French election: the right implodes

Field is clear for centrist Emmanuel Macron to take on Marine Le Pen

There was no way, at this late stage in the presidential election, that former prime minister Alain Juppé was going to take the hospital pass of replacing party colleague François Fillon as the candidate of France's establishment right, Les Republicains. Les jeux sont fait. Fillon may be holed below the water line but this election is now lost for the centre right. There is no point in Juppé going down with the sinking ship. And so the party this week grudgingly rallied to Fillon with pro forma calls for unity, shrugging off as insignificant the allegations he paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for doing very little work as his parliamentary assistant.

That appears to leave the field clear for centrist Emmanuel Macron to take on Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) who he will almost certainly join in the second round of the election, and then beat comfortably. An Opinionway poll on Tuesday put Le Pen on 26 per cent of the vote in the first round on April 23rd, to 25 per cent for Macron and 20 per cent for Fillon. But Macron would beat her by a margin of 60-40 in the second round, or Fillon by 58-42 if both, improbably, were able to edge Le Pen out of the second round.

Macron's prospects, lifted last week by an endorsement from veteran centrist François Bayrou, were also boosted on Tuesday by a barometer poll for Le Monde which showed that some 58 per cent of voters continue to see the FN as a threat to democracy. After shrinking for a decade, that number has been rising since 2013, when it stood at 47 per cent. Le Pen's attempted rebranding and softening of the party's image since she took over from her father does not seem to be convincing the majority of the electorate. It seems unlikely that any of that 58 per cent cohort is likely to back her in the second round even if they remain unenthused by Macron.

Macron's new party, En Marche, now boasts a membership of 200,000, two and a half times that of the divided Socialists. It appears he is capable of reshaping not only the presidential race but that for the Assemblee Nationale.