Ni Macron, ni Le Pen
France election results and the country’s political void
Last week’s election results, which confirmed Macron as the president of La République for another term, also saw a political void widen within France’s society.
As the results came in, people took to the street to claim that neither of the options in the ballot were representative of what they wanted. “Ni Macron, ni Le Pen”, but instead a need for revolution.
That might sound like just inflammatory rhetoric, but there might be a bit more to this.
In this article from Le Courrier International, there is an insightful, although quite short, piece on how that possibility for revolution is taken seriously by outside observers.
According to [Wang Yiwei], “ a revolution is preparing in France”, because the traditional French parties, The Republicans and the Socialist Party, totaled between them less than 7%, while the extreme right, to which Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour belong, obtained more than 30% of the votes in the first round. "Sooner or later, a revolution in France will break out, it's a matter of time," predicts the Chinese researcher.
Of course, there might be a bit of self-serving rhetoric behind this opinion. But it is true that France is well-known for its revolutionary past and its spirited society. So what to make of this? Is there really any substance to that narrative?
The Political Void - Neither Fascist nor Bourgeois
As the votes came in, people took to the streets... and to Twitter. I mined 500 tweets in french that mentioned “ni Macron, ni Le Pen”, translated those tweets and came up with the following word cloud.
What’s interesting is how diverse that group of protesters is. We have the Gilets Jaunes (see that yellow vests protest that happened after the election results came in) who marked the early days in office of Macron’s first presidential mandate. And you have the “ultra-gauche” (see screen capture below), the far left that is more ideological in their stance against the current political and economical system.
They are the laissés-pour-compte, the rejected, and they essentially want the same thing: to shake up the foundations of France’s political system.
As we’ve discussed previously in our piece on the rise of the political marginals…
France has a long tradition of social movements that grew from the economic periphery. Think of the Sans Culottes who eventually toppled the monarchy. Similar to the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), they felt alienated by a society that was shaped for the « haves » and barely left enough for the « have nots ».
Those protester are not only from the Yellow Vests, but they identify as well to other groups. They are split between the ideological (far) left, the ideological (far) right, the nationalist French and the multicultural banlieus (suburbs). It’s a wide assortment of citizens that feel left out from the current political system.
And between Macron’s pro-European and elitist candidacy, and Le Pen’s xenophobic positions, there is a wide gap where a large portion of the French population doesn’t feel represented - participation rate has been the lowest in recent elections.
The Political Void - Vive le Roi
The absence of candidates that represent a valid option for many citizens is only one part of the political void that is being felt by the French people. There is also that perception that the President is representing only a minority of the French population. Not the Français as a whole.
Let’s take this meme of Macron quotes that serves to prove how disconnected that politician seems to be from the “normal” people.
There is enough quotes in here to trigger pretty much every citizen of France. But the point is that it represents Macron as a president that never serves the nation’s interest. It’s a president that serves itself and its close allies.
That said, there is an intriguing quote in there:
What’s missing in French politics is a king.
That’s from an interview Macron gave and that was surfaced by Le Point as he was minister of economy. Here’s the full quote, as it is even more insightful (loose translation):
The French people didn’t really want to decapitate Louis XVI. And that, since then, the royal person remains the biggest void in the French political system.
Followed by this further clarifications. Long quote, but so worth it!
The Terror created an emotional, imaginary, collective void: the king is no longer there! We then tried to reinvest this void, to place other figures there: these are the Napoleonic and Gaullist moments, in particular. The rest of the time, French democracy does not fill the space. We can clearly see this with the permanent questioning of the presidential figure, which has been valid since the departure of General de Gaulle. After him, the normalization of the presidential figure reinstalled an empty seat at the heart of political life. However, what is expected of the President of the Republic is that he occupy this position. Everything was built on this misunderstanding.
I’d say that this is quite the quote from someone who just got voted for a second term as president.
Regardless of how appropriate it was for a minister considering running for the presidential office, it does point to a void that might be felt by a multitude. That there isn’t a political institution that everyone can recognise itself in, regardless of the political cycles.
Filling the Void
As we can see from those hashtag combinations, many of the tweets are about a presidential vote that was neither of support (#VoteDeSoutien) nor adhesion (#VoteDadhesion).
And now the attention turns to the legislative elections. The left wants to send Mélenchon (#MelenchonAMatignon) to Matignon as Macron’s prime minister, by voting in a strong opposition with many left-leaning deputies.
But that choice remains Macron’s prerogative. And even if Macron was to have Mélenchon as prime minister, the presidential institution, which is supposed to represent the whole of France, will still lack what royalty might have once represented.
Those protests are just the latest events of an ongoing movement that wants to fill the political void. Until the French political system changes, that void might continue to expand and grow the ranks of the political marginals.
And as we’ve seen with the Yellow Vests, it doesn’t take a lot to get a large segment of the population in the streets and who knows next time how that story will end.