By Emma Bapt
For the first time on Sunday morning, I voted in France’s presidential elections. I was filled with pride, a heavy sense of responsibility and, ultimately, anxiety.
My mother and I walked to our local polling station in Saint Germain-en-Laye, a suburb to the west of Paris. I remember accompanying her when I was younger and wondering how it would feel to place my own ballot.
There were several hundred people at our polling station. I was asked to pick up slips of paper with candidates’ names from the table. As I stood behind the curtains of the voting booth and folded my ballot into the small, tan envelope, I felt a strong feeling of community, knowing that millions of French citizens like me were traveling to their local polling stations.
As I slid my vote for Emmanuel Macron into the transparent ballot box, I felt a sense of responsibility and duty in participating in my country’s elections. Since that moment, my responsibility has doubled as the risk of victory by his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, looms large.
The result was “historic.” Dangerously so.
Results from the first round showed that the pro-European, centrist Macron and Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, will face each other in the second and decisive round on May 7.
Leader of his own “En Marche!” (Onward!) movement, Macron took 24 percent the vote, followed by Le Pen, with 21.3 percent. Candidates from the mainstream parties on the Right and Left trailed, as well as other, fringe candidates, and were eliminated.
Shortly after the first official estimates were announced, Le Pen claimed the result was “historic.” Indeed, and dangerously so.
France faced a similar scenario in 2002 when Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had founded the National Front, made it to the second round of the presidential election. Voters on the left and right rallied behind Le Pen’s opponent, the conservative candidate Jacques Chirac, who crushed the far-right upstart 82 to 18 percent.
My parents, like millions of other French citizens, could not believe that Jean-Marie Le Pen had reached the second round. They mobilized to block a populist candidate they considered xenophobic, who opposed the European Union, from heading the French state.
Yet there is no certainty that this year’s election will yield the same result. How can we be certain after the twin shocks of Donald Trump’s election and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union?
No time to sit back and celebrate.
Those, including myself, who were convinced that Trump would never reach the White House should not be lured into thinking a victory for Marine Le Pen is impossible.
The National Front leader won more than 7.6 million votes in Sunday’s first round. The question today is whether voters for the nine candidates who are now disqualified will turn to Macron to block Le Pen’s victory.
The candidates from the conservative Republicans party and the Socialists — François Fillon and Benoît Hamon, respectively — both called on their voters to support Macron. “Extremism can bring only misfortune and division to France,” said Fillon, who until a scandal torpedoed his candidacy had looked well placed to succeed Socialist François Hollande as president.
Despite these instructions, the risk remains that supporters of other parties will refuse to vote for Macron on May 7, preferring abstention. That could tilt the tables in favor of Le Pen.
This is no time to sit back and celebrate Macron’s victory. On May 7, French voters must set aside party loyalties to ensure that Marine Le Pen does not win. It is a question of survival, not only of France’s fundamental principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, but of Europe.
On Sunday, a sense of curiosity followed me throughout the day as I wondered what choice people I crossed in the street had made. My joy in the evening as I learned the results on TV was quickly replaced by a feeling of anxiety at the possibility of Le Pen’s win.
This anxiety will surely drive me in the next days to campaign against Le Pen and for Macron, a candidate I believe can bring a new face to France.
(The views are the author’s.)
Emma Bapt is a second-year undergraduate student at King’s College London, studying History and War Studies. She has lived in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Milan and Paris. She is interested in learning about the dynamics of conflict and looking at peace-building around the world. She was News-Decoder’s summer intern in 2016.