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French presidential elections bring their own surprises

Surprise! Surprise! 2016 was a year full of it. The unexpected Brexit shaking the core of the European Union, or Russia losing its place in the Human Rights Council while the Saudi Kingdom of beheading, lapidating and belittling women kept its place. Donald Trump a sexist xenophobe made it to the White House leaving Hillary Clinton, her supporter and the world in shock.

In France people were observing world events in total confidence that such unrealistic outcomes are not possible here as we are more grounded and reasonable. Everyone was almost sure that the next president of the French republic will be Alan Juppé since there isn’t a single possibility on the socialists list.

But 2016 did not stop the sequel of surprises. The Republican Party’s election second round on November 27, eliminated Juppé in favour of François Fillion, former prime minister in Nicholas Sarkozy’s government between 2007 and 2012.

Fillion who was Minister of Social Affairs, Labour and Solidarity and later was the Minister of National Education in former president Jacques Chirac’s government is known for his stand against medically assisted procreation and abortion, who also voiced his opinion against gay marriage and abstained in 2014 from voting on a project of real equality between men and women.

Even Marine Le Pen the National Front candidate was surprised to the extent that she is completely absent from making declarations or media appearances. Probably she needs time to absorb the news and see what she could present in her campaign that Fillion is known to stand for.

Both Le Pen and Fillion are known for their desire to stop the flux of immigration and if possible send some back to their countries of origin. Both want to deprive children born on French soil to foreign parents from acquiring the French citizenship at the age of 18 and prevent them from being schooled if their parents are illegal immigrants.

Apart from all these similarities in viewpoints of the candidates of the right wing and extreme right on national affairs they also have similar opinions on various international affairs including support of Russian military interventions in Syria.

In front of a torn apart social party and an extremely weak and forgotten extreme left wing everyone was at a loss between two candidates that do not represent the majority of the French people and their socialist values.

And again a new surprise French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tickles the fancy of the French and declared in a televised interview that it is possible he presents himself as a candidate for the socialists. A declaration that created a greater rift in the socialist party; and Valls was attacked in the media by Emmanuel Macron another socialist candidate and former Minister of Finance.

Valls stands for everything the right wing hates. He’s born in Barcelona to a Spanish father and a Swiss mother and is known to be a liberal in the Socialist Party and is very popular among both French and immigrants.

Now it’s the socialists turn to surprise us in the elections taking place on January 22 and 29 where one candidate will represent the left. Voters are still uncertain to who deserves the honour, since they see Macron as too young and inexperienced and Valls a bit too liberal for the socialists. 

Of course there are many other aspiring candidates who are almost never spoken about but are hoping that the rift among the socialists will eventually tempt the voters to take uncalculated risks and jump into the unknown.

Until we see if the socialists stand strong along one candidate, all eyes are on our expected next president Fillion; as we can only vision a second round in May between Le Pen and Fillion after eliminating the socialist candidate in the first round.

If and only if the socialist surprise us at the end of January with a candidate who can stand in front of Le Pen and Fillion; and can manage from February to the end of April to convince the voters with his agenda we might end up with a socialist-republican or socialist-extreme right presidential election.

What makes the socialists job difficult is the fact that François Hollande’s government failed to deliver the promises he made to voters and that left a very bitter taste for the French who find the only prominent socialist candidates Valls and Macron were both part of the Hollande government.

Eventually French voters will come again in May to practice their right of vote of elimination in favour of the candidate seen as least undesirable.

Fayrouz Tawfikto

Fayrouz Tawfik is a Paris-based journalist swimming in the changing currents of Europe.