Here is a quick and dirty primer of the situation.
France, since the revolution has wavered between it's own versions of the Right and Left. The Left is all about the conflicting values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and favors parliamentary rule. They launched French Revolution...well no, not so much launched as stepped in to the aftermath. Skipping ahead. They designed the Third Republic which governed from 1870 until the Fall of France in 1940. It then governed again from 1946 to 1958 under the new name the Fourth Republic, which collapsed under it's inability to manage decolonization of it empire.
The French Right, started off as a monarchist movement. And when even they finally got tired of the idiocy of monarchs they transitioned smoothly over to dictatorship. Unlike the American Right, the French Right is big on centralized power and one man rule. However, Vichy France, while a purer expression of their beliefs than is generally realized left all of France with a bad taste in it's mouth for the idea of absolute one man rule.
Consequently, when the Fourth Republic fell and de Gaulle was recalled from his "retirement," to take the reins. He became the first Right winger in French history to design a republic. It isn't quite true, (although not quite a lie either) to say that de Gaulle designed a constitution with for only himself and his own purposes in mind.
Regardless the French Fifth Republic strongly favors a powerful executive. It is closer to an elected constitutional monarchy than a lot of people understand.
So with that situation in mind here is an update from Le Monde:
We are entering an era in politics in which statements beginning ‘It would be the first time that...’ often announce that something previously inconceivable may be about to happen. This French presidential election is the first in which the Front National (FN) going through to the second round is not in doubt: there is a possibility (still highly improbable) that it might win. For the first time, no one is defending the record of the past five years, even though two of the outgoing president’s former ministers are standing: Benoît Hamon of the Socialist Party (PS) and Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (Forward!). It is also the first time that the candidates from the PS and the right, which have governed France since the beginning of the Fifth Republic, could both be eliminated in the first round.
There is no precedent for a campaign so badly compromised by rolling news, legal proceedings and an inability to focus on any question of substance for more than 24 hours. There is certainly no previous instance of a major candidate (François Fillon) being investigated for the misuse of public funds after declaring for a decade that France is bankrupt.
The fact that the current president is not running for re-election risks obscuring the origin of all this. François Hollande became the most unpopular head of state in the Fifth Republic’s history, right after his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was denied a second term at the ballot box. Yet Hollande has admitted that he has had ‘five years of more or less absolute power’ (1): in June 2012, the PS for the first time had effective control of the presidency, the government, the National Assembly, the Senate, 21 out of 22 metropolitan regions, 56 of 96 departments, and 27 of 39 cities with over 100,000 inhabitants.
Hollande’s exercise of power was both discretionary and solitary. He declared a state of emergency, involved France in external conflicts and authorised drone strikes against terrorist suspects. He changed the labour laws, using article 49.3 of the constitution to force his parliamentary majority into a reform it refused to endorse and for which neither he nor it had a popular mandate. He also redrew the map of France’s regions in his office in the Elysée palace.
All this raises pressing questions about the Fifth Republic’s institutions, which Hamon (PS) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise) have said they will challenge, but which Fillon (Les Républicains) and Macron accept, as does Marine Le Pen (FN). No other western democracy concentrates so much power in one person’s hands. Apart from the very real danger of it being used one day by a head of state less benign than Hollande, the grandiose declarations about French democracy and the republic run counter to a fact that Hollande has made blindingly clear: the solitary exercise of power makes it possible to trample on campaign pledges, which should be the basis of a popular mandate.
Hollande pledged to defend France’s metalworkers, but approved the closure of the Florange steel plant in the northeast. He swore he would renegotiate the EU Stability and Growth Pact, but abandoned that at the start of his mandate. He promised to ‘reverse the unemployment trend’ by the end of 2013, but it continued to rise for three more years. However, if people feel a sense of betrayal, it’s probably because of a campaign slogan from 2012, heard repeatedly since: ‘My only enemy is the world of finance.’ Yet Hollande was no sooner elected than he appointed Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker, as an Elysée adviser, and later handed him the ministry of the economy.
Macron’s favourite ideas
Macron’s current popularity in the polls is all the more troubling because it risks propelling to the top job the heir to a president of record unpopularity. Hollande has said: ‘Emmanuel Macron, c’est moi. He knows what he owes me.’ Macron certainly isn’t a socialist, but then neither is Hollande. One says as much; the other sidesteps the question. Macron has turned his back on a leftwing tradition that attacked capital or finance, but that too echoes convictions Hollande set out in the 1985 book La gauche bouge (The Left is On the Move), co-authored with current defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Jean-Pierre Mignard and Elysée chief of staff Jean-Pierre Jouyet; the first two already support Macron, and Jouyet is likely to do so (2).
One of Macron’s favourite ideas appeared in this book, which he now re-presents in woolly verbiage: that there should be a new social alliance between the educated middle class and neoliberal bosses, joined by their desire to spread out in a global market. He speaks of entrepreneurship, not welfare dependence; profit rather than unearned income; reformers and modernisers against extremists and conservatives; none of the old nostalgia for the ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’. Listening to Macron is like listening to Bill Clinton in the 1990s, or Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder a few years later (3). Following him would mean pursuing that neoliberal-progressive ‘third way’ that beguiled the US Democratic Party and European social democrats even more than Hollande, and then brought them to their current dead end.
But with due respect to the market progressives, those who think Europe is necessary are in a particular socio-economic position. The ‘posted workers’ (sent to work in another member state) created under a 1996 Brussels directive, who have multiplied by ten over the past decade, are more often construction and agricultural workers than surgeons or antique dealers. What the victims of this directive think is primarily the product of their fears, that wage dumping threatens their material welfare. For them, Europe is not about the Erasmus Programme or the Ode to Joy.
There are two big questions. One. How accurate are the polls? France is in the same position that Britain was in before the Brexit vote and America before Election Night. The polls say one thing but the results said another. Polls are always modeled on previous results and as I said, we live in Interesting Times. The old rules don't apply to much of anything.
Two, Will this latest terrorist attack give Le Pen the edge?