The French Connection was an Academy Award winning thriller-movie in the early ’70s that was supposedly based on a true story. It traced down a colossal drugs and heroin import operation from Marseille to New York. The latest election in France also rides on the same lines, having a connection with elections in the US. President-elect Emmanuel Macron is an outsider without the establishment support, as was Trump. He was an investment banker with a business background, so was Trump. And from here the connection between the two ends and the connection between the losing candidate Marine Le Pen and Trump begins. She was just like Trump, the angry anti-immigration and anti-globalisation nationalist who wanted France to be out of Europe. The story of a divided France is reminiscent of the story of a divided Britain and the US.
Macron’s party unveils new faces for French parliamentary polls
Human history is a story of struggle for freedom. Various ideologies are introduced, gain popularity and then are challenged, and then they become contentious leading to a time of discontent in the world. Communism, socialism and capitalism have all had their champions and critics over a period of time and thus, globalisation is no exception. The 20th century ended with this great discovery of the world being one and the trade being free, making this universe a better and richer place to live for all. However, the recession in the beginning of the 21st century triggered by the financial crisis raised questions on the beneficiaries of the globalisation movement. This brought more unrest in the West than in the East. The Western societies, bred on decades of affluence and development, went through this unfamiliar era of joblessness and austerity, resulting in a widespread discontent in the US and Europe. Countries like Greece, Spain and Italy experienced economic downturns with resultant political discontent.
France also experienced political turmoil. The loud talk of Nicolas Sarkozy and the mumbling of Francois Hollande both disappointed the French voters. Sarkozy tried a second run in this election but the French were not forgiving and Hollande was so unpopular that he did not even take part. Francois Fillon who was supposed to be the best candidate got embroiled in a nepotism scandal of giving his family small public assignments that were big enough for the French to discard him. That left the far-left Le Pen and the centrist newcomer Macron. While Le Pen rode on the Trumpian wave of anger, resentment and a divided Europe, Macron was the new kid on the block who at 39 was young, fresh and untried, giving him an advantage over others.
Politics is a game of sensing the pulse of the people and making it beat louder by empathising with it. Macron realised the public disenchantment with traditional politics and resigned from Hollande’s government, and instead of joining the Socialist party started a movement of his own the “En Marche” (Onward). He captured the mood of the French youth by focusing on the 25 per cent unemployment rate and resonating with their core issues. He gave a message of hope compared to that of fear of Le Pen. The final debate televised live was as bloody and muddy as possible but he came out more logical, calm and a man with a plan.
France’s Macron faces first challenges ahead of swearing in
There is a wave in the world, in Europe in particular, for the non-conformist. Justin Trudeau captured the imagination of the people all across the world with his youthful exuberance of diversity and change. In Europe itself, young rebels like Alexis Tsipras in Greece and Matteo Renzi in Italy broke the mould of the business as usual approach to politics. All in their early 40s are bold and willing to take on entrenched mafias. Tsipras and Renzi went for referendums to take on reforms. Renzi resigned after he lost the referendum but is back as the head of the party with plenty of time to make a comeback at the national level. This new non-conformist breed of politicians is not only different politically but personally as well. Macron gained more popularity due to his personal life. He is married to a 64-year-old, who is two decades older than him and has seven grandchildren. The fact that Brigitte was his teacher and a childhood crush added more to the social media viral spice.
However, the real challenge remains the same, ie, how to bridge the divide. Although the results show Macron sweeping the elections with 66 per cent votes compared to 34 per cent of Le Pen, it is still a dangerous balance. Primarily, Le Pen has improved her vote percentage by 10 points which shows that the divide is increasing. The big rock in front of Macron is now to win enough seats in parliament. He does not have a party and needs over a hundred candidates. This will make him cohabit with the Socialist party, the same party he refused to join earlier. In a coalition government, will he be able to carry out this bold agenda? The French always valued their unique identity and it will be interesting to see how his En Marche politics with a differential advantage copes with the pressures of politics that is required to gain parliamentary majority.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2017.