French politicians deploy 'Republican Front' to keep Le Pen from presidency

Right and left politicians are rallying behind Macron, but the far left is refusing to support the centrist

French politicians deploy 'Republican Front' to keep Le Pen from presidency

Supporters react to centrist candidate in the French presidential elections Emmanuel Macron's speech in Paris on Sunday night [De Russe Axelle/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images]

Following the first round vote that has shaken up French politics in a way not seen for decades, the race to secure the Élysée Palace now sees politicians on the left and the right rallying against Marine Le Pen.

Almost as soon as it became clear that the Front National politician would be making it through to the final stage of the presidential vote, prominent figures, including losing candidate François Fillon, called on voters to reject her far-right policies.

But in choosing to support centrist Emmanuel Macron, running independently and without having ever won an election before, many on France’s disarrayed left are offering their vote with serious reservations.

Right and left unite

François Fillon was one of the first defeated candidates to endorse Macron, insisting that France must block the National Front from taking power. But Fillon, whose campaign was dogged by accusations of financial impropriety, added: “I’m not doing this with a lightness of heart.”

Republican politician François Fillon came fourth in the first contest, his path to the Palais Élysée disrupted by a 'Peleope-gate', a financial scandal surrounding his wife

“There’s no choice but to vote against the extreme right.  I will vote in favour of Emmanuel Macron,” Fillon told his dejected supporters.

Former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé, a Republican party colleague of Fillon, also announced he would be voting for the 39-year-old Macron “without hesitation,” seeing the choice as a “duel against the extreme right, which would be a disaster for France.”

Bernard Cazeneuve, the current Socialist Party Prime Minister, said that Le Pen’s success called for a clear and strong position from the French political spectrum, asking voters to “beat the National Front and defeat their fatal project.”

While former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira also pledged her support for Macron, tweeting: “Without doubt, without delay, obviously we will vote for Macron.”

The Front Républicain returns

The rallying call across French politics comes as no surprise to observers of the infamous 2002 presidential election, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine and the disgraced former Nation Front leader she ousted from the party, also made it to the second round.

Le Pen lost in a landslide defeat to Jacques Chirac, who was an unpopular choice for the electorate, as the presidency safeguarded him from corruption charges. Chirac was ultimately found guilty of embezzlement charges dating from his time as Paris mayor after his immunity from prosecution ended in 2007.

Marine Le Pen campaigned on nationalist platforms, vowing to drastically restructure the EU and offering the French a referendum on membership

The uniting of the political spectrum against Jean-Marie Le Pen became known as the ‘Republican Front’. The National Front fell victim to it a second time in 2015’s regional elections, when parties on both sides came together to ensure that the far-right party would not win a single region despite strong first round victories.

A challenge from the far left

But not everyone in French politics is ready to get on board with it this time; smaller far-left parties are indicating they might defy the voting bloc, critiquing pro-EU and business Macron’s policies as fiercely as Le Pen’s isolationist nationalism.

Philippe Poutou of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, who secured 1.1% of the popular vote, did not ask the group’s supporters to vote against Marine Le Pen, saying Emmanuel Macron “is not a shield against the National Front.” The Communist candidate Nathalie Arthaud mirrored his sentiments, saying she would spoil her vote by leaving it blank on May 7th.

Emmanuel Macron has never run for office before, though served as Minister for the Economy in François Hollande's cabinet

Anti-EU candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who polled third on Sunday, announced that he would not advise his supporters how to vote in two week’s time.

A first in French politics

At 39, former banker Macron would become the youngest president France has ever elected, as well as the first in the Fifth Republic not to belong to a major party. Should Le Pen prove victorious, she will become the first French woman to take presidential office, and is only the second woman to ever make it to the final round.

Addressing the followers of his En Marche movement on Sunday night, Macron said: “I hope that in a fortnight I will become your president.

“I want to become the president of all the people of France – the president of the patriots in the face of the threat from the nationalists.”

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