The initial round of the French Presidential election on 23 April is rapidly approaching and it is increasingly looking like it will be a nail-biter right until the final run-off between the two leading candidates on May 7. Polls suggest the contest still remains open between four candidates: According to the Kantar Sofres poll at the start of the week Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen lead with 24 percent of the vote and are followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has been gaining ground with 18 percent of the vote. He is now ahead of François Fillon with 17 percent of the vote; plus Fillon continues to fight yet more allegations that he put his wife on the payroll 4 years earlier than he had claimed.
On Wednesday the Dutch voters went to the polls in the first of a series of elections across Europe this year. France follows with the first round of the Presidential election in April and a runoff between the two leading candidates in May and then the German election takes place in September. Given the rise of populist politics, the UK voting for Brexit and the Trump Presidential election victory, markets have been paying more attention to politics.
The French presidential election is shaping up to be a bit of an odyssey with all manner of surprises and it is yet to even get to the first round of voting. A week or so ago Emmanuel Macron looked like having the best chance at facing Marine Le Pen in the second round run-off in May after François Fillon’s polling took a hit from the Penelope-gate scandal. Then, there was the story that the left candidates Benoît Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were exploring an alliance with a single candidate to represent the left but this failed leaving both facing the prospect of elimination in the first round based on their current polling-scores. But in politics a lot can change in a week.
This Sunday the French socialists head to the polls in the final round of the nomination of a socialist candidate, a runoff between Benoît Hamon who led the initial round with 36.4 percent of the vote and Manuel Valls who secured 31 percent of the vote. Arnaud Montebourg who came third (with 17.5 percent of the vote) has urged his supporters to back Benoît Hamon. The turnout was disappointingly low and this weekend looks unlikely to be much better signifying public disillusionment with the current government’s policies.
With Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President, 2016 has been a year of political change, perhaps even revolution. Populist politics is seemingly the new zeitgeist as voters have vented their dissatisfaction with rising inequalities blamed on globalisation and more liberal policy agendas instead favouring more conservatism and protectionist approaches to areas such as immigration and potentially trade. This trend is also spreading to Continental Europe where the Italian referendum on constitutional reform is due on December 4 but could end up being a protest vote against the incumbent government and ‘economic malaise’. The ongoing primaries for the French Presidential Election next year are also sowing the seeds for a departure from the status quo.