The French presidential elections which are scheduled for April 2022, are less than a year away. While incumbent President Emmanuel Macron is the front-runner, this does not guarantee that he will have an easy time winning re-election in the runoff next year. Despite the fact that the opposition has yet to recover from the defeat suffered in 2017 when Macron shattered the political establishment, Marine Le Pen, a far-right leader who has been Macron’s most powerful challenger, is now polling well. The French people have also demonstrated in the last two elections that being the incumbent is not always advantageous to a candidate.
President Macron will face a lot of pressure to keep his seat in the Elysée Presidential Palace due to the raging coronavirus crisis and the recent resurgence of Islamist fundamentalism. Even after winning, President Macron would have to prove himself by carrying out various responsibilities, such as getting the vaccination campaign back on track, as France’s vaccination efforts started off poorly in comparison to other EU countries, and if the French government under Macron administration is unable to combat the coronavirus crisis, discontent will inevitably rise against Macron’s administration.
Another big obstacle in retaining the presidency is to do well in the upcoming regional elections in June. The elections, which will determine the leaders of France’s 26 regions, will be a defining moment in politics just a year before the presidential election. President Macron’s party, which was established from the ground up in 2017, did not do well in the recent local and mayoral elections, where its opponents had a strong party structure.
Aside from these two challenges, the current French President would have to relaunch the economy. The French economy has declined dramatically, affecting many industries as a result of the ongoing pandemic, and unemployment has risen dramatically. Macron’s popularity would be influenced by the success of his government’s recovery strategy in combating the crisis. Besides these hurdles, Macron’s administration may face tensions over the security bill, the battle against radical Islam, social unrest after nearly a year of consecutive lockdowns and a gloomy economic outlook, or the emergence of an anti-system candidate outside the conventional political ranks.
The battle against Radical Islam is an easy objective for French President as well as for his rival Marine Le Pen as this delicate issue would build their vote banks by getting the help of the extreme-right French populace after a flood of dread assaults in the fall. President Macron is good to go to chip away at this plan to build his help base among the French resident by intentionally focusing on revolutionary Islam. After an unexpected spike of fear-mongering assaults in the fall, President Macron promised to battle psychological oppression and revolutionary Islam with a restored power which is a significant decent procedure to win the help of the dominant part, which will eventually give him triumph in the impending official decisions.
Anti- Radicalism bill
The National Assembly of France recently passed a bill titled “Supporting respect for the principles of the Republic,” which aims to improve the government’s supervision of mosques and religious schools, a crackdown on polygamy and forced marriages, and other steps aimed at combating Islamic radicalism. The bill has long been a part of Emmanuel Macron’s wider anti-extremism agenda, which gained new urgency following a series of terrorist attacks in the fall of last year in which a French teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by radical Islamists for projecting caricatures of Prophet Mohammed and three people were killed in a knife attack at the Nice basilica.
President Macron claims that efforts are also required to defend French ideals such as gender equality and secularism from encroaching on fundamentalism. However, the majority of French Muslims believe that there are already enough laws in place to combat terrorism and that the proposed legislation restricts their religious freedom and unfairly targets their religion. These draft laws may be interpreted as a political manoeuvre to gain support from conservative and far-right voters ahead of the presidential election next year.
A difficult challenge ahead
Despite losing two elections, Marine Le Pen, a long-time far-right opponent of President Macron, has never taken her gaze away from the presidency. Ms. Marine is causing a stir in the polls ahead of next year’s presidential election, and she has never been closer to assuming power in France than she is right now. Even though she has kept a low profile in recent months, she has reason to be optimistic because of the divide-and-rule tactic she has used to gain the support of the far-right electorate, which makes up the majority of the population.
Since the French government has occupied much of the political room due to the coronavirus crisis, Le Pen has struggled to find a voice in recent months. Despite this, early polls show her not only making the run-off round in the 2022 election against President Emmanuel Macron but also gaining a greater share of the vote than ever before. The strategy to combat radical Islam has been extremely beneficial to her, but it has also raised the level of rivalry in the 2022 elections. However, this may be seen as a drawback for President Macron and his supporters, who are now wary of the tactical voting that has always served to hold Ms. Marine out of power.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused Marine Le Pen of being soft on radical Islam despite being a far-right leader. The statement is explicitly intended to depict the government as tougher on Islamic extremism than the far-right leader. In response to this assertion, Le Pen criticized the bill as being too weak and according to Jordan Bardella, vice-president of the National Rally, the legislation mentions neither Muslim nor Islam by name and thus loses its goal because it is not very successful in directly combating radical Islamist ideology. As a result, battling radical Islam has become a soft target for expanding support in the upcoming elections, as religion has always been a controversial topic in politics, and both President Macron and Ms Marine Le Pen are using the same divide-and-rule strategy, and it will be interesting to see who can win this runoff on religious issues.
Aditya Mishra has received his M.A. and B.A. from Amity University and Delhi University respectively. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.