Emboldened by an electoral victory secured with three million fewer votes than his competitor, President Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the venue to lecture Iran for its lack of democracy. Then, speaking to an adoring audience, some of whom had taken part in a failed CIA-run military venture intended to bring down Fidel Castro’s government in 1961, he cited ‘the freedom of the Cuban people’ as his reason for re-imposing sanctions against Cuba’s population.
France’s current electoral cycle may not have seemed as bizarre as these dubious celebrations of democracy, but it was close. The two main parties chose their candidates in widely debated primaries only to have them knocked out in the first round by Emmanuel Macron, who pieced together some empty phrases, pretty images and solid media support. The electorate having chosen Marine Le Pen, a far-right candidate loathed by two-thirds of the French people as Macron’s only opponent in the second round, his victory was assured. At this point, all the new president needed to ‘enable him to govern’ was a parliamentary majority — most of them unknowns from the upper echelons of society (no one working-class, 46 business leaders), who owe everything to him. Through a miracle of the voting system, Macron’s neoliberal politics were backed by just 44.02% of voters in the first round of the presidential election (1) but in the French parliament they will be supported by nearly 90% of deputies (2).
Never in the history of French universal suffrage has so small a percentage of the electorate voted in a legislative election (over 57% abstained, compared to 16% in 1978). This pitiful US-style turnout concluded an almost non-existent national campaign punctuated by often incidental ‘scandals’, low-grade Watergates that the media covered interminably as if to compensate for having given Macron a leg-up. When politics is reduced to comparative lists of politicians’ minor sins, is it surprising there are so many fresh faces among elected parliamentarians? They may be a useful way to buff up the system’s less-than-brilliant appearance, but are unlikely to challenge strategic economic decisions (3), which have been ceded to the executive and the European Commission.
The story of a candidate who got knocked unconscious while campaigning filled the media for three days, competing with a criminal case from over 30 years ago that had resurfaced. At the same time, EU politics, the Greek debt crisis, the French state of emergency, and France’s military engagement in Africa and the Middle East were scarcely mentioned. What Pierre Bourdieu called ‘a politics of depoliticisation and demobilisation’ has thus scored a notable victory, but the battle has only just begun.
(1) The total of votes cast for Macron and François Fillon. The other candidates had all condemned neoliberalism.
(2) Some Socialists also intend to be ‘constructive’ in this regard.