A few minutes of celebration, a small sip of champagne, a wee nap and a change of clothing and they’re off again, back to the campaign trail. The two frontrunners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen who came first and second in Sunday’s poll French presidential face another 10 days of gruelling campaigning without respite before May 7 when French voters finally decide their fate.
During this time many promises and pacts made posts, ministries and policies offered in return for support. Although several political observers are proclaiming that Macron is the winner, this election still remains too close to call.
How will deeply-Catholic voters who have supported the “Thatcherite” conservative Francois Fillon who came third in the race react to the “upstart neophyte” Macron? Will their religious proclivities push them towards Le Pen’s welcoming arms?
And to what to say of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s 19.5% of the vote — the hard Left, that wants protectionist practices, trade negotiations, taxes on foreign companies?
With May 7 just 11 days away, both Macron and Le Pen will have to work harder than ever to convince recalcitrant voters and absentees that theirs is the political project that holds most hope for France.
Le Pen was clearly dismayed and unhappy. Her dedicated voters had hoped her score would be in the high twenties and that she would top the candidate pack of 11. Those hopes were dashed. While Le Pen came second with 21.4%, she did not scale the expected heights. Her disappointment showed in her short victory speech and her resignation as the head of the far Right National Front to “concentrate” on the upcoming runoff came swiftly after.
Macron, the 39-year-old baby-faced political newbie who beat Le Pen to first place polled a million more votes than she did. European bourses jumped as a result of the elections and several French shares rose in anticipation of a Macron victory. He has promised less tax, more flexibility on the market place and said he will seek a reform of the European Union by supporting it from within.
The race is now on to cajole and perhaps even scare the electorate into opting for programmes that are diametrically opposed to each other.
Le Pen is anti-EU. She wants the Euro out and the French Franc back. Under her, jobs will be reserved for the French as will family subsidies and free healthcare. Immigration, already down to a trickle, will be stopped and Islamic wear in public, such as headscarves, will be banned. Le Pen is also nativist and pro-Catholic, protectionist and anti-Islam.
Macron on the other hand is frankly pro-European. But he is also for freer markets and supply-side economics. He would like to raise the number of working hours in a week, lower corporation taxes. He is seen as business friendly and tech-savvy. Being young and good-looking helps too.
The man who came third in the race, Fillon has announced his support for Macron and asked his voters not to vote for Le Pen. But there is no guarantee they will follow his call.
On the other hand, Melenchon has refused to endorse either frontrunner saying he would not decide in the place of his voters. He did however indicate that he would organise a mini-vote of his own where his 450, 000 supporters could choose one or the other of the two leaders or abstain. This decision has been widely criticised by the socialists who are unable to swallow what they see as Melenchon’s “down the line betrayal”. The hard Left candidate was once a Communist then turned his back on the socialists he had joined to float a hard Left movement called Indomitable France.
“When one is from the Left not give a call to beat Mrs Le Pen is an unpardonable error,” said Socialist Party General secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.
Much will depend on the kind of conciliatory both candidates make to voters who they see as “swing voters” – especially those on Melenchon’s left and Fillon’s right.
It is still possible for Le Pen to get together the 50% of the vote to win on May 7.
Macron and Le Pen will cross paths today at a ceremony to pay homage to the policeman slain in last Thursday’s terror attack in Paris.
Already Macron is being criticised for a small celebration with close friends he held on Tuesday in the Parisian brasserie La Rotonde. Unfavourable comparisons are being drawn with Nicolas Sarkozy who made supporters wait while he and his wife Carla Bruni partied inside the famous Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysee with friends.
Both candidates will have to move with maximum care over the next 10 days. Every action, expression and twitch of shoulders will be watched for a faux pas, a misplaced word. As France hurtles towards one of the most unpredictable presidencies yet, the world waits with baited breath.
Vaiju Naravane is a journalist and commentator based in Paris and Delhi
The views expressed are personal