And finally … there were ELEVEN
11 candidates (announced the Conseil constitutionnel) had obtained their 500 signatures (or parrainages) with the requisite geographic diversity. The Conseil then drew the 11 names randomly to decide their order of ‘presentation’:
- Dupont-Aignan (Hard Right or maybe Extreme-Right-Lite(ish). MP for 19 years. Got 1.8% as one of 2012’s eleven Presidential candidates, saying Le Pen could be his Prime Minister. Walked out of a Saturday night TF1 interview protesting his non-invitation to Monday’s TV debate: in French but join 13 million Facebook views, and counting.)
- Le Pen (Extreme Right)
- Macron (Centre)
- Hamon (Socialist, claimed 20,000 inside and 5,000 outside Sunday’s Paris meeting.)
- Artaud (Trotskyist. Worker’s Struggle. Got 0.6% in 2012 Presidential. Has said that ‘electoral moments are not essential. What’s fundamental is the people coming onto the streets, as in 1995, 1968 or 1936.’)
- Poutou (Trotskyist. Read this brilliant tract about his New Anticapitalist Party… and it’s in French too; got 1.2% in the 2012 Presidential.)
- Cheminade (Unclassifiable on traditional left/right or open/closed scales. Everyone should know and enjoy reading about his utterly bizarre politics.)
- Lassalle (No party. Mayor for 40 years of a village with 162 people. Once in Bayrou’s centre party. His website: A Shepherd at the Élysée – and why not?)
- Melenchon (Hard Left. Claimed that 130,000 marched on Saturday to establish the 6th Republic, calling for ‘A citizen’s uprising against the Presidential Monarchy.’)
- Asselineau (Hard Right – leave EU/Euro/NATO etc etc etc etc)
- Fillon (Right – AND in Still Further Matters Fillonite (ep. 94) 1. Le Monde reports tonight that ‘aggravated fraud’ has been added to the list of ‘charges’ against Fillon, the judges apparently of the view that documents were fraudulently created to justify Mme Fillon’s salaries AND 2. Le Canard Enchainé claims that Fillon received $50K for arranging meetings for a Lebanese oilman mate with, respectively, one Mr V Putin and the boss of TOTAL. That’s, almost needless to say, $50K per meeting.)
Of the 14,600 nominations received by the Conseil constitutionel all but 290 were validated. So 34% of those entitled to nominate someone actually did so. At the end, 61 different candidates received nominations, with 34 of them getting less than 10 nominations.
TV Debate (before)
The French Presidential TV Debate tradition started with Giscard v Mitterand (1974). There have since been 5 head-to-heads in the fortnight between Rounds 1 and 2: every Election except 2002, when Chirac refused to debate with Jean-Marie Le Pen [and Marine Le Pen’s appearance at a TV debate is now but a commonplace].
Because there had been televised TV debates during both the Republican and Socialist Primaries, it was inevitable that TV debates would have a larger role in this Presidential Election. Hence, last night saw the first-ever pre-1st round debate. Two later debates (4 and 20 April) will feature all 11 candidates. But this one just had The Big Five, despite vigorous protests to the regulatory authorities from Dupont-Aignan in particular.
The debate was billed to run from 9pm until The Midnight Hour, evidently aiming only for the most serious political junkie. Attempting to reduce the largely one-way exchanges between presenter and candidate, all 5 candidates and 2 presenters would be placed in a large circle, intended to encourage more interruptions by the candidates. The evening was to be divided into 3 major subject blocks, each lasting 50 minutes:
- society ( education, law and order, institutions, environment, secularism)
- economy (welfare state, role of State, free market)
- international (Europe, place of France in the world).
Each candidate was allowed to bring 36 ‘friends’ with the rest of the audience made up of TF1 employees.
Both Hamon and Fillon had won their respective Left and Right Primaries – or had certainly cemented their victories – largely by virtue of their performances in those several debates. Both Melenchon and Le Pen are known as accomplished TV performers, who are well used to dealing with hostility.
So the major question before The Debate was how Macron would fare – especially in a context where it was highly likely that everyone would be against him. All Against Macron? Well, with 50% of his promised vote still said to be flaky, and Le Pen seemingly guaranteed a place in The Final, there was only one person to be attacked.
TV Debate (during)
‘Dense, serious, educational … but not decisive’ wrote popular Le Parisien and that’s, for me, a very fair summary of what turned out to be almost three and a half hours of transmission, until well gone midnight – and, at the end, barely dealing with ‘Europe’ at all since they only reached the 3rd subject ‘block’ at a quarter to midnight. It was watched by an average of 9.8 million, half the total TV audience – although I cannot believe that was the case at the end. This meant that it was watched by more people than any of the Right/Left Primary debates, but well below previous Presidential Debates.
Blue suits, blue ties and light shirts for Fillon, Hamon and Macron [Johannes in Le Monde said Fillon had worn his ugliest suit so as not to humiliate his opponents]. Le Pen wore a grey suit and white shirt. Melenchon a walking (?) jacket with trademark red tie.
Melenchon was very relaxed, and was by far the funniest of the five (not hard, he was the only one who even attempted to say anything funny). He proved himself yet again an able debater. When Le Pen accused him of being Robespierre, he took it as a compliment. And when the presenter said the Presidential debate had been polluted by accusations of criminality, Melenchon immediately made it clear that actually ‘there were only two people concerned, Fillon and Le Pen’.
Hamon was often underwhelming – and if the TV debates were to have any effect he would fall behind Melenchon in The Battle of the Left [Melenchon’s sole objective]. Hamon had a go at Macron asking him to reveal his large financial donors. ‘Were there not among his sponsors major pharmaceutical companies or industrial companies linked to diesel?’
Macron took quite a while to get going – perhaps hardly surprising since this was his first live TV debate. But I felt he came through the ordeal and certainly, as the one with by far the most to lose, he did perfectly satisfactorily. In the end – thinking ahead to Round 2 – it wasn’t just Le Pen who laid off attacking Fillon too much, Macron also stood back. He several times said he agreed with Fillon eg on nuclear energy and the effects of Le Pen’s wanting France to leave the euro. Macron also complained around midnight that only 2 candidates had proposed a budgetary restraint in their programmes (Fillon and himself), and that no time had been given to this subject all evening. He also (quite rightly) complained about the absence of time for Matters European. It was quite often All Against Macron, to the point where at one stage he said they’d be ‘bored without him’.
Fillon was sober, even Responsible, Statesmanlike and Presidential, reminding everyone ‘I have the experience’ [as The Economist’s Paris correspondent said this morning, on BBCs Today programme
(listen at 2:48:14), if you’d been away for several weeks you would never have thought Fillon was a candidate under serious threat from outside]. He got in a reminder that he was the only candidate who could (would?) obtain a ‘coherent, stable’ majority of MPs in the legislative elections. Fillon re-ran the old line that Macron was a continuum of Hollande’s socialist policies. He also directly attacked Le Pen for her ‘quit the Euro’ policy saying it would bring economic chaos and destroy purchasing power for the French.
Le Pen was nearly bad-tempered on occasions, and aggressively populist. She also repeated her oft-quoted lines about ‘revolving-door policies. You are trained in the appropriate schools to be a top public servant, then you become a banker and then a politician’ and denounced those who ‘take decisions that advantage one or other major company.’ [She permanently complains that Macron has directly benefited some leading industrialists, including the owner of Le Monde … thus explaining their opposition to her.] Macron retorted he would not allow her to defame people. He urged her to define her complaint and seek judicial remedy, and ‘in that event, the law will do what it needs to do, as it is currently doing with several candidates’.
An interesting-sounding French author
is worth a read to understand a bit more about the Le Pen phenomenon.
TV Debate (after)
A post-TV debate Elabe poll of 1000 people, shows
- Macron at 26% and Le Pen at 24.5%
- Fillon 17%
- Melenchon (13.5%) moving significantly ahead of Hamon (11.5%) … so France is to become another country where the Socialist Party will be wiped off the map?
- Dupont-Aignan leaps to 5% (The Power of Facebook?)
- 2nd round: Macron 64% and Le Pen 36%
- Nearly two-thirds of Macron voters say they are certain to vote Macron