French president Emmanuel Macron was already a hot favorite for re-election, but the outbreak of war in Ukraine yesterday makes his task much easier. As the incumbent who worked hard to preserve peace but is nonetheless the most identifiably pro-Ukrainian among the leading candidates, he can only benefit from the way the war is driving other issues out of the spotlight.
Macron, however, is not yet officially a candidate. With only a month and a half until the first round of voting on 10 April, he is yet to officially declare that he is seeking re-election, although by this point it is a mere formality. Nominations close in a week’s time, on 4 March (strictly, at 4am on 5 March, eastern Australian time).
By that time, candidates have to lodge sponsorships (parrainages) from at least 500 elected officials, spread across at least 30 departments. It’s a reasonable means of ensuring that the ballot paper is not cluttered by a horde of frivolous candidates. Usually about ten or twelve make the cut; last time (in 2017) there were eleven.
Five of them represented the main political currents: centre (Macron), centre-right (François Fillon), centre-left (Benoît Hamon), far right (Marine Le Pen) and far left (Jean-Luc Mélenchon). The other six all finished with less than five per cent of the vote; in descending order they were Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (right-wing Eurosceptic but more moderate than Le Pen, whom he later endorsed), Jean Lassalle (vaguely centrist populist and Eurosceptic), Philippe Poutou (Trotskyist), François Asselineau (idiosyncratic right-wing Eurosceptic), Nathalie Arthaud (another Trotskyist) and Jacques Cheminade (LaRouchite).
Since then, the LaRouchites have disappeared but the other ten are all still going, although centre-right and centre-left have new candidates – Valérie Pécresse and Anne Hidalgo respectively. On the most recent figures, released overnight by the constitutional council, six of them have reached the 500 mark: Pécresse, Macron, Hidalgo, Lassalle, Arthaud and Mélenchon. So have two new candidates, the Greens’ Yannick Jadot and the Communist Party’s Fabien Roussel.
That makes eight. Dupont-Aignan, with 457, is close; there’s not much doubt he’ll make a ninth. Asselineau and Poutou, on the other hand, are back in the 240s, so their chances look pretty slim (although Poutou did get about 300 in the final week last time). Ahead of them but still struggling are Le Pen with 414 names and her new further-right rival, Éric Zemmour, with 417. Another left-wing hopeful, Christiane Taubira, is a long way back on 128.
Le Pen suspended her campaign events earlier this week in order to concentrate on chasing sponsorships, and yesterday’s invasion probably won’t make her or Zemmour’s task any easier. To their credit, though, they have both condemned Russia’s actions in unequivocal terms – as has Mélenchon, also historically pro-Russian. (A poor return for Mr Putin on his substantial investment in extremist French politics.)
The likelihood is that Le Pen and Zemmour will both make it onto the ballot, possibly with one or two others; there are many officials who, independently of their own political sympathies, feel they have something of a duty to ensure that the main political currents are presented to the voters. But the fact that they are running it this close to the line cannot be a good sign for the rest of their campaign.