Fractured French election echoes deep divide in politics and society （He Zhigao）
The initial round of the French presidential election concluded with centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen progressing to the run-off slated for May 7.
The polls showed that Macron, Le Pen, François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Benoît Hamon respectively gained 23.75 percent, 21.53 percent, 19.91 percent, 19.64 percent and 6.35 percent of the vote. Compared with the 2012 election, the first round results are more scattered: Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, is in the lead and Le Pen has seen a 13 percent increase in the results for her.
Whether Le Pen or Macron wins the presidency, it means the French political landscape, long dominated by the left-wing Socialist Party and the center-right Republican Party, has changed.
Generally speaking, political parties in the West have a relatively stable pattern. However, the drastic change in the French political structure amid an unfolding crisis indicates that voters have become divided, with a majority of them showing distrust toward mainstream parties and shifting their support to Le Pen or Macron.
The incumbent Socialist Party registered a record low in approval rating with Hamon winning merely 6.35 percent of the vote. That either Macron or Le Pen will receive the keys to the Elysée Palace has injected refreshing elements to the patchy political landscape of France and at the same time, brought about plenty of uncertainties and unpredictability.
Le Pen garnered over 7 million votes, far more than the 4.8 million who endorsed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002. This illustrates that populism has attained widespread popularity across Europe.
Now that some voters who used to support traditional parties have turned to side with Le Pen, who already has a stable support base in many cities, there is a possibility that she will win the presidency.
But she is restricted and contained by other parties. France has a tradition to safeguard the Republican front, which would probably allow Macron to come out on top.
In contrast to Le Pen's aggressive policy proposals such as suspending immigration, curtailing free trade, and severing the relationship between France and the EU, Macron prefers reform over revolution. He backs globalization and expanding the role of the EU, and advocates for reform to France's policies in dealing with the multiple dilemmas facing the country and the EU.
His En Marche! movement echoes the Charles de Gaulle era early in the Fifth Republic. The former economy minister also calls for anti-establishment beyond the left-right political divide. Macron integrates the values of social democracy and economic liberty, underlines structural reform and individual projects and attracts young, urban, EU-supporting voters.
In the upcoming vote, the electorates from small towns, the middle class and above 65 years old will be casting the deciding votes. Current opinion polls show that center-left and center-right voters are likely to support the 39-year-old centrist candidate, given the setback of traditional mainstream parties. But there is also a possibility that they will back Le Pen, which increases the uncertainty of the final duel.
The deeply fractured election showcases a split in French society and politics.
France is deeply entrenched in a number of issues including a low economic growth rate, a high public debt, a rising unemployment rate, social and ethnic conflicts, and the decline of French and European influence.
It is fair to say that if the next president fails to relieve the economic stagnation, lower the unemployment rate among the youth population, address the paradox of a diverse culture, and eliminate the ever-growing terrorist threat, a greater reform or even a revolution could be approaching. At that time, the European political structure is likely to collapse, which no one is willing to see.
Consistent integration is needed for Europe to get out of the current economic and social predicament. Making changes has now become a new objective for both France and Europe. But, they have yet to agree on the direction. A radical revolution or a mild reform will determine Europe's socio-political ecology.
If Macron's reform fails to solve the problems of his country, Le Pen's revolutionary movement will garner more supporters. In other words, the political divide will continue to influence social, economic and political development in the Western democracy.
（Contant He Zhigao：email@example.com）
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