The first round of the French Presidential election of 2017-one of the most important this year and certainly for a generation-has just concluded, and it proved to be a tighter race than pollsters believed.
Less than 5% separated the top four candidates-Emmanuel Macron (En Marche), Marine Le Pen (Front National), Francois Fillon (Les Republicans) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (France Insubmissive). Benoit Hamon of the beleaguered Parti Socialiste, meanwhile, finished not only in fifth place as predicted but with a record low PS vote of 6.35%, even when he was endorsed by the French Greens' candidate, Yannick Jadot of EELV. Social democracy as a political force is experiencing a terminal decline, and this election represents yet another example of this, as M. Melenchon meanwhile achieved more than treble the votes of M. Hamon despite his poll surge coming too late for him to be a contender for the run-off.
It was in the end Emmanuel Macron who topped the first round poll, and not Marine Le Pen, which will be a sigh of relief to anti-racists and anti-fascists everywhere who are worried about the Trump phenomenon rising across Europe.
In such a tight race, how did M. Macron come out in front in round one in the end?
Emmanuel Macron was the youngest candidate in this race, being aged only 39, and appealed well to younger voters afraid of what may transpire in the wake of Britain leaving the EU and Donald Trump's antics in the USA (not to mention Vladimir Putin becoming more aggressive, if subtly). His new movement had a large amount of momentum in a few short months, amplified by scandals surrounding Francois Fillon and the lacklustre campaign of Benoit Hamon, combined with general disapproval for PS itself. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen's divisive 'populist right' (in reality racist nationalist just like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands) made far more enemies than friends, as expected, and she in fact only achieved 21.43% and second place in spite of the amount of media attention she received, even compared to M. Macron, M. Fillon, and M. Melenchon. Just as in the Netherlands last month, and in the most recent Austrian Presidential election, this represents another key blow against the rising tide of racist populism. People want real change of some type from the old system-and a lot of them do not want the anti-immigration, xenophobic type of change and will avoid it if they can. They will, however, vote for positive change from the old system, and M. Macron is almost certain to emerge victorious in round two. The only other candidate with views and a vision remotely similar to Mme Le Pen's, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of France Arise (the French equivalent of UKIP in practice) achieved only 4.72%, meaning France is still progressive as a nation after all. Of the other candidates, none polled much more than 1%, and it was LaRouche-stye candidate Jacques Cheminade who finished last with only 0.18% of the vote.
Despite the fact that this election was more competitive than ever, turnout actually decreased from 79.48% to 77.77%, which is an indirect consequence of the increased amount of negative campaigning that generally results when extremist candidates (just like Marine Le Pen) become real contenders to win rather than just on the fringes. It may appear from this that the second round is an easy win for M. Macron, but nothing in modern politics must ever be taken for granted.