The exceptional candidate in the French presidential election is clearly Marine Le Pen. The many French residents who have had to leave France to find work in countries, some as far away as Australia, may well come to the conclusion that she will be more likely to offer solutions for France’s malaise than the usual run of politician. This could influence not only the way many will vote but also the opinions they give to those who remain at home. Many of them must have surely lost confidence in the French political class who have delivered massive youth unemployment, record and increasing debt and government spending almost twice as much of the GDP, 60%, as even Australia’s governments.
Worse, through the European Union, they have completely mishandled immigration, importing into France an unassimilable, even dangerous, minority. This, of course, is not to describe all, or even most Muslims as unassimilable or dangerous. It is to lament the fact that in France and elsewhere it is next to impossible for moderate Muslims to attempt to achieve a reformation without risking their safety, even their lives and certainly their fortunes, as well as their families. Only Marine Le Pen makes an issue of this and offers a serious, if harsh, solution. This has forced lesser politicians to make noises unconvincingly suggesting that they, too, will take some vague and unknown action to deal with the problem.
Of all the candidates, she is the one most likely to restore France as a sovereign state with sound and secure borders, as free of the tutelage of the Brussels Eurocrats as the United Kingdom will be with Brexit. Australians will recall that the central feature of national sovereignty was famously and succinctly described by their great statesman, John Howard, as the power to decide who comes into the country and the circumstances in which they come. Without that, a country is not sovereign. It is no more than a mere province, a protectorate or a satrapy.
There is one important aspect of Marine Le Pen’s leadership of the National Front which must be mentioned. From the time she succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, she has softened the awful anti-Semitic image he gave to the party. This is not opportunistic, it is from the heart — and unlike many such expressions from politicians, it is practical. Those of us from Anglophone countries will usually not appreciate how ingrained this virus has been in France and how brutal its practice was, even without Nazi pressure, during the Second World War. Marine Le Pen has finally reversed the way this had tainted her party by presenting the National Front not just as reformed but as the most effective protector, rather than the persecutor, of the Jews. In an interview in 2014 she said that in comparison with other political parties, the National Front “is without a doubt the best shield to protect you against the one true enemy, Islamic fundamentalism.”
The Australian‘s economics correspondent Adam Creighton recently revealed, courageously for a journalist, that if he were French he would vote for Le Pen. I agree. Although we both studied law at the Sorbonne Law School in Paris (Université Panthéon-Assas at, obviously, different times) I have never met Marine Le Pen, but she is impressive. Not to vote for her, Adam Creighton writes, would be to endorse the French political and economic elites that have sapped the life out of industry, put the Fifth Republic on track for bankruptcy, forced taxpayers to bail out parasitic banks, and left the country exposed to Islamist terrorism. I agree entirely with this reasoning.
France is ready, indeed over-ready, for a Le Pen administration. If this does not come, the French are unlikely to accept for long the absence of at least a serious attempt at the top to solve the problems imposed on them by the elites. France does not have a peaceful and calm history in matters political. In the time that Australia evolved, in relative tranquillity, from a penal colony into a collection of self-governing communities which peacefully united into a nation, France has lived through a violent revolution and a reign of terror, followed by a bewildering range of constitutional models. These have included not one but five republics, not one but two constitutional monarchies, not one but two empires and, fortunately, only one fascist regime, but with the serious threat of at least two others.
When the second round of the 2002 presidential election pitted not the usual conservative against a socialist but the conservative Jacques Chirac against the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, there were demands for the dissolution of the Fifth Republic and its replacement by a new and radically different Sixth Republic. The result was that the Socialist voters, some ostentatiously putting pegs on their noses or rubber gloves on their hands, voted for Chirac, reciting a very French election motto, ”Vote for the crook and not the fascist”.
Because of the unworthy adulation attributed to the revolution has in the national consciousness, however appalling and unnecessary that it was, the French reaction to any crisis – and just about any political problem is presented as a crisis – is to go into the streets and demonstrate, often violently and with the open purpose of bringing down the government and the constitution. This means that the political fabric in France is not as strong as in the Anglophone countries, at least until recently in United States where the political class, the mainstream media and the Democratic party have been unusually and dangerously unwilling to accept the obvious fact that they lost the 2016 election.
This may be the last chance for the Fifth Republic, just as in 1940 the German invasion was the last chance for the Third Republic, or just as the rebellion of the French Army in Algiers in 1958 was the last chance for the Fourth Republic or, indeed, the 1968 uprising against Charles de Gaulle seemed at the time to be the last chance for the Fifth Republic.
That Fifth Republic had been designed for de Gaulle in 1958 as an elected ( initially indirectly) long-term monarchy tenuously and to us unwisely grafted onto the Westminster system, although in recent years the presidential term has been reduced seven to five years. The weakness in the system will become obvious should Marine Le Pen be elected. This will inevitably lead to a period of what is called ”cohabitation”. This is where a President from one party, endowed with considerable prerogatives including the extraordinary power to dissolve the parliament shares power with an executive responsible to that parliament when it is controlled by another party or parties. Should she win, this will no doubt limit her power to fulfil her agenda. (Incidentally, it is little appreciated in Australia that the first republican model Malcolm Turnbull brought to the 1998 Constitutional Convention would have turned Australia into something like a Fifth Republic. The republicans took no notice of my warning until the former judge and Victorian governor, Dick McGarvie presented a different view. Malcolm Turnbull’s second model, the one which went to the 1999 referendum was just as flawed, but in a different way.)
In any event, voting in this election will begin with a first round on Sunday April 23, 2017. It is certain that no candidate will obtain over 50% of the vote and, therefore, there will need to be a second round. This is scheduled to be held on Sunday, May 7. It will be between the two leading contenders from the first round.
Until recently, the polling was suggesting that Marine Le Pen and the former socialist minister and now leader of the new centrist party, Emmanuel ”En Marche!”( Forward)” Macron would lead in the first round. Then it is predicted by the establishment that left wing and conservative voters will come together and vote for Macron, thus ensuring that Marine Le Pen is defeated, just as her father was in 2002 . Macron is very presentable and popular, but his policies will be just more of the same.
This prediction may be not be fulfilled for at least two reasons. First, there is the shyness of many National Front supporters, who may be reluctant to reveal their intentions to the pollsters. Second, some surveys suggest that while National Front supporters are strongly committed to Marine Le Pen, those who indicate support for the handsome but untested Macron may not be so strongly attached to him.
In the meantime, according to the latest polling, both have slipped back and the Republican Francois Fillon and the far left (and probably communist) Jean-Luc Melenchon cannot now be written off. Some polls say they are within three points of Le Pen and Macron. In addition, on one poll , 35% of voters are undecided. So even the first round is, according to the pollsters, difficult to predict.
The fact is, Marine Le Pen aside, all of the other candidates belong to the same political class who have brought France to her present situation. None of them proposes any significant solution to break this mould.
If this election and the following administration does not provide an answer to the present serious impasse in France, and in particular in relation to the economy and to the terrorist forces who threaten the fabric of French society, on all past indications the French may follow this with demands for a radical solution involving the downfall of the Fifth Republic.