If Le Pen falls out of the race, Macron’s presidency may be on knife edge

Without Le Pen and Zemmour, the French right will rally round the conservative Pecresse, which is a major problem for Macron

Marine Le Pen has suspended her presidential campaign. At present, the National Rally leader has been unable to obtain the 500 signatures required to make it onto the ballot paper for the first round of voting, which takes place on April 10. The signatures have to be collected from politicians across the country. They can come from a variety of sources, including Members of Parliament, Senators, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and local mayors.

At the time of writing, Le Pen has managed to secure only 393 signatures and is over one hundred short, although she has until the March 4 deadline to submit the five hundred. Her campaign has therefore “paused,” and a number of her speaking engagements have been cancelled, suggesting that her time will instead be spent attempting to collect the required endorsements from elected officials.

But it is not only Le Pen who is under pressure. Eric Zemmour, the other candidate from the Right, is also struggling to find the required sponsorship letters. At the moment, he only has 350 signatures, throwing his candidacy into question.

It is clear that Le Pen and Zemmour are, as predicted, hurting each other’s prospects. It is not a leap in logic to suggest that those politicians who have signed Zemmour’s papers would, if he were not standing, have signed Le Pen’s, and vice versa. As a result, the two now face a tight race against time to make it onto the ballot paper for the first round.

It is also apparent that the system is weighted in favour of the status quo and the centrist candidates. President Emmanuel Macron, for example, already has 1,463 signatures, and he hasn’t yet even announced he will be standing for re-election. Similarly, Valerie Pecresse, the Republican candidate who serves as the President of the Île-de-France Regional Council has 2,143 pledges, and Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate and the mayor of Paris, already has 1,177. Of course, both these candidates can rely on large party machines to ensure that they make it on to the ballot paper.

It must be noted that the latest polls have Pecresse on 15 per cent, which is two percent behind Le Pen, who is only second to Macron. Hidalgo, however, is way behind and polling a mere 2 percent, which is 12% behind Zemmour who is on 14%. So, it is possible that the candidates polling second and fourth with the public might not make it onto the ballot paper because they can not get the required signatures from politicians. That, of course, would be an insult to the French electorate.

The French system is strange, and if I may suggest, somewhat unfair. In the UK, for example, it is the signatures of members of the public that are required to stand for public office, not those of the politicians. This to me seems an infinitely fairer process, as it is after all the public that vote.

What will it mean for the election if Le Pen does not make it onto the ballot paper? Well, beyond being an insult to her millions of potential voters, I believe it could also prove unwelcome news for Macron.

There is a train of thought that Macron needs Le Pen to be in the race because she is his safety valve. She will most likely come second to him in the first round of voting and go through to the second round run-off, which takes place on 24 April. It is generally believed that Le Pen cannot defeat Macron in this head to head, as was the case five years ago when he secured 66% of the vote compared to her 34%.

It would, I expect, be a far tighter race this time round but, even then, I struggle to see Le Pen overcoming her centrist opponent. There is an argument that she simply has too much baggage to attract centre-Right voters in large enough numbers, regardless of her attempts in recent years to detoxify her brand.

However, if Le Pen fails to make it onto the ballot paper because she cannot acquire enough signatures, and Zemmour too falls at this hurdle, many of their potential voters will most likely switch to Pecresse and, I would argue, that she has the best chance of deposing Macron. If Precresse can successfully manage to marry her own conservative base with the voters of Le Pen and Zemmour, then Macron’s presidency could be on a knife edge and the race could go down to the wire.

I still think, however, that Le Pen will get the required signatures, although it could be a close run affair. I am less confident about Zemmour, as he has no party machine and is a newcomer to politics. Nevertheless, the fact that both their fates are in the hands of politicians and not the public suggests that the French system is in urgent need of democratic reform.

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