Paris, France – Voters in France are preparing to cast ballots in Sunday’s presidential election, the Fifth Republic’s 12th since 1958.
The campaign has been overshadowed by the Russia-Ukraine war. On the domestic front, it did not deliver debilitating misconduct such as the 2017 embezzlement scandal of Francois Fillon, the right-wing candidate of Les Republicains party.
Even the controversy of Emmanuel Macron’s government around the use of the McKinsey consulting firm – pushed by the media – did not result in lighting a spark.
The run-up to the election has been marked by a mixture of apathy and concerns, due to what politics lecturer Pierre Bocquillon described as “a foretold story” between Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Bocquillon, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, said Macron’s appeal and dynamism have deteriorated compared with the 2017 election when he announced his candidacy as a newcomer.
“Macron has failed. In fact, he has not really tried to mobilise his support base which is on the centre-right,” he said.
“He still leads in the polls by a relatively comfortable margin as the candidate of continuity and stability in uncertain times, but the gap with Marine Le Pen is also closing as she seems to be hoovering some of the support of the other far-right and wild card candidate Eric Zemmour.”
There is also the fact that the 12 candidates in the campaign did not carry a single vision, which contributed to the sense of fatigue among the French population of 48 million, said Jacques Reland, a senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute.
“Most of the 2022 candidates’ agenda are demagogic, not quite serious and would, if elected, be a catastrophe for France and Europe,” he said. “They focused their attacks on Macron under the ‘anything but Macron’ line, rather than a serious vision for France’s future.”
Instead, each candidate, including Macron, announced practical measures that could please the voters.
“But there’s no vision behind it,” Reland said, describing the elections as “boring to many”.
“There’s a sort of tiredness within the French population.”
Wolf disguised as a lamb
While there are fears that voter abstention could be higher in this election than in any previous one, there are some, like 24-year-old Gabriel, who are still undecided on who to vote for.
“I’m still hesitating between two candidates,” the e-commerce worker said, standing outside a police station. “I’m still young and getting more and more interested in politics. It’s a great occasion to know more about the country and what’s at stake.”
The rise of the far right – projected to take one-third of the overall vote – has been scary, he added.
“That’s why we must vote on Sunday.”
No president has ever won by an outright majority. The second round of the election will take place on April 24, giving the two frontrunners two more weeks for campaigning.
Macron won the last election by a comfortable margin due to the strategy of forming a “Republican shield”, or a last line of defence, against Le Pen and her far-right ideals by getting other parties to back him.
This time, Bocquillon said, he intends to do the same.
“It may be a successful strategy to cling to power, but it is also a risky one,” Bocquillon said. “First, there are a lot of people who remain undecided, and most likely that abstention will be higher than usual.”
This strategy also gives way to the far-right ideology becoming ever more present in public discourse, he added.
According to Reland, Macron and Le Pen are tied in the polls in two age groups: 25-34 and 50-64.
“What is scary is that Marine Le Pen is now perceived as a serious and acceptable candidate for many,” he said. “She looks like the girl next door, who’ll catsit for you when you’re on holiday. But she’s a wolf disguised as a lamb.”
There is also a strong sense by some people who want to throw a kick at the table to shake things up and who say that maybe it is time to see what Le Pen could do as a president, he added.
“There’s definitely a Le Pen momentum,” Reland said, saying this was more than enough cause for worry. “Thirty-nine percent of people think she would make a great president. In 2017, that number was at 27 percent. The real campaign starts on April 11.”