Increasing right-wing populism is making the world more inward looking, protectionist and hostile to the anti-people movement between the countries.

And the just concluded French presidential election, with a liberal pitted against a far-right candidate, was also being seen in this context. A far-right victory in France, one of the major global powers, socially, economically and militarily, would have been another major setback for the liberal politics.

And though France has given its answer, we need to go beyond mere stats. Though France has elected a liberal candidate with a thumping majority who had based his election campaign on everything antithesis to the far-right promises of his rival candidate, the far-right, too has got a sizable chunk of votes.

France’s president elect Emmanuel Macron who had launched his centrist political movement En Marche! just a year ago in April 2016 and has had a political career of just five years, won 66 per cent of the votes, almost twice of her far-right rival Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FP) who got 34 per cent votes.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right FN had exploited social insecurity owing to high unemployment rate in France that is hovering around 10 per cent, a number of terror attacks that have killed over 230 in the last two years and a troubled economy with years of sluggish growth rate. She said globalisation and Islamism were two major threats France was facing.

Her remedy to save France from the threats of terrorism, unemployment and troubles of economy were classic far-right.

She blamed globalisation and the European Union and promised to take France out of the EU, the Euro and the passport free travel zone Schengen Area. She promised to crackdown on immigration to save France from Islamic terror and joblessness. The biggest refugee crisis that the world is witnessing since the World War II with hordes of people from the civil war torn countries trying to cross into the safe territory of the European countries only added to the sense of social insecurity – with terrorism and high unemployment in the backdrop. A section of French population believes that it will be detrimental to the French culture.

These are exactly the attributes the right wing politics is explained with – protectionism, anti-globalization (anti-EU or Euroskepticism in case of the EU), nationalism and ultra-nationalism, anti-immigration and nativism or ethnic preferences. France is known for its liberal values, politics and social life, something that Le Pen had vowed to upturn, with her attempted grab of populism by adopting tough anti-globalization, anti-immigration, anti-Euro and anti-Islamism measures.

And when she performed exceedingly well in the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, coming close second to Macron’s 23.8 per cent with her 21.5 per cent votes, bypassing all other nine candidates including the Socialist and the Republican Party candidates who have ruled over France for decades, it came as shock for many.

Though Macron was projected to win the polls, the first round results presented a very real chance for Le Pen to emerge as winner, especially if voters of the Socialist and the Republican parties decided to boycott the polls with no socialist or republican candidate in the fray. And the figures of abstentions and rejected votes – as high as 36 per cent – tells us that many of them, indeed, did not support Macron.

And even if Macron has registered a spectacular win, we cannot dismiss the fact that Le Pen’s vote share tells us that over 30 per cent of the France now identifies with the right-wing politics, that is highest for any far-right party in any major country in the world. And she has vowed to take her political journey forward.

And if Macron fails, she is bound to make a bigger come back. Macron has inherited a divided France, hanging between conflicting ideologies. He has no time and has to be on the job from day one to fulfill his campaign promises of taking France out of economic stagnation, create jobs, tackle terrorism and balance immigration. And he has to do all that keeping in mind that even his campaign saw violent protests and anger in the streets.



The article originally appeared on India Today.

Just three days before the second and final round of the French presidential polls, centrist Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! (EM) party have emerged as the clear winner of the televised debate between him and far-right Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) party.

A survey on the televised debate by Elabe, a research and consultancy firm, for the largest French broadcaster BFM TV, also a CNN affiliate, found that Macron who was already running ahead of Le Pen with higher ratings, further consolidated his position after the debate.

In the debate, watched by over 16.5 million people, that lasted for two-and-a-half hour and has been described as the ugliest one in the French presidential election history, Macron emerged as the clear winner with 63 per cent of viewers finding him more convincing than Le Pen.

According to a The Guardian report, the French media termed it a “dirty debate” with its criticism targeted at Marine Le Pen for her ‘permanent aggression’ and unconvincing words. The consensus read that Le Pen tried to avoid a serious debate with her “multiple attacks and provocations” and therefore, made the debate “unworthy of a presidential election campaign”.

Invectives, smirks, insinuations and personal insults had a free run. Macron described Le Pen as corrupt, ill-informed, hate-filled liar and said that her ultra-nationalism and her contempt for globalization and Islamism will be detrimental for the French society. Le Pen is a known European Union hater and has vowed to crackdown on Islamism. Le Pen, in turn, found him “an arrogant, spoilt, cold-eyed, “smirking banker” who was colluding with Islamists, complacent on terrorism and intent on “butchering France” in favour of “big economic interests”, the report said.

The final round of the French presidential polls are just two days away and Macron looks in a comfortable position to sail through. Majority of polls before the Sunday’s final round are giving Macron a 40-60 lead. An Elabe analysis says Macron is expected to get 65 per cent of the final round votes.

The first round of the French presidential polls were held on April 23 and the top two contenders from the 11 in the fray moved to the second and final round run-off. Emmanuel Macron was on top with 23.8 per cent votes in the first round and Le Pen was a close second with 21.5 per cent votes. The polls go to the second round when no candidate is able to secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, something that has never happened. Since April 23, Macron has firmed up his position and he is also expected to corner left-leaning, centrist-right and other anti-Le Pen votes in the final round.

Emmanuel Macron is just 39 and his political career is just five years old. He was the Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs before he resigned in August 2016 to form the EM party. So his party has no political representation but he has an opportunity as the French legislative elections are due in June 2017 to elect the next French National Assembly.

Marine Le Pen, 48, is a lawyer and career politician and has inherited her party FN from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the highly controversial and polarizing figure of French politics who is known for his extreme far-right ideology. Though she has tried to distance herself from her father’s extreme views, in order to widen her base, going by the ratings so far, and her radical views on issues like globalization, Islamism and terrorism and immigration, it seems see has failed to make a genuine course correction.