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Who will win the French presidential election?

Who will be France's next president? Here's a guide to the most unpredictable French election in decades.

Update, 7 May: Emmanuel Macron has won the French presidential election. 

Never has a French presidential election captivated so many international commentators before. And the stakes in this race are high. The incumbent president, François Hollande, who has been trailing in opinion polls for years, is not a candidate. His Socialist Party is divided over its candidate, Benoît Hamon, designated by a primary vote but judged too left wing. Votes on the centre of both left and right are being swept up in the campaign of the maverick candidate Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister with no party but a “political movement” with great momentum.  The centre-right candidate, François Fillon, is engulfed in a fraud scandal for which he has been charged, has lost most of his supporters as a result and leads a party in disarray. And at the far-right end of the spectrum, Marine Le Pen, the anti-EU leader of the populist Front National, is gaining ground. For the first time, the far right could win France – no one can predict the outcome of this election.

To elect the new French president, voters go to the polls twice. Unless one candidate can get a majority of more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round (held on 23 April this year), the two candidates who receive the highest scores will face each other in a run-up (7 May).

Here are the five candidates who have been regularly polling at more than 10 per cent of the vote.

Marine Le Pen, Front National, far right

Marine Le Pen, 48, is the leader of the hard-right Front National (FN). She has rebranded the jackass party of her father, Jean-Marie, which had a reputation for xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, into a populist, nationalist movement that is playing with the French people’s anxieties – namely the sluggish economy and immigration. The FN has made major gains in the polls in recent years, winning 14 city councils in 2014 and massively seducing the young. The party does very well in rural and post-industrial areas like the north-east, the east and the south-east.

Le Pen is strongly anti-European Union and promises a referendum on France’s EU membership. Her main pledges include drastically reducing immigration, reinstituting border controls and ditching the euro for a national currency. Her nationalist, populist vision puts her in direct opposition to Macron’s globalism.

She is being investigated on suspicion of “fake” jobs at the European Parliament.

She is currently second in the polls for the first round with 25.5 per cent of the vote. Current polling suggests she would make it to the run-up.

Read the NS profile of Le Pen here.

François Fillon, les Républicains, centre right

François Fillon, 63, is the candidate of the centre-right Républicains (previously UMP, previously RPR – the party of the former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac likes to change its name every decade). Since late January, the French media have been covering Fillon in great detail, but not to his advantage: he has been placed under formal investigation after a fake job scandal in which it emerged that his wife had been paid as his parliamentary assistant for years, but no proof of actual work could be found. Fillon has lost much support after he decided to keep running while being investigated.

His main pledges include liberalising the French economy and reducing the number of civil servants. Ironically, he has promised to ban the hiring of relatives as parliamentary assistants.

He is currently third in the polls in the first round with 17 per cent of the vote. In the current polling, he would not make it to the run-up.

Read the NS profile of Fillon here.

Emmanuel Macron, independent, centrist

Emmanuel Macron, 39, was François Hollande’s economy minister until 2016, when he created his own political movement, En Marche! (matching his initial letters), and entered the presidential race. He has worked as a banker and has never been elected before.

Although he has served under a Socialist government, Macron is seen as a centrist politician and is supported by François Bayrou, who has run as the centre’s candidate in past elections.

Macron has been widely criticized for his “lack of experience” and for not publishing a programme until a few weeks ago. His main pledges include the liberalisation of the French job market and reforming the education system. His globalist, international vision puts him in opposition to Marine Le Pen’s nationalism.

He is currently leading in the first round with 26 per cent of the vote. He would make it to the run-up.

Read the NS profile of Macron here.

Benoît Hamon, Socialist, centre left

Benoît Hamon, 49, is the candidate of the Socialist Party and has been the education minister under Hollande. But the party hasn’t rallied behind him, judging his policies too left wing. Some Socialists have officially declared they will vote for Macron instead. The former prime minister Manuel Valls has said he “could not vote” for Hamon.

Hamon has been compared to Jeremy Corbyn, though he is strongly pro-Europe. His main pledges include taxing robots and creating a basic universal income.

He is currently fifth in the first round, with 10 per cent of the vote. He would not make it to the run-up.

Read the NS profile of Hamon here.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, France Insoumise, far left

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, is the candidate for the hard left with his movement France Insoumise. He is much closer to Jeremy Corbyn than Hamon on Europe and nuclear weapons: his main pledges include withdrawing France from Nato and European treaties, increasing the minimum wage and setting the age of retirement at 60. (He is best known for having been the first French politician to appear as a hologram during simultaneous rallies in Paris and Lyon.)

He is currently fourth in the first round with 15 per cent of the vote. He would not make it to the run-up.

So what happens next?

The candidates most likely to reach the second round are currently Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Some polls have Macron leading the first round, but Le Pen has a stronger base: her voters are much less likely to change their mind.

In the run-up, polls currently put Emmanuel Macron winning against Marine Le Pen with 60 per cent of the vote against Le Pen’s 40 per cent. If Fillon is facing Le Pen, polls put him winning by 58 per cent to Le Pen’s 42.

Anything can still happen before 7 May: Fillon may be forced to step down if he is charged; Macron may lose momentum; the polls may be highly underestimating Le Pen's ratings, as they did for the EU referendum and the US election. And that's without Russia in the picture. So, who will be the next French president? It may well be Emmanuel Macron. But it's far too early to tell for sure.

Poll source: Ifop/Paris Match, April 3

Photo: Getty
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How the Saudis are making it almost impossible to report on their war in Yemen

The conflict is not getting anything like the media attention it deserves.

This article has been co-authored by Ahmed Baider, a fixer based in Yemen's capital Sana’a, and Lizzie Porter, a freelance journalist based in Beirut who is still waiting for a chance to report from Yemen.

Ten thousand people have died. The world’s largest cholera epidemic is raging, with more than 530,000 suspected cases and 2,000 related deaths. Millions more people are starving. Yet the lack of press attention on Yemen’s conflict has led it to be described as the “forgotten war”.

The scant media coverage is not without reason, or wholly because the general public is too cold-hearted to care. It is very hard to get into Yemen. The risks for the few foreign journalists who gain access are significant. And the Saudi-led coalition waging war in the country is doing its best to make it difficult, if not impossible, to report from the area.

Working in Sana’a as a fixer for journalists since the start of the uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 has sometimes felt like the most difficult job in the world. When a Saudi-led coalition started bombing Yemen in support of its president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in March 2015, it became even harder.

With control of the airspace, last summer they closed Sana’a airport. The capital had been the main route into Yemen. Whether deliberately or coincidentally, in doing so, the coalition prevented press access.

The media blackout came to the fore last month, when the Saudi-led coalition turned away an extraordinary, non-commercial UN flight with three BBC journalists on board. The team – including experienced correspondent Orla Guerin – had all the necessary paperwork. Aviation sources told Reuters that the journalists’ presence was the reason the flight was not allowed to land.

The refusal to allow the press to enter Yemen by air forced them to find an alternative route into the country – a 13-hour sea crossing.

After the airport closure in August 2016, an immensely complex set of procedures was created for journalists travelling on the UN flights operating from Djibouti on the Horn of Africa into Sana’a. The level of paperwork required offered only a glimmer of hope that the media would be allowed to highlight the suffering in Yemen. Each journalist’s application required visas, permits, return ticket fees of $1,100 per person (later reduced to $250) and a great deal of bureaucracy.

But there were other issues, too: equipment that all journalists take with them to war zones as standard – flak jackets, helmets and satellite phones – were not allowed on the UN flights, increasing fears about operating in the country.

The new arrangement significantly increased the cost and time involved – two things that most media organisations are short of. A team of two would have to budget for several thousand dollars for a week-long reporting trip. This was limiting for even large media organisations with big budgets.

Still, the system worked. A few journalists started to come and cover the situation from the ground. Yemenis were happy to share their stories. On one assignment to villages on the west coast, people ran to talk to us and show us their malnourished children as soon as we arrived. It was obvious from the look in their eyes that they wanted to tell people what had been happening.

That changed after last October, when three or four large international media teams had reported from Yemen, broadcasting images of starving children and bombed-out homes to TVs around the world. The Saudi-led coalition began refusing to let journalists fly in with the UN. They said that the flights were for humanitarian workers only, or that the safety of journalists could not be guaranteed. Members of the press who had been preparing trips suddenly had their plans quashed. Time assigned to reporting the conflict had to be given to more accessible stories.

Over the next few months, media access was again opened up, only to be followed by U-turns and further paralysis. And when the Saudi-led coalition did grant access, it was only under certain, excruciating conditions.

As well as a press visa granted by the opposition authorities in the capital, from February this year, journalists have required a second visa granted by the Saudi-backed government in Aden.

It felt impossible. Why would they give press visas for journalists to visit opposition territory? The doubts were proved correct when trying to convince Hadi government officials to issue press access. The consular envoy in Cairo refused. A call to their team in London resulted in another “no”. 

This meant applying to the authorities in Aden for secondary visas for the tenacious journalists who hadn’t already been put off by the cost and access hurdles. One example of the petty requirements imposed was that a journalist’s visa could not be on paper: it had to be stamped into his or her passport. Of course, that added a week to the whole affair.

After months of media blockade, journalists were finally able to access Yemen again between March and May this year. At present, members of the media are officially allowed to travel on the UN flights. But how many more times journalists will be refused entry remains unknown. Not all crews will have the resources to make alternative arrangements to enter Yemen.

The New Statesman interviewed one French documentary producer who has reported from Yemen twice but who has not been able to access the country since 2015, despite multiple attempts.

Upon each refusal, the Saudi-led coalition told the journalist, “to take commercial flights – which didn’t exist…” he explained, requesting anonymity. “Saudi Arabia and its coalition are doing everything they can to discourage journalists as well as organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.”

He said that blocking media access was part of the Saudi-led coalition’s strategy to “bring [Yemen] to its knees in an atmosphere of silence and indifference.”

Access is not the only problem. Reporting in Yemen carries great risks. The British Foreign Office warns of a “very high threat of kidnap and unlawful detention from militia groups, armed tribes, criminals and terrorists”. It specifically mentions journalists as a group that could be targeted.

Editors are increasingly nervous about sending journalists into war zones where kidnap is a significant danger. The editorial green light for arranging assignments to Yemen is – understandably – ever harder to obtain.

Although they are willing to work with recognised press teams, the Houthis and Saleh loyalists have also been known to be suspicious of journalists.

“Even before the Saudis banned access to Yemen, it is important to remember that Yemen is one of the most difficult countries for journalists to access,” added the anonymous journalist.

The amount of press attention dedicated to Yemen simply does not reflect the extent of country’s suffering and political turmoil. Journalists’ rights groups, international organisations and governments need to step up pressure on Saudi Arabia to ease media access to the country.

The coalition last month proposed that the UN take control of Sana’a airport, which it refused. Whoever runs it, the hub must be opened, so that journalists can get in, and Yemenis desperately needing medical treatment abroad can get out.

Failing this, coupled with the extreme risks and costs of reporting, the world will never see the graves of 10,000 people. Yemenis will continue to die starving and invisible, in destroyed homes.