A few weeks ago, we had to ask what Marine Le Pen was doing when she started her National Assembly election campaign by going on holiday and then, as a mobilization message, declared that the president’s party would win a majority anyway… Note from Eszter Petronella Soós.
Yet the sleeping, lulling, stumbling campaign pattern of the radical right seems to be followed by Emmanuel Macron himself. After the amateurish governmental mistakes and the controversies (especially the scandalous Champions League final and the communication surrounding it), we must also ask: What is the French president doing? Is he completely wrong, or is there some rationality behind his movements? Here are some replies to these questions.
- Macron and the presidential majority will have a strategic advantage in the June 12 parliamentary elections for three reasons. First, because his voter base is older and more disciplined than that of his main opponents. Given the expected low turnout, we can expect Macron voters to go out and vote, while the left, which is now the main challenger, and the National Rally will find it harder to mobilize voters, especially young people, workers and the unemployed. On the other hand, since to qualify for the second round, you either have to finish in the top two places or have 12.5% of all registered voters, there is little chance of there being more than two candidates in the second round. Thus, there is also little chance that the center will not face one of the radicals. This is an automatic help for Macron, because — thirdly — radicals are also afraid of each other, or to some extent may vote against each other.
- It is therefore logical that the presidential majority should attempt some kind of status quo campaign to demobilize and dampen enthusiasm against the organizing and somewhat mobilizing left (the alliance known as Nupes). Although the presidential majority is making minimal attacks on opponents, there is hardly any serious campaigning at the national level. If the Macron team were to turn up the volume against the radicals, they would raise the opposition, increase the stakes for their opponents, and thus mobilize them.
- What is less understandable is why the Macron campaign does not try to fill the political agenda with topics that suit them. We are already at the stage where a campaign government in principle can’t really campaign (something to be avoided at this point, that’s the rule). However, there are hardly any pro-government messages worth wagging our tails about beyond the scandals (the rape case of the Solidarity Minister Damien Abad, the cacophony after the Champions League final).
- This is slowly starting to show up in the seat estimates, raising the possibility (more at Plan B level for now) that Renaissance and its allies will not be able to win a clear absolute majority and will be forced into coalition or bargaining (mainly with right-wing Republicans, or those of them who are open to it or can be motivated to cooperate via promised posts). In other words, however much Macron’s alliance may wish to demobilize, it very much looks as if they are doing themselves some harm with this campaign, perhaps even keeping their own at home. While governance does not appear to be in danger, the very possibility of a lack of an absolute majority is a communication problem, even if we have to be even more cautious than usual about seat estimates in the French system, which does not have list voting.
- It has certainly reached this stage in the thinking of the president of the Republic. After two not very exciting appearances on domestic policy (education and health), they have brought out the heavy artillery, the president himself, who, as if by chance, has just given his first interview since his re-election — to the regional press. In this interview, he made all sorts of institutional and policy proposals, to which everyone was of course forced to react. I think that the most important of these messages from the president, in addition to the action on inflation and living standards, is the repeated mention of pension reform and the promise to enter this into force in 2023. This is the reform that the elderly really want, and they are more likely to vote for Macron than for Le Pen or Mélenchon. The president is certainly trying to take the air out of the remaining Republicans by mobilizing his own.
Whether or not Macron’s activism will be enough will become clear in two weeks’ time, and the first round will not provide us with any meaningful information in this respect. The second round of by-elections will determine the final result. It is clear, however, that Budapest is not the only place from where this campaign has been seen as strange. It is not only from here that we are wondering what is going on in people’s heads. In Paris, too, many have been left to wonder, even in the ranks of the presidential majority (where there is concern about the fate of the majority and governance). The press is also full of articles about the Macron strategy. The president’s activism suggests that the presidential party may be revving up the campaign, intent on appealing to its own base and further lulling others to sleep. Let’s just say that where they’re coming from, the campaign can only be revved up.