A third French lockdown could drive fed-up French away from Macron towards rising Le Pen
A new poll shows that if the French presidential election was held today, populist National Rally leader Marine Le Pen would beat French President Emmanuel Macron – at least in the first round of voting.
While there’s no reason for Macron to start panicking, he’s nonetheless at a critical crossroads as he faces a decision over whether to lock down the country once again and risk triggering chaos.
Much is being made in the worldwide press of the new Harris Interactive poll indicating that Le Pen currently leads Macron by a score of 26-27 percent to 23-24 percent in a head-to-head, first-round presidential matchup.
It’s not exactly a shock poll, and closely mirrors the first round of the actual faceoff between Macron and Le Pen in 2017 that saw Macron lead Le Pen by only three percent. Macron still won massively in the second round, 66 percent to 34 percent, as voters who favored candidates in the first round all held their noses and voted for Macron in order to block Le Pen. And because of that phenomenon, conventional wisdom suggests that Le Pen simply can’t ever win a French presidential election.
Unless, of course, all hell breaks loose and voters decide that their priority is to get rid of those they perceive as destroying France, at any cost. It’s the same kind of sentiment that swept Donald Trump into the White House and has left permanent marks on American society in Trump’s wake via the radicalization of those who feel that the establishment spent his entire four-year term refusing to accept their electoral choice to the point that it wasn’t a stretch for them to believe that the same establishment would have rigged Trump’s reelection.
Macron finds himself staring down the possibility of what the French call a general “ras-le-bol” – that is, the French being totally fed up with him and his team, to the point of casting whatever vote would be required to replace him in the second round. That would still require a massive shift of 30 percent of Macron voters in the last election’s second round to choose Le Pen. But, given the increasingly dire economic and social crisis facing the country, anything seems possible.
A lot will depend on the next few weeks. Macron is under pressure from sanitary advisers who are encouraging him to adopt a preventative lockdown to avoid hospitals from being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. A third lockdown would mean that the economy would take yet another hit, while the French are growing increasingly fed up with nearly a year of government-imposed restrictions on their lives and livelihoods. Already under a 6pm curfew and with some businesses by now closed for months, Macron apparently feels that there’s a growing possibility of civil unrest. And he has good reason to fear, as 38 percent of French citizens are against a third national lockdown, according to an Elabe poll.
Macron can’t keep asking all of French society to fall on their swords for a virus that kills mainly the elderly and people with preexisting problems, all while watching the government roll out the vaccine at the pace of an escargot. The fact that hospitals still risk being overwhelmed a year into the pandemic is a sign of government ineptitude. They could have built hundreds more hospitals within the past year. Instead of offering any other solution, they prefer to just keep downloading their failures onto the backs of the citizens by asking them to lock themselves up at home and tolerate going broke and mad so the government can save face.
Into this breach storms Marine Le Pen, saying on FranceInfo this week: “Lockdown is the last solution when you’ve failed with all the others. Why did the government not take advantage of the last lockdown, which required a lot of sacrifices from the French, to test massively and get ahead of the epidemic?” She added: “We have the feeling that the government has nothing under control, that it spends its time chasing the virus. To be ahead of the game, certain systems need to be generalized, in particular the massive analysis of wastewater, or even sequencing.”
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Le Pen echoes the frustration of the French with the government’s go-to solution to its own insufficiencies being repeated lockdowns. When the government handouts dry up – and they soon will – businesses that have been forced by the government to close for months under pandemic pretext will simply fail, and along with them so will the livelihoods of many voters.
And while Macron clearly has a sense that he’s needed to move further right to block a Le Pen rise by adopting measures to better control immigration and Islamist extremism, those measures will amount to pointless window-dressing if he allows the lockdown bulldozer to destroy the social and economic foundation of the country.
So Macron has a choice to make in the coming days. And it may very well decide his presidential fate.
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