opinion : Helen Hickey

The French need a Revolution, not crisis

Helen Hickey

APRIL 21 ― Just when you think it can’t get any worse, this global disorder, this downward spiral ― Brexit, Donald J. Trump’s victory, Russia’s rise, Syria’s incineration, Kim Jong-un’s nuclear game show, Turkey’s dance towards dictatorship ― another patch of the snug fabric that has kept world wars at bay for 70 years finds its threads pulled taut, primed to unravel into singularity.

In two weeks' time, France will elect a new president: Will it be the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen, or the charismatic centrist Emmanuel Macron?

Both have dominated the polls in recent weeks. Both are expected to make it through the first round of the voting process this Sunday. And, if the predictions are correct, Macron will beat Le Pen in the run-off vote on May 7 by seizing 60 per cent of the votes.

I’d love Macron to win. His political movement, launched just a year ago, carries a fitting name: En Marche! (Onwards!)

The 39-year-old is a breath of fresh air. He is the business-friendly progressive France needs to survive economically.

Macron is also the only candidate to have shown a genuine sense of duty to fulfill the French values of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity).

I find his most endearing quality to be his commitment to helping refugees: “We are a continent of refugees,” adding that if France cannot integrate refugees, “that's not consistent with our values”.

But in this era of the unexpected, Brexit and Trump’s White House takeover, nothing is certain. There are 11 candidates running. The polls are tight: the IPOF-Fiducial poll on Thursday showed Macron as frontrunner gaining a projected 24 per cent of the vote, Le Pen 22.5 per cent, and last-minute poll fluctuations have boosted the projected votes for the extreme left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to 18.5 per cent and the scandal-plagued rightwing candidate François Fillon to 19.5 per cent.

Not only is it all too close for comfort; Western elections have become all too unpredictable.

Add to this mix a disturbing sense of Russian déjà vu: there have been dark, meddlesome forces at play trying to usurp Macron’s election campaign with salacious rumours about his sex-life, the French could well wake up on the May 8 to another strychnine-laced surprise: President Le Pen.

For Le Pen, whose populist war cry is “Rebuild France for the French!”, the racist roots of her National Front party still run strong, despite her attempts to sanitise them.

Recently, she declared “France was not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” a notorious wartime round-up of 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, on 16/17 July, 1942 by the French police, many of whom were stored in the Vélodrome d’Hiver sports arena before being sent to the gas chambers.

In fact, Moscow’s interference is the one thing about this election that is predictable. It wants a fragmented, weakened Europe. Brexit is in hand, Russia now craves a Frexit particularly given France has been a pillar of the European Union.

Macron is strongly pro-Europe; Le Pen wants to break from the perceived dictatorship of Brussels.

That Le Pen enjoys a cordial relationship with President Putin is no secret. He came to her party’s rescue two years ago with a €9 million (RM42.4 million) loan, when no other French banks would oblige. Then there was the small matter of her trip to Moscow last month.

The Russian propaganda website Sputnik was behind rumours that Macron is a closet homosexual supported by a “very rich gay lobby”— suggesting that he was in fact living with the head of Radio France and not his glamorous 64-year-old wife.

(I rather like the fact that he is happily married to a lady 24 years his senior; it defies the usual norm of the older man marrying the much younger woman. His wife also happens to be his former high-school teacher; isn't intrigue of the romantic variety part and parcel of a French president?)

Also, that the former investment banker ― before entering politics Macron worked for Rothschild & Cie Bank ― is a “US agent lobbying banks’ interests.”

Both allegations have been ridiculed by Macron, and by mainstream news media. Still, what was said has been recycled on social media to be read and relied on by many.

There’s also been thousands of cyberstrikes on Macron’s campaign website to gain access to his email accounts, exactly the same tactic Russia used to gain entry to the Democrat National Committee’s servers in the US last year.

I cannot vote, being a year away from being able to apply for a French passport. But like most other liberal-minded people here, I’m desperately clinging onto the hope that mainstream voters will vote tactically against the far right in the May 7 run-off.

This is exactly what happened to Le Pen’s father and Holocaust-denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he lost to Jacques Chirac in the 2002 presidential contest.

Le Pen’s vices are vast. Macron’s main weakness is his political inexperience, having just two years experience of serving as a Minister of Economy under President François Hollande/Prime Minister Manual Valls’ leadership.

Also, I suspect many equate his labour reform and free market policies to globalisation, viewed here as a threat.

I recently came across the Strauss-Howe generational theory on historical events, that assumes an 80- to 100-year cycle divided into roughly 20-year “highs”, “awakenings”, “unravellings” and “crises.”

I am not a proponent of this theory, especially as it is one favoured by Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist. But, I did find myself asking the question: are we in the unravelling stage? Or worse?

Best not wait for this theory to be tested: let’s have a Révolution, as Macron’s autobiography is titled, not another crisis.

We need French voters to keep their patch of the blanket from unravelling. Keep it snug, and En Marche

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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