The French Election: Sound bites from the front row

Sound bites from the front row
Election night – Paris – 24 April 2022

By Louise Peloquin

Editor’s Note: Our regular contributor Louise Peloquin (Boarding School Blues) was in Paris this weekend as the French went to the polls for their Presidential election. Louise shared her observations with us.

Forgoing Emily’s invitation to a Sunday afternoon hot chocolate and a chestnut cream pâtisserie at Angelina’s, I opt for election night on TV. Emily in Paris finds the political scene a drag.

For the second time, incumbent centrist Emmanuel Macron (44) is facing right-wing Marine Le Pen (53).

TV on at 6:30 PM – to use local lingo, 18:30.  No need to glue myself to the screen. Results or comments thereon cannot not appear on any platform before the 8 PM statutory time. French law prohibits campaigning, editorial commentary and all discourse aimed at influencing voters between midnight the Friday before election date and election day Sunday at 20:00. I knew anchors and editorialists would  “meubler le temps”, a French expression which literally means furnishing the time, turning every word into a linguistic table or chair to decorate an empty language room. I choose channel 27, Franceinfo. Sure enough, the journalists and young documentalists busy themselves with authorized reporting about absenteeism. The entire country is on April school vacation. Families are eager to get to parks, forests or beaches to forget the rat race and breathe a bit of fresh air. How many would make the effort to go to the polls?

Minutes pass. Guests crowd onto the set – mostly pundits and past political leaders. It isn’t yet 20:00. I am amazed to hear so many diverse yarns on voter behavior.

A projected figure pops up: a polling institute states that 28.2% of eligible voters would not fulfill their civic duty. Would this skew the results, one journalist asks? A more in-depth analysis is not allowed. The question remains suspended in thin air.

An hour passes. Time to plop down on the sofa and zap. From Franceinfo to France 2, France 3, BFM, CNews – the sets are all decorated with “bleu, blanc, rouge” French flags. Tricolor lights flood the scenes while anchors, pundits, special guests, analysts and pollsters take their stools. Soon it is 19:45 and a platinum blonde anchor woman dressed in a snug dark pant suit announces – “plus que 15 minutes et nous aurons les résultats” (only 15 minutes more and we will have the results). Had she been accurate, she would have spoken of projected results because the polls are open until 20:00 in Paris and other large cities. Therefore, how can one possibly provide figures before the polls close? For years polling agencies have given election estimates based on early voting patterns, a method which has accurately predicted French elections in the past. So why wait until the morrow what you can announce tonight?

I try to read the anchor’s face as she announces that the suspense would soon end. My take on body language tells me she is trying to tone down a growing grin. “Et maintenant, nous allons découvrir le visage du gagnant” (and now we will discover the winner’s face). A flurry of special effects – blue, white and red flashes, globes and stars whirl on the screen to reveal a formal photo of Emmanuel Macron whose estimated score is 58% over Marine Le Pen’s 42%.

Zap. Another channel zooms in on the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower where thousands of Macron supporters are whooping for joy at the news. “On a gagné! On a gagné!” (We won!); “et un et deux et cinq années de plus!” (and one, and two and five years more!).

Zap again. This channel shows Marine Le Pen’s booing followers gathered at the Pavillon d’Armenonville overlooking Paris’s largest park, le Bois de Boulogne. “Marine, Marine, Marine!” they screech.

The same boxing match and the same finale, a clear win for Macron, the first incumbent to be reelected in 20 years.

Zap. The adrenaline level seems to have dropped as one pundit talks about a “deeply divided country where the centrist incumbent who won in 2017 by more than 30 percentage points to become France’s youngest president would now have to govern a country where his nationalist rival tallied the most votes ever for a far-right candidate.”

Zap. A medley of political commentary.

Robert Ménard, mayor of Béziers, a town in France’s Occitanie region and Le Pen supporter. “It will be necessary for the president-elect to hear the 42% who voted for her….We must listen to the little people! The June 12th and 19th legislative elections remain. We will have to create a coalition of everyone who is against (Macron)…. There will be a third round of elections, a third round which will lead to the recomposition of the political scene.”

(To note – French presidential elections have two rounds. All eligible candidates – twelve this year – compete at the first and the two front-runners face off at the second. The “third round” refers to the two rounds of June legislative elections where voters choose their members of parliament. This national assembly is called  “l’Assemblée National”.)

Zap. Marine Le Pen’s quasi-immediate concession speech on all channels. She lauds her party’s “shining victory” because it reached “les sommets” (the summits). She thanks “the provinces and the countryside” which supported her and vows to continue her grassroots political fight. “I hold no resentment, no rancour in this defeat.” She talks of “hope for a great change, a counter-power (to) repair the social fractures which divide the French people….The game is not quite over. Legislative elections take place in a few weeks. Let us launch the great social battle of the legislatives. Never will I abandon the French people! Vive la République! Vive la France!”

Zap. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s speech on all channels. (Left-wing Mélenchon, 70, placed third behind Le Pen in the first round. He presided the “La France Insoumise” group in the Assemblée Nationale from 2017 to 2021) “We have got the worst elected president in French history; slightly more than one third of registered voters” he points out. Emmanuel Macron is “floating in an ocean of abstentions and invalid votes….This is very good news for France” He then warns about “presidential monarchy” and calls for “entering into action (because) the third round begins tonight. Another world is possible on June 12th and 19th if you elect me as Prime Minister. Vive la République! Vive la France!” (To note: the PM is not “elected”, rather, he is named by the president)

Zap. Ségolène Royal, 2007 Socialist Party presidential candidate (Nicolas Sarkozy was elected) points out how “le vote barage a fonctionné” (the vote used as a dam worked) but deplored the fact that France “was deprived of a real choice” because so many voted against right-wing Le Pen rather than for Macron.

Zap. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister in 2014 in President François Hollande’s administration. “I am relieved for my country…. But political, generational, and social fractures still exist.”

Zap. Adrien Quatennes of La France Insoumise echoes Mélenchon. “Mission accomplished: having a detested President of the Republic elected…. This is the time for action.”

Zap. Christian Jacob, head of the Les Républicains party whose candidate was ousted in the first round: “There has never been such a vote of despair in France. Never have the results of the extremes been so high.” He went on to label the Macron camp MP’s  “Playmobile deputies” because they automatically follow their leader’s instructions.

Zap. Camera shot of the big party under way at the Champ de Mars. A spectacular Eiffel Tower illuminated with bright red lights gives a Halloweeny vibe. Camera shot of the DJ working his LP’s and encouraging happy party goers to boogey.

Zap. Barbara Pompili, Minister of the Environment in President Macron’s administration, swaying her hips to the music, shouts into the microphone “we must hear the many people who voted Le Pen, the many absentee voters, we must hear them.”

Zap. In Marine Le Pen’s group, a young supporter vows to stay positive. “We are digesting the results and we are starting to galvanize ourselves for the third round. We are happy that Marine has progressed in the number of votes.”

Zap. Placed fourth in the first round, right-wing Eric Zemmour, founder of the “Reconquête” party, is solemn. “The lovers of France have lost…. He was elected even though he was the object of his countrymen’s rejection….Unfortunately for France, it is indeed Macron who was elected…although a majority of voters want France to remain France….The results compel us to act…. The legislative elections call us to form a coalition of the patriotic right….Vive la République! Vive la France!”

Zap. Roseline Bachelot, Minister of Culture in President Macron’s administration carries on about “Emmanuel Macron’s brilliant success.”

Zap. Shots taken from a motorcycle following the Presidential motorcade through the streets of left-bank Paris en route for the Champ de Mars where the president-elect is expected for his victory speech.

Zap. Bruno Lemaire, Minister of the Economy and of the Budget in President Macron’s administration. “(Emmanuel Macron) has a solid mandate for the next five years…. He will continue to deal with purchasing power, the environment…. He has the momentum; he has the legitimacy. The French have given Emmanuel Macron a strong mandate.”

Zap. Zap. Zap. All channels on the president-elect’s arrival at the Champ de Mars. The Eiffel Tower is a glowing red beacon. Thousands of supporters have transformed the Champ de Mars into a gigantic dance floor. Zoom in on the hexagonal stage where Emmanuel Macron is about to deliver his speech. One big screen flashes “NOUS TOUS” (all of us) and another is ready to transmit the victor’s words to the entire country beyond the crowd of giddy supporters.

Background music is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the European Union “anthem”. Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by dozens of children, his campaign team’s offspring, is crossing the Champ de Mars holding his wife Brigitte’s hand. Slowly, they walk through the crowd, Emmanuel smiling from ear to ear and Brigitte looking very solemn. He leaves his wife, climbs the stairs, stops in the middle of the stage, slowly turns to view the whole crowd before he reaches the podium.

“Merci chers amis, avant toute chose merci! (thank you dear friends, before everything thank you)….After five years of transformations, of exceptional crises, a majority has made the choice to place its trust in me for these next five years…. No profound changes… We want to make France a great ecological country…. Ours is a humanist project…. founded on work and on creativity…. while being attentive to respecting everyone….equality between men and women…. The war in Ukraine is here to remind us of these tragic times…. It will be necessary to be respectful because our country is full of so many doubts…. The future years will not be tranquil but will be historical…a collective invention….the beginning of a new era…a more independent France and a stronger Europe…. A newly-founded method for five better years…. Vive la République! Vive la France!”

A tall striking young woman in a long silk scarlet gown follows with an operatic rendition of “La Marseillaise” while Emmanuel beams to the crowd and to the TV cameras and Brigitte sings along.

The short speech is over and the party is in full swing into the wee hours.

Zap. Zap. Zap. On the TV sets, into the wee hours, heated political discussions are in full swing.

One Response to The French Election: Sound bites from the front row

  1. Paul Marion says:

    Louise, Outstanding political play by play recorded in real time — you really give us the sense of the moment in Paris, the encouraging aspects and the discouraging elements. While the re-election of Macron suggests stability, the underlying political turmoil in France is dangerous. Until the National Assembly election in June, we won’t know the actual civic temperature of the public. I hope Macron can gain a healthy majority.