Posted May 7, 2022
In the second round of the French presidential election on April 24 incumbent president Emmanuel Macron of the La République En Marche! (LREM) was elected to another five-year term, defeating Marine Le Pen of the far right Rassemblement National (RN). Macron’s re-election and the likely LREM victory in legislative elections in June mean that the French government will continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies and an imperial foreign policy, at the expense of French workers.
A large majority of the French electorate rejected these policies by voting for the left in the first round of the presidential election on April 10, by voting (confusedly) for the right, or by boycotting the election or casting blank or invalid votes. By the magic of France’s undemocratic electoral system and against their will, they got five more years of Macron.
Macron’s policies can’t solve France’s problems, so the country’s discontent and polarization will increase. Workers and the oppressed need united action to resist the attacks.
This article summarizes the election results, discusses their significance, and introduces a debate among French supporters of the Fourth International (FI) over the elections. The issues are similar to those posed to the left by the 2020 U.S. elections.
The French presidential election
French presidential elections have two rounds, the first to narrow the field to two candidates and the second a runoff between them. In theory, if a candidate won a majority of votes in the first round, there would be no second round. But this has never happened in the sixty years since France adopted direct election of the president.
In the second round of the 2022 presidential election Macron won by getting 58.5 percent of the valid votes to 41.5 percent for Le Pen. The turnout was 72.0 percent of eligible voters, with 8.6 percent of those who voted casting blank or invalid ballots. All figures are rounded to one decimal point, so sums can have rounding discrepancies.
Macron’s margin of victory in 2022 was much smaller than in his previous matchup with Le Pen five years ago, when he got 66.1 percent of the valid votes to Le Pen’s 33.9. The “none of the above” vote was about the same in 2017 as in 2022, with a higher turnout, 74.6 percent, offset by a higher rate of casting blank or invalid ballots, 11.5 percent.
Popular sentiment is better shown by the results of the first round of the presidential election, held on April 10 this year. The turnout was higher than in the second round, 73.7 percent, and fewer voters cast blank or invalid ballots, 2.2 percent.
The candidates of the center got 35.8 percent of the valid votes. Macron got 27.9 percent, Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains (LR) got 4.8 percent, and Jean Lassalle of Résistons! (RES) got 3.1 percent.
The candidates of the far right got 32.3 percent of the valid votes. Le Pen got 23.2 percent, Éric Zemmour of Reconquête! (R!) got 7.1 percent, and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debout la France (DLF) got 2.1 percent.
The candidates of the left and far left got 31.9 percent of the valid votes. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (LFI) got 22.0 percent, Yannick Jadot of the Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) got 4.6 percent, Fabien Roussel of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) got 2.3 percent, Anne Hidalgo of the Parti Socialiste (PS) got 1.8 percent, Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) got 0.8 percent, and Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière (LO) got 0.6 percent.
Legislative elections will be held in two rounds, on June 12 and 19, to elect all 577 deputies of the Assemblée Nationale. In the current National Assembly LREM and its allies have a presidential majority of 346 deputies, to 201 for the opposition, with ten vacancies. Macron may well retain his presidential majority, as voters tend to pick the candidate they want in the first round and the lesser evil in the second. More on this below.
The 2022 French presidential election can be roughly mapped into the 2020 U.S. presidential election by substituting Joe Biden for Macron, Donald Trump for Le Pen, and Bernie Sanders for Mélenchon. Macron is younger and slicker than Biden. Le Pen is to the right of Trump and less self-indulgent. Mélenchon is to the left of Sanders and has no relationship with an establishment party like that of Sanders with the Democrats.
Overall, the French political situation is more developed and differentiated than that of the U.S., where a wide range of political views is contained in just two parties. But the mapping roughly works and may help U.S. readers understand the electoral dynamics.
A striking feature of the election is the collapse of the two traditional parties of the Fifth Republic (1958 to now), the center-left PS and the center-right LR. Between them, the former governing parties got only 6.5 percent of the valid votes. The center is now dominated by Macron and the LREM, whose program is that of its predecessors, neoliberal capitalism and imperial projection.
Macron, a former investment banker, is the choice of French capital. He favors deregulation, privatization, tax cuts for business, increases in fuel and other excise taxes for the poor, cuts in social services to balance the budget, raising the retirement age from 62 to 65, participation in the European Union (EU) and NATO, French rule of Guadeloupe, Kanaky (New Caledonia), Corsica and other territories, and domination of France’s former African colonies. He pursues these policies with less working-class resistance than the traditional center or Le Pen could.
In 2017 Macron passed himself off as a moderate defender of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” After five years of his administration, his claims have worn thin. To compensate for his loss of support on the left, Macron shamefully courted the right, adopting some of its “law and order” and “France first” rhetoric. He managed to win, but his victory mostly expressed repudiation of Le Pan, not support for him.
Le Pen lost, but she did far better than she did five years ago. This is largely because she has repositioned RN as a potential governing party. She has cultivated business leaders, accepted the framework of the EU and NATO, and muzzled her party’s openly fascist wing. RN presents its goals as defending law and order, limiting immigration, promoting family values, and protecting French identity. But it also presents itself as “for the people” and proposes lowering the retirement age to 60 and reducing taxes on low-wage workers.
A consequence of this moderation was that Zemmour and R! tried to outflank Le Pen and RN on the right. They promoted Islamophobia and homophobia and welcomed the neo-Nazi currents that Le Pen had marginalized for the sake of electability.
The attempt failed, because it allowed Le Pen to present her candidacy as the only way to defeat Macron. Le Pen argued, “Vote for me to stop Macron,” as Macron argued “Vote for me to stop Le Pen.”
On the left, Mélenchon gained at the expense of the rest of the left. In 2017 he got 19.6 percent of the vote. In 2022 he got 22.0 percent, as more left voters wanted to cast a “useful vote,” one that might get Mélenchon into the second round in place of Le Pen, so that they wouldn’t have to vote for Macron. No other left candidate had the possibility of doing that.
Mélenchon strongly personalized the campaign. He built the LFI as an electoral machine completely controlled from above, not a mass organization. He refused to negotiate with the other left candidates or even to debate them. His electoral campaign, Union Populaire (UP), presented a vote for him as the only “useful vote” on the left. The EELV, PCF, PS, NPA and LO rejected the ultimatum.
In the second round pf the presidential election, nearly all the left, from LFI to the NPA, urged “Not one vote for Le Pen,” leaving open whether to vote for Macron. Mélenchon said that he personally would vote for Macron. Arthaud of LO said that she would cast a blank ballot. Others declined to say.
The June 12 and 19 legislative elections are the next and final round of the 2022 election cycle. In the current National Assembly Macron has a presidential majority of 346 deputies: 267 from LREM and 79 from allies. On the right, RN has 7 deputies, and R! has 2. On the left, the PS has 28 deputies, LFI 17 deputies, and the PCF plus allies 15 deputies. The EELV, NPA and LO didn’t make the 5 percent threshold to have any deputies.
Harris poll projections from April 25 suggested that in the next National Assembly LREM and its allies would have 328-368 deputies, RN and its allies would have 75-105, LR and its allies would have 35-65, LFI would have 25-45, the PS would have 20-40, the PCF would have 5-10, and EELV would have 1-5. These projections seem plausible, since the lesser-evil dynamics that gave Macron the presidency will be working in the constituencies.
Mélenchon tried to leverage his success in the first round of the presidential election to assert hegemony of the left. The other left parties argued that he exaggerated his strength and had taken “useful votes” from them in the presidential election that would revert to them in the legislative elections. But divvying up constituencies seemed safer than competing, so LFI, the EELV, the PS, and the PCF negotiated.
On May 1, LFI and the EELV agreed to form the Nouvelle Union Populaire, Écologique et Sociale (NUPES) for the legislative elections. Mélenchon would become prime minister, if NUPES won a majority of the National Assembly. The EELV would be allocated 100 constituencies. NUPES would take a “disobedient” attitude toward the EU, but only on certain economic and budgetary rules and only “if necessary.”
Agreements between LFI and the PCF and the PS followed on May 2 snd 4. In the final arrangement, LFI is allocated 326 constituencies, the EELV 100, the PS 70, and the PCF 50. Most of these are unwinnable, since the alliance is likely to take only 70-90 seats. LFI and the EELV expect to gain deputies, and the PS and the PCF hope to hold even.
NUPES essentially recreates the Plural Left, which had a legislative majority from 1997 to 2002 and made Lionel Jospin prime minister, “cohabiting” with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist president. Mélenchon was Minister for Vocational Education for the last two years of the Jospin government. The 1997 to 2002 cohabitation led to governmental paralysis, a situation familiar to U.S. readers.
Debate over the elections
Supporters of the Fourth International in France are divided over electoral policy. The NPA, which contains a majority of French FI supporters, ran Philippe Poutou for president. Ensemble!, which includes several splits from the NPA, supported Mélenchon.
The argument for independent presentation is that the NPA could present its anticapitalist perspective in the elections, which would otherwise be submerged in Mélenchon’s perspective of reforming capitalism. The argument for supporting Mélenchon is that he would get many more votes, even if for reformist politics, and anticapitalists could raise their ideas inside his campaign.
This debate can be roughly mapped into the 2020 U.S. presidential election by substituting Sanders for Mélenchon and Howie Hawkins for Poutou. The mapping is imprecise, because Sanders ran as a Democrat, while Mélenchon ran independently, and because Hawkins ran as the candidate of the Green Party of the United States (GPUS), which is not as radical as the NPA, although more radical than the EELV.
The debate continues over the legislative elections, with the NPA favoring independent presentation, perhaps with a technical agreement to divvy up constituencies, and Ensemble! favoring support for LREM and the UP or its successor.
Readers who want to look more deeply into the debate could read what the protagonists have written. Here are some suggestions. From the NPA side, The role of the Poutou candidacy by Antoine Larrache, Collapse on the right, threat from the far right, hope for an alternative on the left by Léon Crémieux, Macron’s re-elected, the struggle continues! by the NPA, and Statement of NPA National Political Council on the parliamentary elections.
From the Ensemble! side, Après le premier tour de la Présidentielle and Déclaration d’ENSEMBLE ! après le deuxième tour de l’élection présidentielle. These don’t seem to be available in English on the internet, so we’ve posted France: After the first round of the 2022 presidential elections, translated by Ensemble!, and France: After the second round of the 2022 presidential election, translated for this article.
The presidential and legislative elections are an important opportunity to raise political issues, since workers and youth tend to pay more attention to politics than they do at other times. But more important is what happens next, after June 19.
The Macron government will continue to pursue its unpopular and ineffectual policies, while the pandemic, the Ukraine war, inflation, austerity, the next recession, poverty, racism, xenophobia, and the climate emergency go unaddressed. The far right will attempt to direct popular discontent into anger against immigrants, “woke-ness,” striking workers, protesting youth, and the left.
Whatever happens in elections and in the halls of government, workers and the oppressed need to unite for direct action and self-organization in the streets, on picket lines, and in occupations. This will be the main task.