PARIS, France, 18 April 2017
Next Sunday 23 April the French people will vote in the first round of their presidential elections. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, the top two candidates will go to a second round on 7 May. There are 11 candidates altogether vying for the post of President of the French Republic.
Ten days back, many were predicting that the final round would be a sure face-off between 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Now it is not so sure. The latest polls are showing that the top four candidates are neck-and-neck, hovering around 20% of the intention to vote. The French Socialist Party, one of the two traditional parties of France, and their candidate Benoit Hamon, has currently around 10% of the intention of vote.
The top four candidates are:
- Marine Le Pen, The Front National, extreme-right candidate, has a very protectionist vision and an anti-immigrant platform.
- Emmanuel Macron, “En Marche” (“In movement”), describes his programmes as being neither right nor left of the traditional party line. He is a former banker, and former Finance Minister of the incumbent President François Hollande.
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is a former socialist minister who left the party to form his own movement. Today, he is the candidate of “La France Insoumise” (“The rebellious France”). His rise in the polls has been quite dramatic.
- François Fillon, a centre-right candidate, was former Prime Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy. He was the frontrunner until the breakout of a scandal involving misuse of public moneys.
The French presidential election comes at a very important moment in the recent history of the European Union. Two of the top four candidates question the utility of the EU. Marine Le Pen wants to take France out of the EU and the common money, and re-establish the borders. Mélenchon wants a structural change to EU, and often blames the EU for the problems facing France and Europe.
Will the French penchant for revolution and “remettre le compteur a zero” (“reset the timer”)? See the election of Mélenchon, who also promises to put an end to the Fifth French Republic with the President at the centre with a king-like stature. Fillon and Le Pen would also like to reverse the marriage rights to homosexual couples which was passed by Hollande’s government.
Le Pen and her party are mired in controversy due to their ambiguity towards the Holocaust. Marine Le Pen refuses the role of the French government in the deportation of Jews during the second World War. More specifically, the instance in 1942 in Paris where some 13,000 Jews, almost one-third of them children, were rounded up and sent to concentration camps and only a few hundred of them survived. She recently stated that immigrants don’t work at all in France, depending on the welfare completely. And yes, she is close to Putin’s Russia, and her party is accused of being funded by Russian banks.
Macron on his part has the baggage of passing the controversial Labour reform law, the Loi El Khomri. He is seen by many as representing “the
technocrats”, and out of touch with the reality of regular French citizens. He also raised many eyebrows when he called the French history in Algeria “a crime against humanity”, yet backtracked within a few days. This and his various stands on other issues have earned him the label of ‘being everything to everyone’.
Mélenchon and his party are notoriously ambiguous when it comes to Russia, Syria, Iran, and South American dictators. He wants France to leave NATO and join an obscure group with Bolivia and Venezuela as members, and Iran and Russia as observers. He lavishes praise for the Communist Party of China as a benign power working for peace, and not wanting to have a more powerful role internationally by choice. He famously called the Dalai Lama an autocrat with a project of ethnic purge of some 100 million Chinese from Tibet. He denies that Tibet was ever independent, and says that Tibet has been a part of China since the 13 century.
François Fillon has been mired in controversy, leading to his poll numbers falling dramatically since January 2017. He is accused of diverting parliamentary funds since 1980 to pay his wife for a “fake job”, and later his two children, even while they had not finished their studies. He is also close to Russia and calls for an end to embargo against Russia. His party is also for lifting the arms embargo against China put in place after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
So what does this all mean for Tibet?
Strangely, China seem to be absent in the French political debate at the moment. Russia is at the centre of the presidential debate, as three of the top four candidates also have a soft view of Russia and are more antagonistic towards what they see as the bully on the other side of the Atlantic ocean — the USA.
According to a report published by a Tibetan support group, the group wrote to the presidential candidates and only three smaller candidates responded. They were Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou, from the two left parties that represent the workers, and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a souverainiste candidate.
“With regard to the Tibetan people, I would like to express my anger and revulsion against the repression of the Chinese state,” responded Nathalie Arthaud.
“We support the right of self-determination of the Tibetan people, that naturally includes the right to independence. Specifically, we support the fight of the Tibetan people against the continued colonisation of their country by China”, wrote Philippe Poutou.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan would like to see a more active role by France to open the path of dialogue between China and the Tibetan government in exile. He added that he would gladly meet the Dalai Lama officially if elected.
Never has the French presidential election been this uncertain. All top candidates are within a margin of error of each other in the polls. As they say in France, “Jamais deux sans trois” (“Never two without the third”) — after the victory of Brexit and of Trump, will the French choose Frexit?
About the author
Tenam is a former editor of the Tibetan Bulletin. He has lived in the Paris region of France for the past decade, and writes occasionally about Tibet-related issues in France and Europe.