Favourites emerge ahead of 2017 French presidential election

Left and right: Juppé, Macron and Le Pen in lead a year before vote to succeed Hollande

French president François Hollande: a strong majority of voters want neither him  nor his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to be candidates next year but both fight on. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

French president François Hollande: a strong majority of voters want neither him nor his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to be candidates next year but both fight on. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

 

One year before the first round of the French presidential election, clear favourites have emerged from the ruling socialist and opposition Les Républicains parties: economy minister Emmanuel Macron and the former prime minister and mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé. 

Macron, at 38, is the youngest presidential hopeful. Juppé, at 70, is the eldest.

The French left is still haunted by the spectre of April 21st, 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right- wing National Front (FN), defeated socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, before losing the run-off to Jacques Chirac.

It has become common for FN candidates to defeat socialists in the first round, for example in December’s regional elections. 

Polls indicate the Les Républicains candidate who wins next November’s primary will likely face Le Pen’s daughter Marine, now FN leader, in next year’s run-off. 

“The surprise result of 2002 has become the near inevitable result of 2017,” said Le Monde, calling the humiliation of the socialists “probable” and “predictable”.

Though he serves a socialist government and is considered a protégé of president François Hollande, Macron proclaims himself to be “neither left nor right”. His positions against the 35-hour working week, special status for the civil service and generous unemployment benefits have offended many on the left.

Best on left

Libération

On a visit to Cairo at the beginning of the week, the French leader joked about his own unpopularity, telling journalists, “Your prayers are welcome”.

A strong majority of voters want neither Hollande nor his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, to be candidates next year. But both politicians fight on.

In a long, tedious television interview on April 14th, Hollande repeated that a presidential term is five years and he has served only four. He continues to hope for a miracle that might reverse his record-breaking unpopularity and ensure his re-election.

Macron has annoyed his cabinet colleagues by launching his own party (En marche!) on April 6th, then posing with his wife for the cover of Paris Match magazine. 

He told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that he is “nourishing a presidential project”. He is about to deploy hundreds of “super-marcheurs” – walkers or movers – in a door-to-door campaign modelled on US president Barack Obama’s.

Jockeying for position

Manuel Valls

When Libération asked voters who would be the best left- wing candidate, Valls ranked second at 28 per cent to Macron’s 38 per cent.

Valls has recently moved leftward with Hollande in the hope of salvaging a semblance of unity on the shattered left. The alliance of socialist, communists, Greens and the far left was always fragile. Under Hollande it has disintegrated into mutual loathing.

When Macron told the insurance review Risques that death duties were preferable to the wealth tax, Valls said doing away with the tax would be “an error” and “unjust”. In 2010, however, Valls also wanted to do away with the wealth tax.

The socialist defence and finance ministers have made snide remarks about Macron’s rapid rise.

“Political life, especially when one is a cabinet minister, is a little like football; you have to play as a team or you don’t win,” defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday.

The right will today officially open the contest for sponsorships required to participate in Les Républicains primaries in November. Eleven men and women have declared themselves candidates, but only four (Juppé, Sarkozy, the former prime minister François Fillon and Bruno Le Maire) are likely to receive adequate support from elected officials.

Polls consistently show Juppé as the only politician who would out-score Marine Le Pen in the first round. He is supported by a strong majority on the right as well as by significant numbers of socialists. 

“I feel I’m being carried by a broad movement,” Juppé said this week. “Those disappointed with Hollande are welcome, and I think they’re there. Voters who realise the FN programme would also lead to disaster are welcome too.”

Juppé compatible

Talk of a cross-party, Juppé-Macron ticket for president and prime minister so annoyed socialist party leader Jean- Christophe Cambadélis that he tweeted: “The game is not to be compatible with Alain Juppé, but to prevent him from winning.”

While left and right thrash out their presidential ambitions, Le Pen continues to portray herself as the only “anti-system” candidate. And, contrary to her father in 2002, Le Pen is seriously preparing her campaign for the second round.

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