The defeated left will decide to whom it gives the key to the Elysee

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Left-wing voters will be the referees in the second round of the French presidential elections next Sunday. Frustrated by the defeat of their candidates and by two options that they dislike – voting for Macron or Le Pen – they will once again have to choose, as they did five years ago, between the alternative they consider least bad. Everything indicates that this time there will be more abstentions and null or blank votes.

Supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (radical left), who reached almost 22% of the vote in the first round, participated in a consultation via the internet to express their preferences, a kind of large internal poll, without any binding effect. There were 215,000 participants. 37.6% favored the blank or invalid vote as a form of protest against an electoral system that seems to them a democratic castration. 33.4% showed their willingness to support Macron. 28.9% declared themselves in favor of abstention.

If the results of the consultation were extrapolated, it would mean that 5.1 million Mélenchon voters – out of a total of 7.7 million – would not support Macron. It is to this very large sector of the electorate that the current president will address himself during the last days of the campaign. His rival will also try to scratch votes, knowing that some of them, in order to kick Macron out, are capable of allying with the devil.

Two-thirds of the voters of the radical left want to abstain or vote blank or null

Circumstances show once again that French democracy is distorted by a strong extreme right, the crisis of the traditional moderate parties and a unique two-round procedure that provides guarantees and produces frustrations at the same time.

For more than twenty years there has been talk of the “republican front”, a cordon sanitaire that is laid to isolate the extreme right and prevent it from coming to power. It has almost always worked, except for local exceptions, as was the case in Perpignan in the last municipal elections, in 2020. Thanks to this republican front, the National Rally (RN, former National Front) has never managed to govern a French region.

Analysts agree that the cordon sanitaire against the extreme right is more fragile than ever, although it has not disappeared. The RN is part of the political landscape and its leaders are constantly on television. It is less scary, although its program contains very radical proposals regarding immigration and the pre-eminence of national laws over European regulations. If applied, they would cause very strong internal tensions and a crisis with the rest of the EU’s partners.

The “republican front” to prevent the extreme right from winning is today more fragile than ever

The current moment is sometimes compared to 1981, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was running for re-election against the socialist François Mitterrand. The then president was very confident. He believed that France would reject, out of fear, the coming to power of an alliance of socialists and communists. Irrational fears were stirring, like the prospect of Russian tanks on the Champs-Élysées. It was in the middle of the cold war. Giscard had been eroded by a difficult economic situation after the oil shock of 1973 and a crisis of the capitalist model in force until then. Despite everything, Mitterrand’s triumph was a surprise. The fear of a red France did not stop him.

Macron and his strategists do not want to take risks. Although the latest polls give him an advantage of between 6 and 11 percentage points against Le Pen, the president is going to concentrate his efforts on convincing, above all, the undecided left-wing voter. He already did it, on Saturday, with a meeting in Marseilles in which he underlined his ecological proposals. The challenge is to break his image as a lawyer for the economic elites, as a manager of globalization, and show that his politics, in reality, have had a strong social aspect.

Le Pen, for her part, must continue to cultivate her profile as a defender of the popular classes, as a leader concerned with ordinary people, with the losers, with peripheral France. It is a political marketing strategy that has worked.

Wednesday’s televised debate may decide the election; in 2017 Macron ran over Le Pen

A decisive test for both candidates, the factor that can definitively decide the election, will be the televised debate on Wednesday. Five years ago, Le Pen showed that she was not prepared, that she did not master the issues. She made clear the superiority of Macron, who had been Minister of the Economy. She has prepared herself better and, according to what she learned from her environment, she will train with a sparring partner in a house that has been loaned to her in the east of France. The president must be careful not to appear too professorial and self-sufficient because that attitude could cost him votes.

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