The Candidates for the Elysée Are Moving in Shifting Sands

31/10/2016

France has before itself a great challenge to decide who will be the next president of the Republic in the upcoming month of May, but few months away from the elections, everything is too open to talk about favorites. The primaries of the main party of the French right, Les Republicains (LR), is attracting great attention but not too much discussion on ideological level. For the first time in its history, the party has decided to choose its candidate in open primaries to militants and sympathizers, with the requirement of signing a manifesto of adhesion to some general Conservative principles and the payment of one euro. The primaries will be held in a single ballot on the 20th November and the two most voted candidates will compete again in the second round on the 27th November. Such a procedure has changed the intern power structures, and the old leaders of the party seem to be already mourning it.

Alain Juppé, 71 years old, former Prime Minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, is the favorite according to the polls. In spite of the little success in his management of the Hôtel Matignon in the nineties and a judicial sentence due to misappropriation of public funds, he reinvented himself as a successful mayor and regional leader of the republican right, introducing himself now as a guardian of the essences of a party with strong values of the traditional right, but also able to pact with the centrists and seduce some sectors of the socialist voters who are totally disenchanted with the policies of the president François Hollande and the inactivity of the prime minister Manuel Valls.

His biggest rival is the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who presents his candidacy once more in the midst of the controversy, since the magistrature from Paris has ordered to open case against him for breaking the financing laws of the electoral campaign from 2012, a judgment that could take place by the end of 2017 if he does not obtain immunity from the first magistrature of the nation. If this was not enough, Sarkozy has been presenting the main arguments of his political agenda, which points towards the right to take political space and voters away from the Front National of Marine Le Pen. This has made him a candidate who gets headlines and covers of newspapers, but who moves away from the center and the bourgeois voters from Paris, Lyon and other big cities, so his difference in the polls with Juppé does not stop increasing in favor of the veteran mayor. In response to this, Sarkozy has been insisting on the integration of the immigrants and a tough policy against the islamisation of the public space in France, which gets him dangerously close to the tenets of the extreme right and, nevertheless, makes him a candidate who can win Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential Elections, something that just Juppé also gets following the wide-range public opinion studies on a larger-scale.

By contrast, the other candidates present in the primaries of LR seem discarded by the polls. Neither the Prime Minister François Fillon, nor the Secretary-General of the party, Jean François Coppé, nor former ministers Brune Le Maire and Nathalie Kosciusco-Morizet, nor Jean Frederick Poisson, leader of the Parti Chrétien Démocrat, a small ultra-catholic party, seem to be rivals for the couple Juppé-Sarkozy. Le Maire and Kosciusco-Morizet seem to be politically warring against Sarkozy to support him in the second round of the Primaries. And Coppé and Fillon have not showed their preferences yet, but it is true that the personal relations of Sarkozy with both of them are too bad to be resolved by the 21st November. That’s why it seems that, even if Nicolas Sarkozy traced back in the polls and won the first round, the centrist votes would not appear so he can exceed 50% of the votes.

It is true that Alain Juppé is perceived as distant from the concerns of the average French citizen since he has been holding public office for over thirty years and he has never stood out for his proximity to the conservative bases. His speech is the one of a technocrat that is now trying to be sensitive to the needs of the French society, but without the passion of the other candidates and always indicating withdrawal from the speeches of the FN ultras. That makes him the last candidate of republican politics preceding the economic crisis or the rise of Marine Le Pen as a figure of national politics. Juppé, unlike Sarkozy, does not give any space to the tenets that Le Pen defends, which grants him the consent of the moderate left and the mass media, and portrays him as the only one able to calm the current politics in France, alienating it from extremes and ideas that harm its reputation both in Europe and the world. And that is what makes him a majority candidate, facing a Sarkozy who appears as the candidate of bitterness, who has not overcome his defeat in the 2012 presidential election and who is looking for a new term to claim himself as an efficient operator, but warring radically against the left and assuming many of the politic tenets of the extreme right in matters of Security, Immigration and National Identity.

We will see what they will offer this month ahead, but we already know that the political debate about the profound reforms that France needs for the period between 2017 and 2022, that nobody wants to write up in LR, is the one that has lost. Neither in the left. We will have to wait until spring for said debate and for Marine Le Pen to moderate, big favorite for the victory in the first round of the Presidential election. France keeps its time because it needs serenity to undertake the substantive reforms to improve its economy and social coexistence, but its politicians are trapped in shifting sands, since the one who moves dialectically sinks more. It’s the voters who must start taking decisions, hopefully with more sagacity than their British neighbors and their “Brexit”.

Translated by Clara Ayuso