The choice of the electorate cannot continue to be about voting for the ‘lesser evil’.
By Mrinal Roy
The results of the first round of the French presidential elections on April 10 is yet another example of the deep sense of alienation and growing disconnect between the electorate in countries across the world and the political class as well as the pervasive frustration of the people at the chronic inability of those in power to competently address their real concerns in a context of pandemic, erosion of purchasing power and climate change threat.
It is also another jolting reminder to the political class that it is the electorate which is the final arbiter of elections. The outcome of the first round of the presidential elections sends clear messages from the electorate. Thus, the two traditional political parties, namely the centre-right party Les Républicains and the Socialist Party, which have dominated French politics and have alternately governed France since 1958 under the French fifth Republic, have together obtained less that than 7% of the votes.
For the third time, Les Républicains failed in its bid to regain power. Their candidate Valérie Pécresse obtained a mere 4.8% of the votes, which is below the threshold of five-percent required to have campaign expenses reimbursed by the state. She has launched a call for donations and funding as she is personally liable for 5MEuros of campaign expenses.
The Socialist party’s candidate Anne Hidalgo fared badly and obtained only 1.7% of the votes which is less than the 2.3% of the votes obtained by Fabien Roussel, the candidate of the French Communist Party. Since 2017 there has been a rupture between the French electorate and the leadership, policies and proposals of these two traditional parties which have again failed to rally the French electorate to their cause. They obviously appear to have lost their popularity and relevance in France’s new political landscape. They therefore urgently need to reinvent themselves under new leaders who are more alive and tuned to the ground reality of France and able to innovatively recast their policy proposals and vision of the country to more concretely address the concerns and aspirations of the French people, to avoid being sidelined.
Denied a real choice
The vote of the French electorate has roughly been split three ways between Emmanuel Macron, leader of the liberal political party La RépubliqueEn Marche (27.8%), Marine Le Pen of the far-right party Rassemblement National (23.1%) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the left-wing populist political party La France Insoumise (22%). A quarter of the French electorate did not vote in the first round, the highest level of abstention since the second round in 2002. In accordance with the French electoral system, a run-off will be held between the two candidates having polled the highest number of votes which means as in 2017 a new electoral contest between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Although, Jean-Luc Mélenchon obtained 22% of the votes, he did not make the cut to contest the second round of the presidential elections to be held on 24 April.
Analysts point out that Mélenchon obtained the support of many young first-time voters and long-time abstentionists from the poorer neighbourhoods as well as people who wanted to eliminate the far-right Rassemblement National from the race for the second round. Jean-Luc Mélenchon fell short by some 421,300 votes.
The upshot is that millions of voters, including young voters, feel disenfranchised as they are denied a proper voting choice and basically feel being forced to choose ‘the lesser of two evils’. This galling situation carries the risk of a low voter turnout at the 24 April elections and a record number of voters casting blank ballots in protest against the absence of a real democratic choice. There have already been various protests by young voters and students chanting the slogan ‘ Ni Le Pen ni Macron’.
The concerns of the young have to be taken on board by the candidates and the political class. The young are at the forefront of the battle to save the planet from a climate change catastrophe and a more equal, ecological, sustainable and prosperous world for all. Climate change activists Extinction Rebellion recently forced the closure of a main square in central Paris to protest against the world leaders’ lack of determinant actions to halve greenhouse gas emissions and called for a ‘liveable and fair future for all’.
We should also remember that Emmanuel Macron’s presidency was rocked by the Gilets Jaunes insurgency anchored on a list of 42 demands mostly related to democracy and social and fiscal justice. The thrust of the movement was to wrest politics from the control of parties and institutions they saw as undemocratic. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s promise to convene a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution for France to usher a Sixth Republic to replace the current one, which vests too much power in the hands of the President, helped him rally many from the Gilets Jaunes movement to his cause.
Polls show that a large proportion of voters from parties opposed to the Rassemblement National will abstain instead of voting for Emmanuel Macron. As the latter polled only 27.8% of the votes in the first round owing to the profound political divide in France, one would have expected him to take on board some of the campaign proposals of the parties which have declared their intent to shun the far-right party Rassemblement National in order to wean their voters to his cause. This does not seem to be happening.
Thus, for the third time in the past five presidential elections, millions of French citizens are preparing to cast their ballots not in favour of a candidate but to keep another one out of power.
Emmanuel Macron must realize that if he is re-elected President on 24 April through the weight of the anti-Le Pen votes bent on keeping the far-right out of power compared to the pro-Macron vote, there will be questions regarding legitimacy. A remake of a contest between the liberal mainstream and nationalist extremes seems to be a winning formula for Emmanuel Macron who leads in the polls ahead of the second round on 24 April.
* * *
Imperative of a viable Choice
Is the proposal of a strapped up hotchpotch alliance of the main opposition parties, led by the same repeatedly disavowed ageing leaders, a viable option for the future?
There is a deep sense of alienation and disconnect with the political class in Mauritius. People are fed up with political has-beens who, despite having been repeatedly defeated at the polls, continue to believe that they represent a credible alternative to the ruling government. No country can be truly democratic if it does not have a credible and able opposition to act as a counterweight to those in power. A credible opposition party led by a new breed of well-qualified and competent leaders also offers a viable choice to the electorate for an alternative government.
More than ever in the chequered political history of the country, there is an imperative need for the political class and the people at large to free the country from the crippling shackles of plummeting standards of governance and offer the electorate with a viable choice at the next polls. Is the proposal of a strapped up hotchpotch alliance of the main opposition parties, led by the same repeatedly disavowed ageing leaders, a viable option for the future? The key question to be answered is whether such a nondescript alliance will guarantee victory at the next polls.
It is public knowledge that owing to latent mistrust and profound differences, there is negative synergy between the Labour Party and MMM electorate as evidenced by the debacle of the 2014 general elections. Negative synergy is when the value of the combined entities is less than the value of each entity if it is operated alone. The MMM is today considerably weakened by dissent and the exodus of key party cadres who have joined the government ruling alliance. After 54 years of independence, the choice of the electorate cannot continue to be about voting for the ‘lesser evil’.
Trial by fire
An enlightened and innovative socio-economic vision of the country has to be anchored on a well-grounded ideology and core principles, values and an ethos. Fundamental principles of meritocracy, equality of opportunities, transparency and accountability, independence of competently managed institutions, reforms to bridge blatant inequality and access to land, etc., should inter alia be cardinal drivers of governance of those entrusted with the management of the affairs of the State.
The country therefore needs a political big bang shorn of dynastic politics,the dead wood, cronyism, nepotism, poor governance, unending investigations into allegations of wrongdoings and costly blunders. All parties must pass this trial by fire to earn their credentials with the people.
In view of its unique import in the memory and psyche of people, a new Labour Party under a new leadership and a plural team of talented young Mauritians having proven professional expertise in different fields and an altruistic intent to serve the people can challenge the highly decried local political system and contested political establishment. This will require hard work on the ground across the country to mobilize the people around a shared vision of Mauritius, core principles and objectives and an agreed ethos.
65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.
With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.
The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.