The French Left has decided to send the former outsider Benoit Hamon into the race as the Socialist candidate for the presidential election. The „socialist fundamentalist“ came out way ahead of his rival Manuel Valls by chalking up a good 58% of the votes in the final round of the primary elections. The left wing has therefore outmanoeuvred the economically-pragmatic right wing in the struggle for power within the party. Hamon was particularly successful at asserting himself over his moderate reformist rival Valls by making traditionally left-wing and progressive demands. With Hamon as their favoured candidate, the Socialists’ prospects of winning the presidential election have deteriorated once again, as the radical left still fails to appeal to the wider French public. At the moment, polls place him in fourth place.
Yet former Prime Minister Valls is not the only one who may have to shelve his presidential plans; Fillon, the Republicans‘ favourite up to now, is also coming under mounting pressure. Critics accuse him of having misappropriated funds and have clearly damaged his popularity ratings in the process. Whether Fillon will manage, as promised, to fully refute the accusations and thereby recover the lost ground, remains to be seen. If Fillon were to withdraw from the race, this would be a blow for the Republicans who would probably find it difficult to present another promising candidate so shortly before the election.
The real political winner of recent weeks is therefore the former economics minister and centrist independent candidate Macron. He is already attracting support from both the potential Valls followers as well as from disappointed Fillon voters. Macron is closing in on Fillon in the polls and now has a good chance of competing in the final ballot against Le Pen of the Front National whom opinion polls show to be in the lead. Macron’s chances of winning a runoff now look very good given his success as a moderate candidate in pooling the votes of virtually the entire moderate camp. Although Le Pen will be able to rely on her voter base, she has thus far failed to appeal to a majority of French voters with her populist themes.
If Macron can make further gains in the opinion polls, this is also likely to calm markets which had recently responded to Fillon’s falling opinion ratings with higher risk premiums on French government debt. Investors had been pinning their hopes in particular on the prospect of Fillon adopting a far more liberal economic approach if he were to become the next French President. In his election programme, Fillon had at least indicated a willingness to reform and had pleaded both for a reduction in new debt as well as an improvement in the general business environment. By contrast, Macron has as yet been keeping a low profile in terms of policy and has still to present his programme. Yet this does not appear to have damaged him politically. On the contrary: as Macron now knows that he no longer has to compete against Valls and that Fillon is lagging, he is likely to focus his attention on Le Pen as rival and in so doing evoke France’s democratic and liberal values while adopting a centrist position in terms of economic policy.