Macron shakes French politics with centrist thrust

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 9:22 PM

Could precocious investment banker turned politician Emmanuel Macron really become President of France before his fortieth birthday?French media were abuzz on Thursday with the prospect of the 38-year-old economy minister as head of state by following year after his launch of a new political movement called 'En Marche' or 'Stride Forward' on Wednesday night.

By the age of thirty-five he'd brokered a $10 billion takeover deal. Could precocious investment banker turned politician Emmanuel Macron really become President of France before his fortieth birthday?

French media were abuzz on Thursday with the prospect of the 38-year-old economy minister as head of state by following year after his launch of a new political movement called 'En Marche' or 'Stride Forward' on Wednesday night.

He says the project is neither of the left or the right. Whether he seeks the presidency or not, it could revive the coalition-friendly politics of the time before centrist Valery Giscard d'Estaing moved out of the Elysee palace in one thousand nine hundred eighty-first, yielding to an era of deeper left-right division.

So far, Macron hasn't made clear whether he'll mobilize for or against Socialist President Francois Hollande'south creaking re-election machine, or whether any presidential tender of his own would arrive following year two thousand seventeen, or the following time in 2022.

"Macron Strides Forward, but for whom?" asked Le Parisien daily on its front page.

"Whatever his aims are, he's OK," said Gael Sliman of pollsters Odoxa. "Depending on what the future holds for him over the following six months he can adapt his new tool to his own needs."

Since Socialist Francois Mitterrand defeated Giscard, French presidents have arrive firmly from the left or the right, sometimes with a cabinet from their own party, sometimes cohabiting uneasily with a parliament that names a prime minister from the other side.

The presidential electoral system pits the two top-placed candidates from a first circular of voting against each other in a decisive second round, which has tended in the past to turn the run-off into a showdown between champions from the left and right.

Major candidates appealed to their party grassroots first, leaving the fight for the center ground for the run-off.

The one exception was two thousand two, when far-right National Front boss Jean Marie le Pen surprisingly squeaked past the Socialists in the first round. He was crushed by center-right incumbent Jacques Chiraq in the run-off, the most lopsided election in the history of the Fifth Republic.

But the continued rise of the far-right since then has changed the calculation. Polls presently consistently indicate Marine le Pen, Jean Marie le Pen'south daughter and successor as Front leader, winning one of the top two spots more convincingly than her father.

That means candidates from the mainstream left and right know they could be battling from the outset for a single spot to oppose her in the run-off, making the center ground more crucial early on.

It's also partly why Les Republicains, the party of the right, is mulling whether party chief Nicolas Sarkozy or the more centrist Alain Juppe should stand next year.

VALLS BELOW PRESSURE

After Macron'south intervention, other French politicians have some thinking to do, not minimum Prime Minister Manuel Valls, fifty-three, himself once the widely favorite pro-business and reformist icon of the Socialist centrist wing, presently eclipsed by Macron and tainted by organization with the unpopular Hollande.

"I won't waste my time with that," snapped Valls to reporters on Thursday when asked about Macron'south moves. Asked whether the right-left divide was finished, he added; "No. It'south a good divide."

Opinion polls propose voters are tired of traditional political parties and their leaders, and keener than ever to look a fresh and independent person at the helm.

Three in four voters are "worried about" or "mad with" France'south existing political parties and three-quarters of voters would be willing to vote for a non-party challenger in two thousand-seventeenth, according to a Feb poll by the Elabe institute.

An Odoxa poll conducted in March that compared Macron to Valls showed voters preferred the younger man by sixty-one % to thirty-one percent. Valls had led Macron in the same question just six months earlier.

However, recent French history provides a cautionary tale: "outsider" candidates have tended to flame out.

Francois Bayrou, a pro-EU centrist, won 18.5 % of first-round votes in two thousand-seventh, placing third behind Socialist Segolene Royal and the right'south Sarkozy, who won the run-off. By two thousand twelve, Bayrou fell to fifth place.

"Bayrou is the comparable scenario here," said Sliman. "It'south that promise to transcend the right/left flows in a system built on bipolar politics and the presidential election that's all important."

TOO LOYAL?

In launching his movement on Wednesday, Macron was concerned not to totally regulation out a two thousand seventeen tender for the presidency. Government sources said he warned both Hollande and Valls beforehand of his new initiative.

One person near to the minister doubts he'd keep himself up as a rival if Hollande runs.

"He sees the weaknesses of Hollande but he'south loyal. I've never heard him criticize him... It'd be too enormous a gamble," said the person, who didn't wish to be identified, speaking before Macron'south announcement on Wednesday.

That said, Hollande could conceivably Relinquish his space as candidate. The latest polls are among the worst he's faced since he was elected in two thousand-twelfth and indicate him lost out by a mi on the second round, regardless of who stands for the right.

Macron isn't an elected politician and joined the government only in two thousand-fourteenth. While championing pro-business work reforms, he's also polished his interventionist credentials, wading in to influence corporate deals from telecoms to cars and energy.

Before entering government service, he worked for the Rothschild merchant bank and brokered the nine billion euro takeover of drugmaker Pfizer'south baby food business by Nestle.

As a sixteen year-old, according to a profile in Le Monde, he fell in like with his teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, a mother of three then in her mid thirties. They were married in 2007.

Despite these idiosyncrasies, his approachability works in his favor. The pollsters have noticed.

"He's this enormous trump card in that people love him," said Sliman. "It'south that he just doesn't seem love a politician."

(Extra reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Paul Taylor; writing by Andrew Callus; editing by Peter Graff)

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