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In search of a political vision for France

The 2017 French presidential elections are shaking up a very divided country. For the first time, French nationals were able to vote in Macau. And for the first time too, big party politics are out of the race. French residents of Macau speak up

On Sunday, April 23, French nationals residing in Macau were for the first time able to vote in the city for the 2017 French presidential elections. A French ballot booth was installed at the premises of Alliance Française in the Penha district, open from 8am to 7pm.
Speaking to Business Daily, the Director of Alliance Française in Macau, Xavier Garnier, said that a total of 137 people had registered to vote in the city, and that nearly half of them, or 66 people, turned out to vote on Sunday.
The general results of the first round of the French presidential election were disclosed yesterday morning, Macau time.
Emmanuel Macron, of En Marche! party, won the first round of the elections, with 23.86 per cent of the votes. Marine Le Pen, of the Front National, followed closely, with 21.43 per cent of the votes.
Mr. Garnier also revealed the number of ballots that were cast on Sunday in Macau, noting that Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon (Les Républicains) received 18 votes each, with Marine Le Pen receiving 11 and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France Insoumise) 9.
When asked about how Marine Le Pen, who is known for her radical proposals against immigrants in France, came third in the Macau ballot, Mr. Garnier expressed his surprise. “It is always a surprise to see French people who are also immigrants, in the position of foreigners, voting for someone as Marine Le Pen,” said Garnier.
In terms of the votes in Macau and Hong Kong combined, according to the website of the French Consulate General in Hong Kong, a total of 5,404 people out of 8,160 registered voters turned out to vote in both SARS on Sunday, representing 66.23 per cent of the total registered voters.
“This is huge, it is a record in terms of participation, and it shows that French people are really concerned about the current state of affairs,” commented Christian Audroing, a French national who left his home country nearly 30 years ago, and settled in Macau.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Head of the Department of Government and International Studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University told Business Daily that the turnout was pretty high at the French Consulate, noting: “I had to wait for more than 30 minutes to cast my ballot.” 

Novelties in the pipeline
For the Chairman of the French Macau Business Association (FMBA), Rutger Verschuren, the French election ‘was quite unique’ this time around. ‘We can see from the campaign polls earlier that many French voters are looking for a change,’ he said in an email to Business Daily.
Mr. Garnier concurs that this election has many novelties, stating: “for one, parties from the right and left-wing were somewhat victims of several other candidates who have contributed to dividing up the votes.”
In addition to the four candidates that came on top of the list, with approximately 20 per cent of the vote each, totalling 84.9 per cent, the remainder of the poll, or 15.2 per cent, was distributed amongst seven candidates (see box).
“These, that I call the ‘undecided [voters]’, always have a decisive say in the second round,” commented Mr. Audroing.
To him, the biggest surprise was actually the unspectacular performance of Benoît Hamon in the polls.
The candidate of the Parti Socialiste (PS), the same as the incumbent President François Hollande, came in fifth in the polls, with only 6.35 per cent of the votes.
To Professor Cabestan, this was not so surprising since “what the traditional left has proposed is totally out of step with the needs of the country.”
“France needs more jobs,” he noted, “more flexibility, more growth, and, to me, more competitiveness and attractiveness for investors, not more taxes and even less social protections and benefits that in any case it cannot afford anymore, particularly with no growth and a high unemployment rate.’

Radical politics
According to Mr. Audroing, the final voting configuration shows that roughly 40 per cent of the French people “are on the extreme or radical” side of politics – with Le Pen and Mélenchon, totalling 41 per cent. “The extreme left-wing [Mélenchon] performed much better than the moderate left-wing, and this is reason enough to be concerned about France,” said Audroing.
Jen-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise party, a former socialist himself who left the PS in 2008, came fourth, receiving 19.6 per cent of the total ballot.
Yves Étienne Sonolet, a visual artist and instructor in higher education in Macau, thinks that the results were defined by “a series of circumstances.”
“It is an unprecedented case,” notes Sonolet. “For the first time, no big parties will be represented in the second round of the presidential elections. The fact that [François] Fillon was involved in a political scandal and that [Benoît] Hamon presented himself as the continuation of the socialists, very unpopular with Hollande, both made the ascension of [Emmanuel] Macron possible,” he said to Business Daily.
Regarding his expectations for the second round, Mr. Verschuren replied that ‘Le Pen has an agenda with several hot and some controversial topics, while Macron seems more balanced. We can imagine that voters for those candidates who lost on [Sunday’s] election may turn to one of the two remaining candidates who has an agenda that closely matches their earlier favourite. In this case, one could expect that Macron will appeal more to these voters as the closest alternative.’
Citing a study recently conducted in France (the CEVIPOF), Eric Sautedé, a political scientist, told Business Daily that ‘a significant part of Mélenchon and Hamon’s electorate would have chosen Macron as a second choice (30 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively) and an absolute majority in the case of Fillon (53 per cent), so there should be an important transfer of votes in favour of Macron from the three main contenders behind the two ones participating in the second round.’

Macron on the ticket
For many people who spoke with Business Daily regarding the first round election results, Macron represents France’s choice for a change, a new face and blood, so to speak, in politics.
“Although he presents himself as someone from the right, Macron’s heritage is on the left. Besides, more than a programme – which has been criticized for not being so clear – what Macron represents is a vision,” suggested Mr. Garnier.
“Only 39 years old, Macron is quite young too. To me, this means that France has hope. Traditionally, in politics, France has been a moderate country. So, the French people want to see things change, not much, but some change,” said Mr. Audroing.
For Eric Sautedé, Macron and Le Pen’s political platforms are at two extreme opposites. ‘One is openness, the other is closed; one is all in favour of a multicultural community, the other, in favour of a very narrow definition of what being French means’.
Mr. Verschuren explained that the FMBA’s point of view is that: ‘France remains a peaceful country where the economy flourishes and where children of all backgrounds have equally excellent chances of a good education and a safe and prosperous future. Being part of Europe is part of this future, we believe.’
Le Monde reported that the overall participation rate in the election was slightly lower than in the last presidential elections, which took place in 2012. At 5pm on Sunday (GMT), French authorities estimated that the participation rate had reached 78.23 per cent, slightly down from 79.48 per cent in 2012.
The fact that the participation rate was a bit lower was not of high impact, notes Professor Garnier. “This is relative. People find other ways to express their opinions, and opposition to the status quo, as militants, without having to vote. There is fear, after all the recent terrorist attacks, and the French population is starting to react,” notes the professor.
Eric Berti, the Consul General of France in Hong Kong, and Guillaume Gallas, the President of the Voting Bureau in Macau, and Manager of Sofitel, were unable to provide comments to Business Daily’s enquiries by the time this story went to print.
Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will now face off against each other in the second and decisive round of the French presidential elections on May 7, 2017.

Ballots cast in Macau
and Hong Kong combined
Registered voters: 8160
Effective voters: 5404 (66.23%), of which 35 abstained

1. Macron 45.82%
2. Fillon 39.11%
3. Mélenchon 5.85%
4. Le Pen 3.37%
5. Hamon 3.26%
6. Asselineau 1.32%
7. Dupont-Aignan 0.65%
8. Lasalle 0.26%
9. Poutou 0.20%
10. Cheminade 0.09%
11. Arthaud 0.06%

Source: Consulate General
of France in Hong Kong