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Valentina Nardi

On April 23rd speculation ended: Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are the two candidates that won the ticket for the second round of presidential elections. It was in the first round of voting where the campaing was wrapped in corruption and fake job scandals and the attention was more focused toward the mutual accusations of the candidates than on the content of the candidates’ proposals. All this, in an adverse economic context together with delicate episodes in what concerned security issues, as it was the murder of a policeman in Champs-Élysée a few days before the elections, qualified as a terrorist act.

Campaigning wasn’t easy for either of the candidates. Marine Le Pen had two battlefronts. In the first one, she had to clean her Party’s (National Front) image, traditionally described as racist, xenophobic and nationalist. To do so, she put into practice a policy of de-demonization of the party, trying to tone down her father’s speech, founder of FN Jean-Marie Le Pen. She did this without taking too much distance from the extreme right-wing, making controversial statements about immigration, the European Union and the link between terrorism and Islam. The most recent example was the polemical statement about how France wasn’t responsible of the events happening in what is known as Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Plus, she had another stumble after being accused of creating fake jobs when she was a member of the European parliament. Unlike François Fillon, candidate for Les Républicains, who paid the price of being accused of giving his wife a fake job during his campaign, Marine Le Pen managed to get away with the accusations due to her attitude of indifference towards it.

Emmanuel Macron’s campaign wasn’t simple either. He has tried to build his image as the incarnation of the new politics, introducing himself as a competent young man capable of overcoming the old dichotomy left wing-right wing and breaking the bipartisanship Parti Socialiste-Les Républicains. Poll’s favorite since a few months, Emmanuel Macron became an easy target for his opponents, who reproach him for his past as a banker, his lack of experience in politics (it is the first time he runs for election) and for introducing himself as a novelty, while many consider him as a François Hollande’s inheritor.

Despite all this difficulties, both candidates managed to get a spot in the second round. The period between the first and second round wasn’t calm either: cross accusations and numerous public appearances in order to convince the undecided and build alliances to recover votes from others candidates that run in the first round. This seemed easier for Macron, who counted on the tacit support of François Fillon and Benoit Hamon right after the results. Although they avoided an explicit backing of Macron, they insisted on the need of denying access to power to an extremist party like Front Nacional. Crucial supports joined later, like Alain Juppé’s and the current president, François Hollande’s.

The building of alliances was a little more complicated for Marine Le Pen. In order to enlarge her electoral base, she suspended her role as president of the National Front temporarily and achieved the important support of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, to whom she promised the Prime Minister position if she wins the elections.

However, the key to figure out who will be the next president of France seems to be the undecided, the abstainers and those who will choose the blank vote. It is especially hard to determine the behavior of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s electors, who showed being reticent to give voting instructions to his followers (although he openly opposed to the FN). Many of them don’t identify with either of the candidates, and see the same danger in Macron’s liberalism as in Le Pen’s nationalism. Others consider the victory of Macron as a fact but wish to diminish the gap between both candidates and not endorsing an overwhelming triumph of Macron, as it happened with FN’s rival in 2002.

The presidential debate was crucial to convince the undecided, where two visions confronted. On one hand, a reticent EU project that seeks to reestablish borders control, the pulling out of the euro and the end communitarianism. On the other hand, Macron’s project looks forward to strengthen the European Union and bet for the structural reform of the French political system in order to finish the historical bipartisanship.

These opposite positions on the European Union explains the growing interest in this election, not just locally, but also at a European level. Neither of the candidates has an assured victory, even though last polls show a more likely triumph of Macron. Whatever the case, a win in the elections is just the first step into a complicated road. French political life will remain shaken for a long time. Macron or Le Pen, the youngest president of the French history or the first woman elected for this position, they will have to gain the support of other parties in order to achieve a legislative majority that will allow them to govern and put into practice their campaign promises.

In this context, I think the most likely scenario seems to be a win for Emmanuel Macron. Not as a proof of support towards him, but to avoid the access to power to the extreme right. Far from repeating the 2002 scenario, when Jacques Chirac achieved a stunning victory over Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2017 a big part of the electors wants to demonstrate against the FN but without supporting Emmanuel Macron. In this sense, the blank vote and the abstention are the chosen techniques for those who don’t want to see Macron reaching power with the legitimacy of having been elected by a large majority.