By Nate Nkumbu
Election Season is upon us here in the United States but across the Atlantic, France is also getting ready for a very important election that could have global implications.
With a whole range of issues that are in the voter’s mind from national security to the economy, this election season will prove to be one that could shape France’s future at home and abroad.
After a wave of terrorist attacks that have plagued the country in recent years and a meddling economy that has failed to take off, many in France are willing to turn to the far right of the political spectrum for salvation and safety.
But before going into too much detail, let’s do a little overview of how the French political system actually works.
The country is led by a President, who is elected every five years.
France uses a two round system to elect its president so the top two finishers in the first round of voting then face off in a run off election two weeks later.
The next election is scheduled to be held on April 23, 2017 with the second round scheduled for May 7.
Many experts believe that incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande could be in real trouble if he does decide to run for reelection.
“The Socialist party, which Hollande is member of doesn’t have much love for him like the rest of the France because he’s failed on number of things, mostly the economy as France is still struggling,” William R. Keylor, a Professor at Boston University who specializes in International Relations and is expert on US and French politics said to RISE NEWS.
According to Keylor, Hollande’s mismanagement of the economy has seen his approval rating drop to as low as 10%.
The professor added that because of Hollande’s unpopularity, many of the political parties in France see an opportunity to challenge his Presidency.
One of those parties is led by a rising star in French politics by the Name of Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old who Hollande had as his finance minister has become the rising star of French intellectuals who wish for a more moderate future.
His brand of politics, and his campaign (which is called “En Marche!”, or On Our Way) are marked with a form of optimism not unlike Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau.
But Macron is not the only challenger in the election.
The Republicans (the center-right political party) will hold a primary in the fall that is being hotly contested by Former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
There is also a far right party that is actually leading current opinion polls in the election- the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, a member of the European Parliament.
Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen is a rabid racist who founded the National Front as a reactionary force meant to inform more traditional ideas of how French society should be run.
Keylor suggest that on the international scene, Sarkozy, Hollande, and Macron would continue the international presences that France has with NATO and the European Union, but under Le Pen, France’s international presences would change drastically.
“Under both the Socialist and Republicans, France would continue their obligations to the Nato and the EU being charter members and one the more influential nations but under Le Pen, you would see France renege on the obligation” Keylor said.“Le Pen’s policy, much like Trump’s in America is all about making France first. Under her, you would see France retreat inwards”
With the Socialists discredited under Hollande’s poor economic management and weakness in dealing with terrorist threats, there is a real chance that France will have to choose from the right and the far right in the Presidential run-off election.
Why does that matter?
Well just look at the recent “burkini” controversy.
The nation has been gripped in debate over whether women should be allowed to wear a form of the Islamic covering known as a “burqa” on the beach. The issue came to a head when one beach community banned the outfit and forced women to remove it while on the beach.
The controversy has angered human rights campaigners and progressives the world over, but it is not clear-cut in France.
Le Pen and Sarkozy support making the ban a national one while Juppé and Macron want to relax the ban.
Macron, who speaks English and is married to his former high school teacher who is over 20 years his senior also wants to reform the French economy and is willing to go after some of its sacred cows, like the 35 hour workweek.
He is not a Socialist and has angered many labor unions due to his more reform minded view of the world, but he may be France’s only hope to prevent the country from plunging into a far right reality.
A 38 year old may be the man France needs in this time of great need.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.