08 May 2017

Trump Effect in French Elections and Macron's Governance Problem

To everyone's relief, Macron resoundingly defeated Le Pen. 66 percent to her 34 percent is quite convincing.

I think it would be fair to point to the Trump effect in all this.

On the morning of November 9, Americans who went to bed early thinking Clinton had won, groaned with disbelief that a racist, misogynist buffoon with a serious narcissistic personality disorder was the new President.

Especially those who voted for him because of their disgust of Clinton were shocked.

The first time we saw the Trump effect in play was in the Netherlands. While Mark Rutte was greatly helped by Turkish President Erdogan, Trump was the looming figure that prevented people from voting for Geert Wilders.

One remarkable thing about French presidential elections was the low participation and the record number of blank ballots.

Normally, for presidential elections, participation hovers around the 80 to 85 percent mark.

This time it was 74 percent, the lowest since 1969. And it would have been lower had it not been the Trump effect.

I know some people who cancelled planned trips to vote (and, for the most part, reluctantly) for Macron just to avoid a nasty surprise.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that 11.5 percent of the voters went to the polls to cast a blank vote, an all time record in French elections. That's more than 4 million voters who were angry enough to leave their homes to cast a vote for nobody.

Ballot blanc has a long history of protest, going back to the French Revolution. The turnout figures include these votes as well. It you deduct them from the final tally, the results do not look that spectacular anymore.

He has a clear mandate but it is not as solid as it looks.

In that sense, he has his work cut out for him.

Can He Govern?

As I mentioned before, Macron does not have a political party.

His En Marche (EM), a name obviously chosen to reflect his initials, is a political grouping. And it was formed a year ago when he left Hollande's cabinet to pursue his presidential ambitions.

The next legislative elections are just a month away: 11 and 18 June.

Emmanuel Macron has to find 577 candidates and field them in that time frame. To make it more difficult for him he vowed that half of the candidates will be fresh faces, people with little or no political experience largely selected from 14,000 CVs sent by mail.

No, I am not kidding, I am quoting the BBC.

No one believes that he can get an absolute majority (280 MPs). Early polls show his movement to win 24 percent in the first round with Front National and the Republicans 22 percent each just behind En Marche.

Since EM has to form a party structure, a campaign apparatus and select and coordinate 577 candidate I doubt that it would ever get close to that figure. I think the polls reflect the afterglow of his victory. Besides there are no polls for the runoff or any distribution of seats.

And the French system heavily favors the big established parties.

Obviously, a lot could happen between now and June 11 but the fact that he has no structure in place and no list of candidates are not a good sign.

One thing he might do would be to select someone like Christine Lagarde, the current head of IMF, as his Prime Minister. That would add to his current momentum as she is popular and considered a highly intelligent and competent woman. And she is an outsider as she never held an elected office.

But most people believe that he will go with Francois Bayrou, the centrist politician and perennial presidential candidate. In 2017, instead of running for President, he endorsed Macron, giving him an early boost.

Bayrou has also a constituency. In the 2007 presidential elections he was third behind Hollande and Sarkozy with 18.5 percent of the vote.

And critically, he has a party structure in place.

It would make a lot of sense for EM to form an electoral alliance with Bayrou's Mouvement Démocratique or MoDem with a view to create a coalition after the legislative elections.

And who knows, together they might become the largest group in Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the Parlement Français, eclipsing the Republicans.

I think it is unlikely but if that happens, Macron will have pulled another rabbit out of his hat.

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