti-capitalist Party) scored 1.1% and Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle) 0.7%. When taken together with Melenchon’s vote, the tally for the anti-capitalist Left stands at 21%: a strong basis indeed on which to build for the next stage of struggle.
In purely electoral terms, the battleground now shifts to the run-off election in two weeks’ time, on May 7. The ability of Le Pen to attract a million more votes than she did in the presidential elections of 2012 – and to repeat the success of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in getting through to the second round in 2002 – will now concentrate minds and encourage calls for voters to rally behind Macron.
Significantly, Fillon has been quick to fall into line behind Macron, arguing that France would face economic disaster should it opt for le Pen. Pollsters are already predicting a walk-over for the telegenic ‘miracle man’ of En marche! Much of this presupposes that voters will turn out in sufficient numbers to swamp Le Pen’s fervent, battle-hardened cohorts, and that Macron – who ‘earned’ his millions as a banker before serving for a while in François Hollande’s government – can rally a sullen, angry nation.
Outside the French equivalent of the Westminster bubble, a different form of anti-fascist struggle is taking shape. Confronting what Philippe Poutou has already denounced as “the two putrid faces of capitalism” (“les deux visages pourris du capitalisme”), insurgent French voters seem disinclined to leave matters within polite electoral confines. As the results rolled out this evening, anti-fascist demonstrators were out on the streets of Rennes, Nantes and Paris, battling the tear-gas while chanting slogans that included “Ni banquier, ni raciste!” (“neither the banker nor the racist”). With the choice before voters being likened to one between “plague and cholera”, attention will now focus on Mélenchon’s engagement with these impulses, and his readiness to embrace the mass politics of the street. In the next two weeks, we can expect to see a shift to this terrain on the part of those mobilised and enthused by Mélenchon’s epic campaign – and resolved to sustain the Left’s advance.
Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.
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