Update 20:45 CEST: François Fillon conceded defeat calling for his supporters to vote against the far-right that Marine Le Pen represents and endorses Emmanuel Macron.
Update 20:35 CEST: The Guardian has an historic note about this election:
(T)his is the first time in modern French history that neither of the mainstream centre-right or centre-left parties of government that have governed France since the second world war have qualified for the second round of a presidential election.
Update 20:15 CEST: Some of the polls closed at 7 PM CEST and early estimates have Macron and Le Pen leading with 23.7% and 21.7% respectively. Fillon and Mélenchon trailing on around 19.5%. The Socialist candidate, Hamon, is way down on 6.5%.
These are early estimates but the French have a very accurate system to estimate the votes that is usually within a percentage point or two. While it is based on actual vote counts, it is not an official count but it is not a poll either.
Hamon has already conceded and urged those who voted for him to vote for Macron on May7.
Today the French vote on which two of the eleven candidates will have the chance to their president for the next five years. Since 1962, unlike the United States, the French have directly elected their president. To be president of France that person must get 50% of the popular vote which has, as in the past, required a second round of voting two weeks after the first between the top two candidates. The candidate who wins serves for five years and, since 2008, can only serve for two consecutive terms. Campaign advertising on TV is not allowed and each candidate is given equal time on public television. Spending is also tightly regulated and capped with an independent agency regulating the election and party spending. These are not arbitrary rules, they are part of the French constitution. It seems a lot more civil and organized than US elections for as uncivil as the French can be at times.
Although only four or five are considered contenders for the two second round spots on May 7, it is still anyone’s game. Polling has been no help and there is much speculation by political pundits about how the shooting on the Champs Elysee and the insertion of the highly unpopular presidents of Russia and the United States will effect the peoples’ opinion. One thing is certain, the French can be fickle and unpredictable.
These are the top candidates:
Emmanuel Macron is a 39 year old who was briefly a civil servant before becoming a Rothschild’s banker and then an adviser and economy minister in François Hollande’s government. He has never been elected to office. He has campaigned as being “pragmatic and fair” neither left or right. He is socially and economically liberal but pro-business. He has no party affiliation and is running as an independent.
Marine Le Pen is a 49 year old lawyer and head of the Front National party that was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. She represent the far right and has run on a platform to end immigration, slash crime, eradicate Islamism, pull France out of Europe and save it from globalization. Her campaign slogan is “Au nom du peuple” which translates: “in the name of the people.” She sees herself as the savior of the French public, French culture, and French language. Sound familiar? It should.
François Fillon, 63, a former center-right prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and a member of the Les Républicains party, has been hit by an alleged corruption scandal. A self-styled “clean hands” candidate, he was accused of giving his wife and children taxpayer-funded fake jobs. After slipping in the polls, his numbers have stabilized and he is back in contention. He is economically a Thatcher radical (read austerity) calling for cuts in taxes and public spending, slashing public sector jobs, raising the retirement age, freeing up labor laws and breaking trade union power. He appeals to the conservative French Catholic voter promising to preserve traditional family values. Hmmm, sounds even more familiar
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, , a far-left veteran with a radical economic program, could also make the final two. He is the head of a new party, La France Insoumise (Untamed France), his policies include shortening the working week, lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum wage and social security benefits, and taxing top earners at 90%.
He also wants to abandon nuclear power, abolish the presidential regime of the Fifth Republic, and in foreign affairs withdraw from NATO, develop warmer ties with Russia, and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership with the promise of an in-out referendum afterwards.
The ruling party Socialist candidate is Hollande’s former education minister Benoît Hamon, 49, whose most radical idea is his proposal to introduce a universal basic income.
Most of the media pundits are concerned about a Le Pen win, even though the current polling shows that she would lose no matter who she faced. An article in The Guardian makes some interesting points about that possibility:
Most observers doubt Le Pen can win more than 50% of the second-round vote. But there are caveats. Her support is more solid: in surveys, Le Pen’s voters mostly say they are certain to support their chosen candidate; Macron’s tend not to be so sure.
There is no precedent for a Macron victory: no centrist has ever occupied the Elysée palace, nor any candidate running without the political and logistical backing of one of the traditional left or rightwing parties.
In past elections, the two-round system has allowed voters from both left and right to form a united “Republican front” against any FN candidate who makes it to the second round. So far, that pact has largely held.
But some observers worry it is now vulnerable. They say voters are so disaffected, and consider politicians so corrupt and ineffective, that the pact could be seen more as the political class saving its skin rather than a bulwark against extremism.
One recent survey showed 89% of French voters believe politicians do not listen to them. How angry, demoralised people vote will be decisive. And an unforeseen event, such as another major terrorist attack, could yet change the whole dynamic of the race.
Now that’s really sounding familiar.
Voting is done by paper ballot since the French don’t trust electronic voting machines to be secure. Polling stations opened in the Atlantic Ocean territories of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as well as French Guyana in South America, the Caribbean’s Guadeloupe and elsewhere. Voters abroad could also cast ballots in French embassies, with polls across France opening on Sunday. The count will begin on Sunday evening when polls have closed across mainland France.