What can French Presidential Election results tell us?


Re-elected! French President Macron (courtesy al Jazeera)

What can the re-election of a French President tell us about Australian politics in the middle of our campaign season? Perhaps surprisingly, quite a bit. It’s all in (firstly) the system and (secondly) the numbers.

France’s executive leader (the President) isn’t chosen by parliament, but directly by the people in a two-round voting contest. Anyone can stand initially, then the two highest-scoring candidates go head-to-head a couple of weeks later.

This time, the first round represented everything you’d expect from a vigorous democracy: candidates from every part of the political spectrum from the hard right to the left and centre. And this is how the ‘system’ kicked-in.

Instead of genuine diversity, the result of the first-round elimination process led to a final choice that left many voters dissatisfied and disillusioned. The current occupant of the President’s Elysee Palace in Paris gets to stay there. In a replay of the same contest five years ago, Emmanuel Macron again trashed right-winger Marine le Pen, becoming the first President to be re-elected in twenty years.

But his victory margin was halved. Already pundits insist that his party will lose control of parliament in the elections next year. Nearly half of those supporting the left either abstained or spoilt their ballots. Macron only won because he appealed to the status-quo centre in a ballot that effectively forced the left to vote for him against the hard-right.

And this helps to explain what’s happening in the current Australian context.

In the middle of our election campaign both parties are desperately cleaving tightly to the centre. It sometimes appears almost as if they’re afraid of offering up any policy that isn’t completely anodyne, and this is particularly the case with the NDIS.

There are issues with the system. Advocates are at war with the National Disability Insurance Authority and actuaries are warned the scheme is unsustainable, something which nobody wants to hear. Yet none of this is being discussed during the campaign.

It’s like round two of the French system, where the politician who appears the most conventional, unthreatening centrist gets to wear the crown. That’s why both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are insisting they’re utterly in favour of motherhood and pro- everything good and completely against everything bad.

This might offer a path to victory but – as in France – it appears unlikely to inspire voters to rush out and embrace either side. People are left attempting to extrapolate what each party actually means from winks and nudges during press conferences and private meetings . . . which is fine if you’re a journalist or advocate but not so helpful to voters.




Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

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