By Koffi Kouakou
Marine Le Pen loses, again. The unthinkable, the imagined possible upset, didn’t happen.
Her attempt to snatch the presidential seat from the incumbent Emmanuel Macron failed a second time. It seems her demonisation by her opponent worked. Fearful and anxious of her far-right political agenda spectre, French voters re-elected Macron in a run-off last Sunday.
Europhiles, European oligarchs, the Davos reset gurus, French urban elites, leftists and the mainstream media are now breathing a sigh of relief. Yet she still hopes to have a better show during the parliamentary elections next month.
But the sigh of relief hides uncomfortable realities about the general state of affairs in France that the almost three-hour presidential debate, set on the peculiar date of April 20, Adolf Hitler’s birthday, hardly discussed in detail.
First, let’s look at the election results and what they tell and mean. On the back of a lacklustre debate, the results were characterised by the obvious criteria of politics, social, geographic, demographic, immigration and the continuing insecurity and war concerns in Ukraine.
Macron of La République en Marche (The Republic on the Move), won with 58.5 % of the votes and Le Pen of Rassemblement National (National Rally) lost with 41.5%. A granular geographic and social strata views of the results tell us that Macron won with an urban elite vote, while Le Pen lost with an overwhelming rural or provincial vote.
A visual map of the votes shows a stunning display of a favourable colour across France for Le Pen and a localised and crowded dots around urban areas with major cities for Macron. The larger demographic of older persons around 60 and above voted for Macron. Strange insight.
Traditional political parties such as the Republicans on the right, centre-right and the socialist or the left performed dismally during the first round. Their voters were faced with a difficult choice between an arrogant and elitist Macron they find hard to stomach and a detestable Le Pen they despised.
Overall, a comparative view with the 2017 presidential election tells a story of a slightly different story, when Macron had 66% and 34% for Le Pen. In other words, this year, Macron lost almost 8% of votes while Le Pen increased by 8% as well.
This differential tally clearly shows Le Pen steadily gaining support amount right-wing voters in France. Of great concern is the growing size of the abstention vote in France.
According to the polling agency Ipsos-Sopra Steria, the estimated rate of abstention reached 28%, up 2.5% from 2017, making it the highest level for a presidential run-off since 1969, in 50 years. Overall, the polls gave a fairly accurate view of the election results. They had predicted well.
IFOP gave Macron the lead with 51%, and Le Pen 49%, a somewhat narrow margin. Second, the results mean that the painful choice between the candidates has again exposed a fractured France as happened in 2017.
So, while president Macron’s policies have spurred a modest economic growth, created employment, energised a moribund entrepreneurial and private sector, brought Europe together during the Ukraine war, much has not changed for the French.
A more anxious France is still worried about the rise of the far-right, the distaste for French toxic and incompetent politicians, and more important that Le Pen and her ideals remain a force to reckon with. Finally, the past two decades, French presidential elections still conceal a deeper malaise, that France is governed by layers of faults lines that keep widening.
Macron will inherit them again as he has struggled to close these gaps. So, the real story of the election results is not about the win of the incumbent but how the French must deal with the structural problems that plague their nation. Identity crisis is one of the utmost structural issues.
The French have been grappling with what it means to be French today and the multiple identities that fashion it in a globalised world in which waves of arriving African, Middle East, and Asian migrants are culturally challenging secular France. Furthermore, the French are gatvol.
They are angry, disillusioned and have enough of their politicians’ inability to fix their problems at home. They are also struggling to identify with their electoral candidates. Case in point, 75%, that’s two-thirds, of the French didn’t want the re-election of incumbent president Macron.
Another 58.5% didn’t want Le Pen to be their president. Added to this fractured identity confusion are the issues of the growing costs of living and the tempering with pension reforms by the Macron government. So, presiding over the French republic is no easy endeavour nor can it be improvised. That’s at home.
Abroad, Macron will face gigantic challenges. He must deal with the cohesion of Europe in the face of the Ukraine war against Russia as the EU president. In addition to Europe, in Africa, he will need to redefine his policy to meet the growing discontents of France’s unsavoury neocolonial legacy in Mali, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Niger, even in Senegal and Cameroon, where the combined geopolitics of Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Gulf nations is asserting and bolstering their presence and reputation to win Africans.
Here, there is no Le Pen to beat, and the debate will be much more ruthless than in France. Competing rivals to France’s international reputation and power are at a higher stake. Sadly, Africa was barely mentioned during the presidential debate.
I suspect re-elected Macron will recognise his previous mistakes and find better ways to deal with new geopolitical realities in Africa. But I expect little from him on Africa.
* Kouakou Africa analyst and senior research fellow at The Centre of Africa China at the University of Johannesburg