Forecasting the results of elections has been a dangerous endeavor lately. Polls, prediction markets, and pundits missed both the Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s Presidential election in the United States last year. Underestimating the frustration of voters and the power of populism is largely responsible for the surprises. The world is holding its breath that the pattern does not repeat itself in tomorrow’s French Presidential election and French voters are being tasked with deciding fundamental questions about their country and the international order.
According to the website Predictwise, Emmanuel Macron has a 92% chance to defeat Marine Le Pen, although fairly similar odds were given to Hillary Clinton in the United States. The most recent polling suggests Macron will receive more than 60% of the vote.
Le Pen leads the party The National Front in France, a party that her father – Jean-Marie Le Pen – founded. The party coalesced the leading nationalist parties in France that were opposed to France’s increasing integration with the rest of Europe after the Second World War. The elder Le Pen was often in the news for making outrageous or inaccurate claims. Some of these statements have been seen as anti-Semitic and as minimizing the Holocaust. He also made racist statements about some French soccer players. The younger Le Pen is more judicious in her statements at times, but shares many views with her father.
Candidate Le Pen is running on a nationalist platform. One that advocates for France to chart its own course, independent of the European Union, and that closes it off to immigration.
Emmanuel Macron is considered to be a centrist in the mold of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair by many observers of French politics. He has previously served as the Minister of Economy and Finance. He also extols mainstream, international positions such as free trade, integration with the rest of Europe, and selected French intervention in foreign affairs such as France’s involvement in Libya. The position in which Macron is most at odds with Le Pen is that of immigration. Macron has spoken positively about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies and has spoken out in behalf of Muslim immigrants to Europe.
Assuming that Macron wins the election as he is widely expected to, the task of governing may not be so simple. That’s in no small part because many of the votes cast will be against Le Pen rather than for him. More tangibly, Macron’s party – En Marche – is extremely young. Macron founded it after leaving the Socialist Party and President Hollande’s cabinet. That was only one year ago. It’s possible that few seats in the French National Assembly will go to Macron’s party regardless of the result of the election, making his potential relationship with the French National Assembly a wild card. France’s confusing system of government to foreigners only further muddies the waters.
When the President of France belongs to a party that also controls a majority of the Parliament, France’s government very much resembles that of the United States. It is a system that gives the President substantial power, but with oversight by other governmental institutions. But, what happens when France’s Presidency and Parliament are not controlled by the same party? France then looks very similar to any other Parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister holds the most power in the country.
One of the most important powers granted to the President of France is the appointment of the Prime Minister, subject to the approval of the National Front. When the President’s party does not hold a majority of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister must be someone acceptable to the opposition and not someone through whom the President can operate.
If En Marche is not to control the French National Assembly, who will? That election will not be on Sunday, but on June 1th and 18th where the entrenched Gaullist and Socialist Parties will play a large role. Whoever wins between those parties will have substantial ability to direct a Macron administration. Polling suggests that the most likely outcome could result in a coalition between Macron’s En Marche and center-right parties.
Not only would that outcome be plausible, but it is also desirable. Should it occur and Angela Merkel continues to garner enough support to maintain her position in Germany, the two leaders would have the opportunity to take the lead in rejuvenating the European Union as a bloc that can check Russian ambition and be an economic and moral leader in the world. It’s little wonder that it appears Russia has interfered in the French election in a similar manner to its hacking in the United States election.