President Emmanuel Macron-affiliated candidates could not win a single regional poll, signalling that the upcoming presidential elections will be an uphill battle for the embattled leader.
Establishment-aligned centre-right and socialist parties won big in France's regional elections as all of their incumbent candidates reclaimed victories across the country.
In none of the 12 regional races did President Emmanuel Macron’s endorsed candidates provide a serious challenge to establishment party candidates. Like Macron-affiliated candidates, France’s far-right star Marine Le Pen’s contenders also had a poor showing.
For Francois Gemenne, a political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Liège in Belgium, the regional election results are quite a shock to both Macron and Le Pen.
“Both Le Pen’s Rassemblement National [National Rally] and Macron’s La République en Marche [The Republic on the Move] were severely defeated. The results are humiliating for both parties. Yet, the media continues to present that Macron and Le Pen will be the two finalists in the upcoming elections,” Gemenne, who is also the director of the Hugo Observatory, says.
“Both parties failed terribly in these elections. Clearly, you can question the narrative of the media that presents that the upcoming presidential elections will be contested between Macron and Le Pen,” Gemenne tells TRT World.
Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, a French academic working both at the French Institute of Geopolitics and the Thomas More Institute, has a similar take.
“Indeed, the next presidential election should be more competitive than we thought before these local elections. The duel between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen is nothing but fatal,” Mongrenier says.
“A candidate of the right-wing (Les Républicains) could be "en lice" [in line] for the second vote of the presidential election in 2022,” Mongrenier tells TRT World, referring to three emerging conservative politicians, who reclaimed regional elections in different races.
Among them, Xavier Bertrand, who was re-elected in the northern region of Hauts-de-France, might be the leading contender in 2022, according to many analysts including Gemenne.
“This result gives me the strength to go and seek the support of all the French,” he pointed out after his victory, indicating he seeks something bigger than regional politics. Increasing popularity for conservative candidates is also a sign of France’s shift to right-wing politics.
The elections also marked the lowest voter turnout ever as 65 percent of eligible voters refused to go to the polls in the second round. In that, Gemenne sees bad signs for the future of the French politics.
“A lot of people feel completely disenfranchised from the political system. Most people did not bother to vote. I think it’s not about laziness. It’s so because they are fed up with the current political game. They considered that they are no longer represented in politics,” Gemenne sees.
“So there is a big big crisis in [French] representative democracy,” he says. "Abstention is the strongest party in France today."
Is Macron history?
In many ways, Macron owes his surprise victory in the 2017 elections to Le Pen, whose resurgence in French politics weakened the centre-right, particularly Les Republicans.
In a country where the socialists under then-President Francois Hollande were also seen as a political failure, Macron’s centrist politics promised a cure to the country’s increasing polarisation and a liberating force from a possible fall to a far-right governance. As a result, an anti-Le Pen coalition delivered a victory to Macron.
Macron was elected without the support of a real party which has a strong background and history, Mongrenier says. He did not have a policy framework with loyal supporters, local politicians and roots, the French professor adds.
“In fact, the past presidential election had been a sort of political "Blitzkrieg" [lightning war]: old parties and politicians had been surprised,” the professor views.
Even after his victory, Macron has not been able to turn his movement into a real party, Mongrenier says. “In fact, he didn't really want to do that. In his opinion, his election had opened a ‘new world’, with new rules and a new way of doing politics,” Mongrenier says, referring to Macron’s attachment to "liquid society", a concept developed by Polish-Jewish theorist Zygmunt Bauman.
Bauman thought that modernity’s liquid character altered our way of life fundamentally, creating constant change, where people move from one job to another and have less hesitations to change their social roles from marriage to other positions. In “liquid society”, everything is subject to change except change itself.
Macron thought that “liquid society” could be a perfect fit for his pragmatic political ambitions in which he declares no loyalty to both the right and the left, allowing him to act in whichever directions change requires. Macron saw in the concept “a new paradigm”, according to the French professor. Macron’s party name, Republic on the Move, also reflects his affection for Bauman’s concept of mobility.
But regional elections show that France’s “liquid society” did not seek change this time around. “In this election, all the leaders previously elected have been reelected. A revenge of the ‘old world’? We know that: ‘It's Politics, stupid’,” says Mongrenier.
“History teaches us that there is nothing new in politics: a real political force needs roots, strong ideas, local representatives and militants. Briefly, a ‘weltanschauung’ [worldview], a consistent political framework and men on the ground,” says Mongrenier, a historian.
As a result, as the dust settles in French politics, Macron might face an uphill battle in the upcoming elections, according to the professor.
Gemenne also thinks that regional election results can be read as a kind of referendum on Macron’s politics. While Macron "is trying to minimise” the political implications of the regional elections after all of his candidates were “badly beaten”, he did everything for his candidates to win those races in the first place, the Belgian professor says.
“There is Macron, but he is pretty much alone. He has no real army.. He will have a very difficult time during the upcoming campaign,” says Gemenne.
“It does not mean he can’t win. But he will be able to rely only on himself.”