François Fillon (2nd L), a former French prime minister, a member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French center-right, and Troyes Mayor Francois Baroin visit Le Coq Sportif factory as they attend a campaign visit

François Fillon (2nd L), a former French prime minister, a member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French center-right, and Troyes Mayor Francois Baroin visit Le Coq Sportif factory as they attend a campaign visit in Romilly-sur-Seine, France, on Feb. 7, 2017. 

Credit:

Christian Hartmann/Reuters 

For most of his campaign, conservative party candidate François Fillon boasted a healthy lead in this year’s French presidential elections. The Socialist Party, usually the right wing’s strongest opponent, was mired in division and poor public opinion following François Hollande’s unpopular presidency.  

That was before an article published in late January revealed that Fillon’s wife had earned more than €900,000 ($963,225) over the course of 12 years — while Fillon was a senator and prime minister — for an assistant job that she appeared never to have actually done.

The apparent corruption caused public outrage, fracturing the French political landscape. Elaine Ganley, who been reporting on the French election for The Associated Press, says politics in France have been completely upended.

“You have a traditional left-right contest that — it’s unsure whether it’s actually going to happen.”

Since the scandal broke, Fillon has plunged in the polls, making room for the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to take the lead. Le Pen leads the Front National, a nationalistic, anti-immigration, anti-globalization party. She claims to have inspired far-right movements all over the world, including the rise of Donald Trump, and Britain’s exit from the EU. 

Ganley says that Le Pen doesn’t believe in the dichotomy between left and right, rather, “[Le Pen says] it’s now between those that are for globalization and patriots. We’re now in a world of nation states.”

As far as France is concerned, Le Pen’s claims have some merit. Neither the right wing conservative party nor the left wing Socialist Party is currently in second place behind the Front National. 

Emmanuel Macron holds that position, and he represents a near-perfect foil to Le Pen. He’s a young independent centrist with very little government experience. He speaks fluent English and strongly supports German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s openness towards refugees. 

Current polls suggest that Le Pen and Macron will face off in the final round of elections. If that’s the case, the presidency will likely come down to whether Macron can successfully unite the left and the right against Le Pen. That’s what happened in France’s 2002 election, when Le Pen’s father and co-founder of the Front National was soundly defeated by Jacques Chirac.

There’s a strong likelihood that history will repeat itself this year. Polls indicate that Le Pen will end up losing to whoever she’s up against in the runoff, but as the United States learned with the election of Donald Trump, polls can’t always be trusted.

This story first aired as an interview on To The Point.

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