The French election explained for Brits

Is this post a bit premature? Maybe, but I think that over the coming weeks and months we’ll be hearing more and more about the upcoming French election, and we’re already starting to know a bit more about who will be involved.

The first thing that you need to know is that France uses a two-round runoff voting system. On 23rd April next year everyone in France will vote for who they want to be president. The two candidates who get the most votes will then proceed to the next round, held 2 weeks later. Everyone votes again, this time for their preffered candidate out of the two most popular, with the candidate who wins the most votes becoming president.

At every election but one (remember the one!) in the last 30 years the two most popular parties have been the Socialists (centre-left) and the Republicans (centre-right). This time, however, it’s all change: The incumbent Socialists (currently led by President Francois Hollande) are likely to be defeated in the first round, with the Republicans facing off against Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front. (Her dad was the one!)

But an awful lot is up in the air at the moment, mostly because neither the Republican nor the Socialist canidate is decided. Like in the US, these parties use a primary system  where the general public votes for who they want to lead their preferred party, and it’s safe to say that it’s pretty hard to predict who Le Pen will be up against next spring.

Let’s start with the Republicans, possibly the easier of the two to predict. There are 3 candidates in the running (at least, 3 who have a chance of winning): Ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon, ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppé. Juppé probably has the best chance of winning, currently having a 10% lead over nearest rival Sarkozy. He promises to take a tougher stance against terrorism, likely to appeal to a country that’s had a bad few years on that front.

As for the Socialists, Hollande’s inability to keep France safe from Islamic State has meant he has taken a battering in the polls, with the latest surveys saying that Le Pen would beat him if the 2 parties got through to the second round of voting. It is currently unknown whether or not Hollande will stand for a second term as president but my instinct says no – he realises that it would be a impossible task for him to fend of both the Republicans and National Front.

Another possible candidate is Arnaud Montebourg, another ex-Prime Minister, but there are rumours that current PM Manuel Valls may stand. Whoever wins the primaries in December, the Socialists have a very hard job ahead of them if they want to reach the second round, and personally, I just don’t think that they will be able to. Part of Le Pen’s attraction is her anti-immigration stance as well as very tough policies towards extreme Islam. She also has an awful lot of momentum now.

So let’s assume that it’s a Juppé-Le Penn face off in the second round. The large amount of media coverage given to National Front’s leader in recent weeks (especially post-Brexit) would suggest that she has a chance of becoming president, something that she has said that she believes is possible. However, it’s just not the case. Juppé would be helped by the Socialist voters who would vote for him in the second round with current polls suggesting that he would win 65% of the vote, leaving Le Penn on just 35%.

We hear it all the time, world politics is changing. First Brexit, then Trump, now Le Penn? No. Credit where it’s due: she’s come a long way, but I just don’t think that she will be able to come anywhere near winning. Whoever wins the Republican primary will become President – most probably Alain Juppé.