Why France's Macron over Le Pen tilt for President is good for India
The developing world would very much like to see the trend of a populist lurch to the extreme Right checked.
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France is at the crossroads of making history – and future. Actually, the samecan be said about Europe on the whole.
Much like current United States president Donald Trump, the business-friendly centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the two-round French presidential elections, and now faces far-Right candidate Marine Le Pen in the May 7 run-off. Interestingly, the two presidential candidates in the fray have diametrically opposite visions for France and Europe.
Much is at stake for France specifically and Europe in general as a possible, but improbable victory of Marine Le Pen may well trigger Frexit — the exit of France from the European Union.
Well, thus far, 39-year-old Macron is on top and shows promise to defy the populist wave that swept the UK and the US in 2016. Macron’s new party, En Marche! (Onwards!) is batting for a more open, inclusive and tolerant France with strong and vibrant relations with the EU. Macron is virulently critical of Brexit and Donald Trump.
Emmanuel Macron's (right) main rival Marine Le Pen (left) has taken the expected hard line on the issue of Islamophobia. Photo: Reuters
The first round of the presidential elections has shown an unprecedented rejection of the two mainstream parties of France — the Socialists and the Republicans. It's a complete rejection of the status quo as, for the first time ever, the two mainstream parties have failed to make it to the final round.
Significantly, outgoing French president Francoise Hollande has backed Macron and urged the electorate to vote for him. Macron had served as an advisor to Hollande and has been a former minister in charge of such important portfolios as economy and finance.
The French presidential elections are taking place at a time when the developed world is following the trend of isolationist populism. National populism has been trending in the West. Adherents of the far-Right political doctrine have been holding sway.
Yet, at the same time, a significant chunk of Western voters has demonstrated different political leanings as it believes that the political discourse has rather alarmingly moved too far to the Right and the trend needs to be checked, and if possible, reversed. It is against this backdrop that we must see the result of the Netherlands parliamentary elections earlier this year, where the far-Right school of thought was rejected.
Macron is a votary of a more globalised world and is opposed to anti-immigration policies that the US and Australia have recently unveiled, much to the chagrin of developing nations like India.
Unlike the US and Australia, he is not talking of France first. He is not talking in a jingoistic manner, which has been the flavour of the season for much of the developed world. This should make India and the developing world happy.
India would very much like to see this trend of a populist lurch to the extreme right checked. The sooner, the better. France is on the cusp of doing that precisely! That's why the likely victory of Macron in the French presidential elections should be welcomed.
But then Macron’s path is not exactly strewn with petals. He still has a mountain to climb.
The round 1 voter turnout of the French presidential elections was an impressive 70 percent and Macron will have to hope that a similar turnout, if not higher, takes place on May 7 too. Macron’s task would not end here as he will have to build a majority in parliament six weeks later. It's a tough task as his party doesn't have a single seat in parliament. The National Assembly elections are due in June 2017.
Last but not the least, the current tide of Islamophobia makes Macron’s task even more difficult. Europe in general, and France in particular, have been reeling under a series of terror attacks by Islamist forces. As many as 230 people have been killed in such terror attacks in past two years in France alone.
Macron’s main rival Le Pen, 48, has taken the expected hard line on this issue. She has pledged to suspend the EU’s open-border agreement on France’s borders and vowed to expel dubious foreigners.
And yet, if Western media reports peg Macron's victory chances higher than Le Pen’s, it is not only creditable for Macron but also holds hope for India and the developing world, ushering in a new beginning in European politics.
Keep your fingers crossed for the May 7 runoff.