Opinion

Populists, animal rights activists, and Brexit supporters compete for the Elysée.

It is that time of the electoral cycle again in France: dozens of possible candidates, from obscure no-hopers to the established big beasts of politics, are touting their ideas to voters in the hope of becoming president and replacing the current occupant of the Elysée Palace.

The current crop includes Hélène Thouy of the Animalist party; railway trade unionist Anasse Kazib of the Revolutionary Communist Movement; Éric Drouet and Jacline Mouraud, both activists of the anti-government gilets jaunes, who began protesting in 2018; and the Frexiter François Asselineau.

They face an uphill battle against the better-known candidates set to contest the elections in April next year, including the incumbent Emmanuel Macron, veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen, and a clutch of politicians from established parties.

The candidates’ books — often just wordy election manifestos posing as philosophical treatises — are coming thick and fast. After offerings from the centre-right Michel Barnier (with My Secret Brexit Diary, he is the EU’s stolid former Brexit negotiator who seems more of a household name in Britain than in his native France), and from Anne Hidalgo (her book is entitled A French Woman, and she is the Socialist mayor of Paris), it was the turn of Éric Zemmour.

Although 20 years older than Macron, Zemmour has been much in the news in France because he is a new kind of disruptive candidate who incarnates the radical populism and nationalism that has already shaken up politics, from Trump’s America and Brexit Britain to Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey.

Zemmour surged into the public eye, Trump-style, on the back of a Fox News-type nightly programme on the cable channel CNews (controlled by rightwing tycoon Vincent Bolloré) where he opined provocatively on the issues of the day.

More extreme than Le Pen in his hostility to immigration and Islam, he has twice been convicted of racial or religious provocation. Above all, he knows how to get himself noticed — his latest sally was to call for the banning of foreign names such as Mohammed and Kevin — and he appeals to middle-class conservatives who somehow feel it is less embarrassing to vote for an intellectual such as him than for Le Pen’s more traditional extreme-right party.

You could almost hear the older generation of Gaullist viewers grunting in approval when he lamented that “the subjunctive is no longer taught at primary schools”. Two weeks later he was removed from the news programme, with the broadcasting regulator ruling that his time on air should be controlled in the same way as other would-be presidential candidates.

Zemmour has not yet officially declared himself a candidate, but the latest opinion poll gave him a remarkable 13 per cent share of the vote in a putative first round of the election.

France, however, has a system for filtering out marginal candidates that has scuppered many a presidential bid in the past and may prove an obstacle for Zemmour and others: would-be residents of the Elysée must secure 500 sponsors from among elected officials, such as mayors and MPs, in at least 30 different French départements and without using more than 50 signatures from any one département.

Some fringe politicians, such as Nathalie Arthaud of the Trotskyite Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), manage this by persuading local officials that political diversity is vital for democracy. In 2017, she qualified and ended up scoring just 0.6 per cent. But others admit the drive for sponsors is, in the words of Douchka Markovic of the Animalist party, “an immense task”. 

For the moment, Macron and Le Pen are comfortable front-runners, but anyone who dismisses the outsiders should consider recent French (and foreign) political history and its capacity for surprises: the fall from grace of IMF boss and French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn over sexual assault allegations at a New York hotel in 2011; the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Trump in the US in 2016; and, not least, the unexpected success of Macron himself in his first run for elected office in 2017.

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hello, I am Flora Khan and i work journalist in allnewshouse website i work in other sites like forbes and washington post with 5 years in experience.

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