On April 23, French people will elect their president for the next five years. Within only a few months, the whole presidential landscape has changed from head to toe, to the great surprise of the French people and of political pundits around the world.
What could have been an insipid presidential election of the same old candidates turned out to be an intriguing political competition of regional and international interest, with striking developments happening nearly every week.
The main campaign milestones can be summed up as follows. In April 2016, former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron founded “En Marche,” a new party aimed at uniting people across the political spectrum. In December 2016, outgoing president François Hollande withdrew from the race during the Socialist Party primary.
In January, Benoît Hamon emerged as the primary winner, beating former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the expected winner.
In March, the indictment for fraud of François Fillon, the candidate representing right-wing party Les Républicains, and his wife, after beating Alain Juppé in the primary elections, was followed by his losing many supporters.
In March, extreme right-wing party National Front led by Marine Le Pen was suspected of fraud for fictitious employments paid by the European Parliament. Nevertheless, her fan base is ever growing.
In April, a first-of-a-kind political debate representing all political parties (11 in total), took place after Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (considered as a small candidate) expressed his discontent at the TV news. Also, the Socialist Party has been losing supporters for the past two months.
For most young people, this campaign has been disappointing and has led to confusion. Indeed, according to Marie, 22, commercial support at a French wallpaper company, the campaign has been “full of low blows” that uncover a “bribed and defective system,” as she said. “I don’t understand how a candidate who has problems with justice can still be running,” she adds, referring to Fillon.
According to Sophie, 21, who studies pharmacy in Geneva, this campaign has been a real disappointment, especially in the timing of events. She believes that if Fillon had been convicted before the primary elections, Juppé, who is further center, would have won and hence unified right-wing supporters. Now, “Fillon is discredited, it is over for him… there is therefore no real candidate on the right wing,” she said.
The feeling of untrustworthiness and bribery is also shared by Noé, 23, a business school graduate student, and Pauline, 22, a musician. “I would prefer them all pulling us from the top, instead of dragging us down,” the latter said.
However, Pierre, 21, student in a French business school, was more optimistic. He recognized that this campaign is somewhat interesting. First of all, it allows a “reorganization of political forces that places three favorite parties that are usually not elected [Macron, Mélenchon and Le Pen] at the top of the government.” It also enables new political subjects to arise, such as whether to stay, change or leave Europe, question the role of the state (whether to adopt a policy of Laissez Faire, nationalism or protectionism), and reassess the importance of ecology as well as the functioning of democracy, he said.
Furthermore, “this campaign demonstrates the growing importance of the internet as a source of information,” Pierre adds. “The fact that candidates use Facebook, Twitter or Youtube to talk about their projects tremendously reduces the importance of traditional media.”
However, Pierre claims that the media can have a tremendous impact on a candidate’s image, both positively and negatively, which is not really fair.
In order to give a voice to the candidates, enable them to explain their political program and debate with their opponents, two official presidential debates have been organized. The first one only featured the five most likely-to-be-elected candidates, while the second one brought together all the candidates and took place on April 4, givin everyone chance to speak.
The issues tackled were the creation of jobs, the protection of the French people and the implementation of the candidate’s social model.
However, “the real matters are not discussed during the debates,” according to Ninon, 21, a student of pharmacy in Geneva. “Only the style is discussed, not the content.”
Nevertheless, according to Elénore, 22, a master student in a business school in France, “even though these debates are not perfect in terms of concrete solutions, they enable the audience to get an idea about how the candidates defend their ideas and express themselves publicly when challenged.”
Hence, one can wonder whether French youth will actually go and vote on April 23, or if their deception will overwhelm their action. This is case for Noé, who told Global Young Voices he will not vote as none of the candidate appeals to him. “Macron, Fillon, Hamon propose the same policy we witnessed for the past 20 years, and has it been beneficial for France? We all know that it has not. Marine Le Pen is the closest one to my convictions in terms of opposition against the financial oligarchy, however, I don’t recognize myself in her aversion for religions that increases racism in France and that could lead, in the short run, to a civil war.”
On the ever-growing supporter base of Marine Le Pen, Elénore said, “What scares me the most, is that people seem to forget where Marine Le Pen comes from. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, known for his racist comments and opinion.”
According to Juliette, also a business master student, Le Pen is ideologically very similar to her father, except that she isn’t as vocal about her views. “She succeeded in changing the image of the extreme right wing to appeal to a greater amount of people, but the values and ideas have not changed,” she added. “She wants to bring back the death penalty.”
Nevertheless, for most people, the duty to vote and still believe positive outcomes are possible surpasses the disappointment. “I would have liked not to vote to show them they are all bad, but I prefer to choose amongst the worst” says Pauline, who will vote François Fillon.
Charles, 20, student in a business school also believes François Fillon is the best fit for the Presidential role. “Despite his implications in affairs that are all over-mediatized, his experience as a Prime Minister under Sarkozy made him acquire the experience necessary for the role he is running for”.
According to Pierre, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the one who represents his ideas best (his concern for ecology, fight against poverty, reorganization of French society). “I don’t deny the fact that his policies might bring some problems, but to me, he is the one able to bring France towards a saner state (humanly and ideologically speaking), by developing French political conscience through a more participative Republic, and stop the mighty power of neo-liberalism stuck in French’s imagination”.
Eva, 25, a teacher in Nancy, has always supported the Ecological Party. However, “this year, I will prevent myself from voting green, because of my fear that the extremes win” she admits. Nevertheless, Eva feels lucky: Yannick Jadot, the candidate of the Ecological Party rallied Benoît Hamon’s Socialist Party. “I endorse his humanist and social values,” she says, “to me, he is consistent and convincing, and I agree with most of his ideas (creation of new jobs, evolution of the partnership with the EU, security, etc.)”
Emmanuel Macron is the best candidate for Sophie: “He is ambitious, not scared of challenges. He has many ideas and knows how to put them in place.”
Thomas, who has always supported François Bayrou (centrist), will vote Emmanuel Macron now that his favorite candidate has rallied to the new Party “En Marche.” To him, Macron is the most reasonable, pro-European and optimistic candidate. Moreover, he seeks a continuity with the actual government “he will certainly not cancel the reforms that have been put in place by the actual government, and hence enable France to go forward.”
However, despite these settled opinions, many French millennials still don’t know for whom to vote. This is the case of Marie: “I would have voted Fillon but he is untrustworthy, Le Pen has some good ideas but has hundreds of bad ones, Mélenchon could bring a change but he is extreme, and extremes are dangerous… I don’t recognize myself in Macron’s ideas, and blank votes are not considered in France.” Hence, she uses Voxe.org, a platform where she follows each programs and tries to make her decision before the vote.
According to a poll conducted by Ipsos/Sopra Steria, both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have 24 percent of voting support, followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 18.5 percent, François Fillon at 18 percent and Benoît Hamon far behind with only 8 percent.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV