According to the latest French presidential polls, there is a virtual four-way tie at the top, promising a runoff election between the top two finishers in May.
And there’s a real chance that the two establishment candidates — centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative Francois Fillon — will be left out in the cold following the April 23 ballot. That would set up a titanic struggle between the anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen and the former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is also anti-NATO and wants a 100% tax on French incomes over 360,000 euros.
The election is one of the most unpredictable in modern French history, as a groundswell of anti-establishment feeling and frustration at France’s economic malaise has seen a growing number of voters turn their backs on the mainstream parties.
An Ipsos-Sopra Sterna poll showed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen tied on 22 percent in the April 23 first round, with Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon on 20 and 19 percent respectively.
That 3 percentage point gap separating the top four was within at least one of poll’s margin of error, suggesting the race remains wide open.
Polls have consistently shown Macron would comfortably win the second round should he qualify for the May 7 vote.
But the most striking trend in past days has been the late surge in support for Melenchon, a former Trotskyist who would pull France out of NATO and, like Le Pen, possibly the European Union too.
In the second poll showing the top four within three points of each other, BVA pollsters said: “All scenarios are possible for April 23.”
“A second round with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen remains the most likely hypothesis, but nothing excludes that Francois Fillon or Jean-Luc Melenchon would qualify instead,” BVA said.
Polls show that about a third of France’s 45.7 million voters might abstain. While some analysts say a higher turnout would favor Macron and Fillon, BVA said the Le Pen and Melenchon could also benefit if young and working class voters cast ballots in high numbers.
Melenchon’s progress, and the possibility of a showdown between the founder of the “France Unbowed” party and Le Pen, has alarmed investors. Voter surveys show that, should he reach the second round, Melenchon could win against Fillon or Le Pen.
Le Pen would not win the presidency whoever she faced in the run-off, polls indicate.
Those who thought that the defeat of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands showed that the anti-establishment fever in Europe had broken had better look again. Combined, the far left and far right in France are at 42%. This is only the beginning.
Le Pen’s candidacy has been damaged by charges of personal corruption, which is why Melenchon has surged in recent weeks. In fact, across Europe, the far left is experiencing something of a rebirth. Communist parties in Eastern Europe are gaining strength while in Greece, Italy, and Spain, the radical left is emerging as a viable alternative to mainstream parties.
For his part, Melenchon felt it necessary to assure the French people that there would be no “Red army tanks” in France if he’s elected. Since he was an admirer of Hugo Chavez and Mao Zedong, he knows he wouldn’t need Russian tanks to accomplish his goals.
In an atmosphere where anything could happen, it’s probable anything will.