t is no wonder that Samuel Beckett set his play, Waiting for Godot, in the French countryside with a leafless tree and a moon for company. I believe the two vagabonds wandering around the countryside were on the run from French politics. France is having its first vote for the presidential election of 2022 this Sunday.
READER: First vote?
ME: If, which often happens, no one receives a majority in the first vote, the top two candidates will be pitted against each other at the end of April.
READER: Who gets to run on Sunday?
ME: If you want to run for president, you have to find 500 elected officials to sign your petition, with no more than 10% of the signatures from any one place either in France or its overseas collectivities. Final eligibility is in the hands of the Constitutional Council. The people who sign for the candidacy are called parrainages, which translates as “sponsors.” Now, here is the interesting thing: the word parrain, which you see so neatly tucked into parrainages, means, are you ready? “Godfather.” No wonder Estragon and Vladimir have high-tailed it off to the woods.
A LITTLE LIVING HISTORY
It can get exciting when no one receives a majority on le premier tour, the first round. Let me tell you about the second election of Jacques Chirac in 2002, which happened while I was living in France. President Chirac, aligned with the right, although nicknamed “the weathervane” to suggest his convictions went where the wind blew, was facing Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Former president of the Socialist Party, Jospin favored education reform and the 35-hour work week. Others, such as far right Marine Le Pen also were on the ballot for le premier tour. (Now you know what that is, and if you have forgotten, it is the first round of voting.)
Well, here is the surprise: on the first round, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right candidate of the party, Le Front National (The National Front), received more votes than Jospin! I saw an interview with the man defending himself for selling Nazi memorabilia. Somebody has to do it, he maintained. So there we were in 2002 with a kind of candidate who would become all too familiar. Le Pen was convicted of inciting discrimination against Muslims and downplaying the Holocaust. And here he was in the second round, in the matchup between himself and President Chirac.
The result was that Chirac won 82% of the vote. Now what’s interesting is that I read an historian who claimed this result showed how beloved Chirac was by the French. In fact, a friend of mine said that she held her nose and voted for Chirac. Was it a vote for Chirac or a vote against Le Pen?
His obituary tells much about him.
Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, is following in her father’s footsteps. She is now the president of his party but with a new name. The National Front is now called the National Rally (le Rassemblement National). Reports say she is trying to sanitize the excess of her father, whom she actually kicked out of the party. Her views are the familiar far-right views: anti-immigration and conservative cultural values. French for the French; immigrants on a plane (home) and criminals in jail.
She ran against President Macron in the last election and was defeated due to a poor performance in the televised debates (a last remnant of civilization when debates are substantive.) Again she is running against Macron. Her numbers are rising in the polls. And what’s different this time is that on the far right in France we have candidates competing to be even further right than Marine Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen’s first competitor is, perhaps surprisingly, her own niece, Marion Maréchal (Le Pen), who is not actually running. Formerly an uneasy ally, Marion Maréchal has now distanced herself from her aunt and her grandfather, founder of Le Front National. Marion has actually dropped Le-Pen from her name. In her own colorful words, according to The Irish Times (2018), she objects to gay people adopting children. “We don’t want this atomised world of individuals without gender, without father, without mother and without nation.”
Next on the hit list, the EU. She believes France must defend itself from the EU for its freedom. “After 1,500 years of existence, it is us, the French, who now must fight for our independence,” she said. “The EU is in the process of slowing killing millenary nations.”
Finally, France has a high proportion of Islamic adherents, which is anathema to Ms. Maréchal (Le Pen). She denounced “the development of an Islamic counter-society in France”, which she attributed to “40 years of massive immigration, Islamic lobby and political correctness”. France, she warned, “is in the process of passing from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the little niece of Islam. And the terrorism is only the tip of the iceberg.” In her diatribe here, the French value of fraternité (brotherhood) is conspicuously absent.
READER: Why doesn’t she just hang with her aunt, Marine Le-Pen, who is actually running?
ME: Her aunt loses and is not extreme enough. Her aunt, Marine Le-Pen, apparently believes too strongly in the French ideal, laïcité, or secularism. No veil or scarf for the Muslim but no loud Christian symbols either. Maréchal thinks otherwise: France is a Catholic nation and must assert that. The French identity cannot be replaced. Multiculturalism is anathema to this French identity, according to this thinking. Perhaps niece Marion is positioning herself for an eventual presidential run of her own, which may explain why she has joined forces with and is now campaigning for her aunt’s rival in the presidential election, France’s own media personality, Eric Zemmour, and his party Reconquête (Reconquest).
This man is a far-right enigma. A journalist and pundit, often on CNews, the French equivalent of Fox, he is said to formulate the terms of debate in France. He is Jewish, but says that the Vichy government who collaborated with the Nazis also saved Jews. I don’t believe he has ever seen the French film La Rafle, which shows the eagerness of the Vichy government to transport children off to concentrations camps. “Hold on,” said the Nazis. “We’re not ready!” Volunteering to transport children to their deaths? So our Eric is being sued because in France it is a crime to deny the Holocaust, which those bringing suit allege that he is doing.
Zemmour’s parents are Berber Jews with French citizenship who emigrated from Algeria in the 50’s, and yet he foments against immigration. He has been convicted for extreme anti-Muslim sentiment. The most recent verdict against him occurred in January when he said that “unaccompanied child migrants were ‘thieves, killers, they’re rapists. That’s all they are. We should send them back’” (NPR Europe). Despite being married, he has a young Jewish lover who argued that French Jews who leave for Israel, due to persecution, are not sufficiently French. For a conservative, and a family values man, to have a mistress is either, a. bad, or b. good because virile (unlike Macron).
The current president, it is said, is a pragmatist and a beacon for liberals everywhere. Not sure that the French would say this. Macron has had his fair share of criticism with lots of protests from the Gillets Jaunes, the people wearing yellow vests, a populist movement protesting that taxes were falling disproportionately on the middle class. A political cartoon recently portrayed Macron on the phone with Putin saying that he’d call back later after he’d taken care of his chores, one of which was running for re-election. Somebody criticized Macron for being “rightward” one day and “leftward” the next. He answered by saying that we have two feet, a left foot and a right foot, and that we put them down one at a time.
Will Marine Le Pen garner enough votes across the spectrum from the working class to at least be the number two after the first vote on Sunday? She addresses the spectrum, unlike the other far right proponents who are only interested in the far right. Will Marine Le Pen’s efforts to sanitize her party by re-naming it, for example, create an appeal for her such that voters think she isn’t that far far right? Will other candidates surprise us? Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, is on the ballot. As is Valerie Pécresse, a center/right candidate, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far left candidate who is able to project himself across the country by hologram.
WHAT SAY YOU?
Dear French and all readers,
Now that comments are enabled on this blog, please feel free to weigh in. I have taken these descriptions above from the Washington Post, The Economist, NPR, The NYTimes and The Irish Times. But perhaps, they, or we, are wrong! Is there more to say or more to say differently? A recent poll has Macron winning on le deuxième tour. Some are worried about absenteeism on the part of the Macron voters. Come back, Godot and your cast! We’ve got to get out the vote. We need you to vote. Wouldn’t it be great if Macron got a clear majority on Sunday? We shall see!