Election of Emmanuel Macron
The election of Emmanuel Macron in France came after what was looking like a fairly unpredictable outcome. It suddenly took a definitive turn after Mrs Le Pen was exposed for what she really was during a face to face debate on national television just days before voting. It must then have become manifest to a vast majority of the French people that for all her rhetoric Mrs Le Pen ultimately did not have what it took to be a President of the French Republic, especially in these critical days for France, for Europe and for the world.
One can safely surmise that a good proportion of those who abstained — the election witnessed the biggest rate of abstention in presidential elections since the Fifth Republic — was made up of voters who before the confrontation on TV were all set to “give Le Pen’s National Front a try” if only out of sheer “dépit”. Mr Macron has been among the first to admit that the 66.1% of votes that he obtained was composed of a considerable number of “anti-Le Pen” as opposed to pro-Macron votes and that he still had a real uphill battle on his hand to convince even more supporters during his coming mandate. In Marseilles, for example, where the candidate of the “left of the left” party, Mr Melenchon, came ahead of Macron in the first round, the latter obtained nearly 65% of the votes in the second round.
The historical outcome from these elections is without doubt the elimination of the candidates of the two traditional parties – Les Républicains and the Parti Socialiste – in the first round leaving newcomer Macron opposite the xenophobic, extreme nationalist (souverainiste) Mrs Le Pen during the second decisive round. There are many lessons to be drawn from this experience which, far from being unique, is not without some similarities with what has happened in the United Kingdom with the Brexit vote and in the United States with the election of Donald Trump as President.
Although the victory of Emmanuel Macron is being rightly hailed with relief as a welcome brake on the rise of populist and extremist forces in the Western democracies, one cannot ignore the fact that to a large measure Mr Macron’s victory results from the same sort of cynicism and utter disappointment which has brought about these distraught situations in the UK and the US. The trick is arguably that Mr Macron has been successful in presenting himself as an alternative to the traditional “right” and left-leaning parties even as he stayed within the confines of essentially mainstream politics. What seems to have finally paid off for Mr Macron is that he has successfully positioned himself as anti- establishment candidate even as he avoided to be perceived as an extremist – as was the case with two of his most serious challengers, namely Mr Melenchon and Ms Marine Le Pen.
There are several factors which have contributed to Mr Macron’s success in this delicate exercise. First, as a newcomer to politics, in spite of his short term as Minister of Finance under President Hollande, he has manoeuvred to skilfully avoid shouldering the burden of the crying failures of the traditional right and left parties over the past decades. Second, he has been successful in positioning himself as neither a member of the hard-core “political class” nor as one of the upcoming creed of populist politician. This in itself is quite a feat given the educational and professional background of the man, which squarely places him in the elitist (ENA, Ecole Sup, Banker) minority which has governed the French Republic throughout most of its existence.
Third, all along his campaign, Emmanuel Macron has insisted that he is neither of the right nor the Left although even a cursory look at his electoral propositions clearly shows a bias for more liberal and pro-business policies while his proposition to suppress 120,000 jobs in the Civil Service is anathema to any left-leaning politician in France.
In spite of this, Macron has differentiated himself from the traditional right by successfully conveying a message of determination and an aptitude for “conviction politics” thus displaying a difference in style if not in substance. He is to be credited for having taken a doggedly pro-Europe stand at a time when it was thought that most of the French electorate were opposed to further “rapprochement” with the Union.
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Mauritius: Waiting for Godot?
Emmanuel Macron’s election as President of the French Republic has unsurprisingly raised the issue of whether a similar phenomenon is realizable in our local context – namely whether a new political force could emerge within a short span of time between now and the next general elections to successfully challenge the existing traditional family dominated political parties?
A preliminary survey of some opinion leaders indicates that there is a significant although admittedly not yet overwhelming fraction of the people who seem to believe that this is not necessarily an impossible event. The general logic is that if the same causes tend to have the same effects, then it is definitely in the realm of possibilities.
It is undeniable that the impact of globalization on the socio-economic landscape in Mauritius is in many ways similar to what has happened in the Western democracies which are presently suffering from the angst of a crumbling social order. In Mauritius, too, the decaying State and the absence of a new consensus around a vision which can be translated into a governance and business model has resulted in a general sense of disorientation and scepticism with the existing political order.
There is a growing sense that given a choice the electorate might choose to end the present quagmire of limited options between “la peste et le choléra”.