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Examining the factors that helped Macron win reelection

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Emmanuel Macron won reelection, but as we just heard, the results were much closer than when he ran against Marine Le Pen five years ago. Political analyst Gilles Ivaldi is with the Center for Political Research at the French research university Sciences-Po, and he joins us now from Paris. Welcome.

GILLES IVALDI: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So let's talk about 2017. Back then, Emmanuel Macron claimed 66% of the vote. Yesterday, he took just over 58%. Why such a significant shift?

IVALDI: Well, remember; five years ago, Emmanuel Macron was the - I would say, the new kid on the block. He was the new political leader. He had a promise for change in French politics. Now he's been the incumbent for five years. He's gone through major crisis - of course, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine. He also went through the yellow jacket movement a few years ago, which was a very strong protest movement in France. So, of course, it's a completely different situation. And now it was - this year was much more difficult for Macron to create the sort of political momentum around his candidacy.

FADEL: Did the war in Ukraine help Macron in the race?

IVALDI: Well, actually it did, yeah, because we've seen in the polls a - some typical rally-around-the-flag effect, especially in the first two weeks of the war. But what we've seen at the same time is that the domestic impact of the war in Ukraine and especially the economic impact on rising prices and worries about cost of living, they've helped Marine Le Pen because she's the one who's pushed a very strong social populist agenda with increasing wages, increasing pensions, you know, lowering VAT and the whole pay package for redistribution. So in that sense, I would say the war in Ukraine has worked both ways.

FADEL: So Macron won, but Le Pen did really well, and she says she's actually feeling hopeful after her loss. And as we just heard, there will be parliamentary elections in June that could determine how much power Macron actually has. What kind of traction can Macron's opposition and Le Pen's party reasonably expect come June?

IVALDI: Well, in this election, there were clearly two fronts. One was the Republican front against Le Pen, and the other one was the anti-Macron front against the incumbent president. And we see those two fronts, they will probably go into the legislative elections in June. And at the moment, we have a clearly divided France. Half of the French, they want Macron to have a majority in the legislatives, and the other half, they just don't want him to have a majority. So at the moment, it's very hard to tell. But I would say that in the end, because of the institutional framework, Macron should win a majority, only it will be a narrow majority, and it will clearly be a more fragmented majority because Macron has, together, a number of small political parties within La Republique En Marche, his own party, and I think in that sense, the majority that he will get in the next election should be more fragmented, and therefore, it will be more difficult for him to push, you know, unpopular reforms such as the pension reform, for instance.

FADEL: Now, Macron acknowledged that many of his supporters were actually casting ballots against Le Pen rather than supporting him, and he's pledged to reunite France. How possible is that in this climate?

IVALDI: Well, that's the problem. You know, in this election, we've seen the rise of, you know, polarization and negative partisanship. Just to give you one figure - half of people, the people who voted for Macron, half of the people who voted for Le Pen, they voted against the other candidate, not in favor of their preferred candidate. So we see now in France sort of American type of polarization between Macron and Le Pen...

FADEL: I was going to say, it sounds familiar.

IVALDI: Yeah, it sounds familiar. It clearly does. And in that sense, reuniting France will be a very difficult task for Macron, especially because his first reform is the pension reform, which as you know is extremely unpopular in France. So I think we are heading for very turbulent political times in France again, I'm afraid.

FADEL: Political researcher Gilles Ivaldi with the French research university Sciences-Po in Paris. Thank you so much for being on the program.

IVALDI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.