It’s Not Just Us — French Politics Has Been Chaotic, Too

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Winner of the left-wing primaries ahead of France’s 2017 presidential elections, Benoît Hamon, leaves the Hôtel Matignon in Paris on January 30, 2017, after meeting with France’s prime minister. Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

France is trying to challenge the United States for the most chaotic week in politics. In recent days, a potential right-wing presidential front-runner was embroiled in a corruption scandal, and a very progressive leftist candidate won the nomination for the Socialists, which was seen as a clear rejection of current Socialist president François Hollande’s administration.

The unpopularity of the president is no big secret; Hollande declined to run for another term and has an approval rating in the single digits. But many believed his prime minister Manuel Valls, a left-of-center candidate who marketed himself as pro-business and hawkish on law-and-order, would end up the front-runner (especially since the struggling economy and fear of terrorism were what helped to sink Hollande). Instead, Valls was defeated by Benoît Hamon, the most left-wing candidate in the Socialist race, whose economic policies include radical ideas such as a universal basic income, a robot tax, and reducing the workweek from 35 to 32 hours. He is also a proponent of legal weed.

Even though Hamon won the Socialist runoff by a large margin, he’s a long shot for the presidency; the Guardian puts his odds at 30 to 1. Based on current polling, he’s likely to come in last or close to last among the five candidates in the April elections.

There’s even more drama on France’s right. Last week, reports surfaced that leading conservative presidential contender François Fillon may have paid his wife $500,000 from public funds for a job in Parliament, from about 1992 to 2002. This would theoretically be allowed under French law, if his wife, Penelope, actually worked — and there’s scant evidence that she did. Fillon is a pretty far-right candidate on social issues and immigration, but he was the front-runner to win the election. His support has been flagging in recent weeks, and “Penelopegate” hasn’t helped. Fillon denies any wrongdoing, but the investigation will likely continue throughout his campaign.

The potential fading of Fillon opens the door a smidge wider for Marine Le Pen, the candidate for France’s controversial far-right Front National, who has a populist, anti-EU, anti-immigrant platform. Le Pen stands to gain from Fillon’s troubles, and appears to have edged him out in the most recent polls.

Yet Le Pen isn’t the only one. The centrist, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron appeared to get a boost from Fillon’s troubles too, pulling even with him in the polls, slightly behind Le Pen. Macron also gets some help from the fact that the Socialists will now run Hamon, an extremely progressive candidate. France has a very fractured presidential field — there’s also a far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who doesn’t really have a shot — so for the first round of voting, a Le Pen victory isn’t improbable. But she’s such a polarizing figure that pulling out a victory in a head-to-head runoff still seems unlikely — especially since one would assume left-leaning voters would throw their weight behind even the less extreme conservative, Fillon, or maybe the centrist Macron. Then again.

It’s Not Just Us — French Politics Has Been Chaotic, Too