Just the Facts: French Presidential Elections 2017

Presidential elections took place in France over the course of two rounds in as many weeks, with the first round of voting taking place on Sunday, 23 April 2017.  Outgoing President, François Hollande, had held the Presidency since May 2012, but chose not to stand for re-election.  Voters went to the polls once again in the run-off on Sunday, 7 May, electing Emmanuel Macron of En Marche ! as the new French President.

Background

France elects a new President every five years in, what are normally, two rounds of voting.  Candidates must secure the backing of at least 500 Mayors, MPs, MEPs or Senators to contest the first round.  In the two-round system, the French electorate vote in the first round and if no candidate wins over 50 per cent of vote, the two candidates who received the highest share of the vote advance to a run-off two weeks later.  The new President is the candidate who receives over 50 per cent of the electoral votes in this second round run-off.

First Round, 23 April 2017

In December 2016, outgoing President François Hollande announced that he would not stand for re-election, becoming the first President since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958 not to seek a second-term return to the Élysée Palace.

The favourites ahead of the primaries for the candidacy of France’s two established parties of government – the centre-left Parti Socialiste and the centre-right Les Républicains, who between them have governed France since 1958 – were both beaten by other candidates.  Former French Prime Minister, François Fillon beat Alain Juppé, also a former French Prime Minister, to the Les Républicains candidacy.  In the Parti Socialiste primary, the leftist candidate Benoît Hamon defeated the then incumbent Prime Minister and centre-left candidate Manuel Valls.

In November 2016, Emmanuel Macron, a former appointed French Minister of the Economy, announced his candidacy for the Presidency, seeking to become the first candidate elected to the Élysée Palace without previous electoral experience.  As the leader and founder of the En Marche ! movement, Mr Macron described himself during his campaign to be “neither left nor right”.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National party, was forecast to reach the second round run-off ahead of the first round.

Issues such as slow economic growth accompanied by high unemployment rates, as well as security threats (France has been in a state of emergency since November 2015), dominated the Presidential campaign.

First Round Results

Eleven candidates contested the first round.  With over 36 million votes cast, turnout was 78.7 per cent.  Emmanuel Macron, who received 24 per cent of the first round vote, and Marine Le Pen, who received 21.3 per cent, received the highest vote shares.  As neither won over 50 per cent, both went through to contest the Presidential second round run-off.

The weeks leading up to the first round vote saw a rise in support for leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose innovative campaign methods included the use of holograms, and he received 19.58 per cent of the vote.  Les Républicains candidate, Mr Fillion, recovered from a drop in support leading up to the election when he became involved in an expenses scandal, to finish in third place with 20.01 per cent of the vote.  The Parti Socialiste experienced a collapse in support with their candidate Benoît Hamon receiving 6.36 per cent of the vote.

Table of First Round Results:

Candidate

Number of Votes Received

Percentage of Vote Share

Mr Emmanuel MACRON

8,657,326 24.01

Ms Marine LE PEN

7,679,493 21.30

Mr François FILLON

7,213,797

20.01

Mr Jean-Luc MÉLENCHON

7,060,885 19.58
Mr Benoît HAMON 2,291,565

6.36

Mr Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNAN

1,695,186 4.70

Mr Jean LASSALLE

435,365

1.21

Mr Philippe POUTOU

394,582

1.09

Mr François ASSELINEAU

332,588

0.92

Ms Nathalie ARTHAUD 232,428

0.64

Mr Jacques CHEMINADE 65,598

0.18

TOTAL 36,058,813

100.00

(Source: http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/)

Second Round, 7 May 2017

On the day after her progression to the second round run-off, Marine Le Pen temporarily stepped down as the leader of the Front National declaring that she was “no longer the President of the National Front.  I am the Presidential candidate”.

On Wednesday 3 May, the two Presidential candidates took part in the traditional head-to-head TV debate, which saw a series of heated exchanges.  In snap polls taken after the debate, which was watched by 16.5 million people, 63 per cent of viewers indicated that they thought Mr Macron had performed better.

Part of the debate focused on the two candidates’ approach to Europe.  During the campaign, Emmanuel Macron committed to “relaunching the European project” in France, and described Brexit as a “crime” in his election manifesto.  Ms Le Pen had pledged to negotiate with the EU for a return of “full sovereignty” and offer the country a referendum on Eurozone membership if these talks were unsuccessful.

Second Round Results

Turnout in the second round was 66 per cent which was the lowest turnout for the second round of a French Presidential election in almost 40 years.  Approximately 31.4 million votes were cast, with one third of the electorate either abstaining, or casting blank or spoiled ballots.

Mr Macron was elected as the new President of France with 20.8 million votes amounting to 66.1 per cent of the ballot, achieving a majority in all but two of France’s 107 departments.  Ms Le Pen received 10.6 million votes amounting to 33.9 per cent of the ballot; nearly double that of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he contested the 2002 Presidential election as the Front National leader.

Reaction

Speaking on the night of his victory, Mr Macron said that Europe and the world were watching, and he committed to “fighting the forces of division that undermine France”.

Responding to the election result, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, congratulated Mr Macron on his success, tweeting “happy that the French chose a European future”.  Outgoing President François Hollande said Mr Macron’s victory “confirms that a very great majority of our citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union and show France is open to the world.”

President-elect Macron will be inaugurated on Sunday, 14 May 2017.  He will become the eighth President of the French Fifth Republic and the youngest since its formation.  

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