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Thursday, March 30 2017
French Revolution, 2017
The old political guard is collapsing in France. A matter of neglected issues : Muslim immigration, the drift towards a two-tier society, and a weird electoral system.
No political observer in his right mind would have expected at the beginning of 2016 a Brexit vote in Britain in June, the resignation of David Cameron, a dogfight between the two main Brexit supporters and propagandists within the Tory party, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and eventually the rise of Theresa May. Nor would he have foreseen, for that matter, the election of Donald Trump in the United States on November 8.
Mélenchon can be described as the far-Left counterpart to Marine Le Pen. He shares almost entirely her binary, anti-elite, anti-globalisation, anti-lobbies, anti-European philosophy, except on the issue of immigration and multiculturalism, which he accepts as a natural and positive development. Just like her, he supports a strong, autarkic government, and sees himself as a charismatic popular leader who is not supposed, ultimately, to be answerable to any other authority.
However, things deteriorated dramatically over the following weeks. The public prosecutor’s office for financial affairs accused him of having secured highly-paid fictitious employment at the National Assembly for his Welsh-born wife Penelope and his children. Even if many experts concluded that there was nothing strictly illegal about it, or that the public prosecutor’s office had a poor idea of the constitutional separation of powers, it came as a terrible blow to Fillon’s image as a clean politician. More unsavoury matters surfaced. Pressure mounted for the primary winner to withdraw, and there was talk of a Juppé comeback or of an alternative, younger candidate, like François Baroin, 50, the good-looking mayor of Troyes in eastern France.
Either out of disillusionment about this failure or under a preordained plan, in 2016 Macron launched his own political movement, En Marche! (Forward!), which featured his own initials. In rapid succession, he suggested he had never been a socialist, claimed to be of neither Right nor Left, and declared that he would run for president. He also met all kinds of conservative figures, including the arch-conservative Catholicmonarchist Viscount Philippe de Villiers, who supported Le Pen but was also the visionary behind Le Puy du Fou, France’s most successful theme park. The media started to take a strong interest in Macron, and so did the pollsters.
These figures were important because they were a sharp departure from earlier forecasts about the election proper. According to a Kantar/Sofres/OnePoint poll released on March 19 by Le Figaro and LCI, both Macron and Le Pen were supposed to get 26 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, with Fillon on only 17 per cent, and both Melenchon and Hamon on 12 per cent. In the wake of the TV debate, it seemed that Macron had taken off decidely, Le Pen lost ground, Fillon recovered, and Mélenchon had taken over as the sole leader of the Left. While it was previously assumed that a Le Pen-Macron duel would take place on the second and final presidential ballot, and might have produced a 60 per cent victory for Macron, a Macron-Fillon duel was now conceivable, and a Fillon victory could not be ruled out. Even a Macron-Mélenchon scenario could be considered. A lot was likely to depend on the second debate, to be scheduled between the two ballots.
But what really matters is not religion as such, or even ethnicity. It is the future of France as a way of life and a culture. France used to be a very open and inclusive society, where most immigrants, whatever their background, tended to assimilate quickly and thoroughly into the mainstream culture and way of life. This is no longer the case with Muslims. According to a Fondapol 2014 survey, the proportion of “strictly religious” French Muslims rose from 27 per cent in 1994 to 42 per cent 20 years later. To quote again the Ipsos survey on Marseilles, 83 per cent of young Muslims described religion as “something important or very important”, against 40 per cent of non-Muslims (and 22 per cent of Catholics). Another Ifop survey last September suggests that 29 per cent of French Muslims see Sharia as more important than the law of the land, and that 65 per cent condone the Islamic rules of female “modesty” in the public sphere, including the hijab or burka and the burkini, the Edwardian-style all-body bathing suit.
Alternatively, another minority, on the Left, is prepared to acquiesce in many Muslim demands for the sake of civil peace — the path subtly derided by Houellebecq in Soumission. As for Macron, he seems to support immigration and more religious freedom for Islam as long as immigrants and Muslims behave as loyal and hard-working citizens. He is apparently convinced that a more open economy would help them to go mainstream more quickly.
Proportional representation, with one ballot only, is the rule for European elections, every five years. A two-ballot first-past-the-post system involving male/female paired candidates instead of single candidates applies for county constituencies, every six years.
The mainstream parties were not unaware of the citizens’ growing discontent. However, instead of taking the truly French, that is Cartesian, step of abolishing a chaotic ballot system altogether and replacing it by either an uniform first-past-the-post system or uniform proportional representation (or even settling for a uniform hybrid system, as is the case in Germany), they resorted to even more complexity by organising, in addition to the existing ballots, optional American-style primaries.
© Michel Gurfinkiel & Standpoint Magazine, 2017
Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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