The international community is looking to the next French president to re-establish security and economic prosperity in France. While the United States elections have garnered global scrutiny, little media attention has been paid to the upcoming French elections. The issues of race, prejudice, national security, and terrorism have taken centre stage and the French presidential debates are likely to indicate which leaders have the qualifications, strength, and abilities to modernise and transform France. The deeply dissatisfied French people are looking for a leader who can replace the current government and establish a sense of strength and security across the country.
Current French president François Hollande, will not announce whether he is running for re-election until this December. Many French citizens feel Hollande has failed them as a president and as a leader; French unemployment rates are at an all-time high of around 10 per cent, among the highest in the European Union. Hollande has been highly criticised for doing little to contribute to the economic stability of France. His political party and constituents are unimpressed by his efforts to combat the stagnating economy and the general population will be expecting much more from the next president. Bloomberg News correspondent Mark Deen reaffirms: ‘Hollande is the first incumbent president in France to face a challenge for his party’s nomination for re-election.’ According to a recent poll from the Institut français d’opinion publique (IFOP), Hollande’s national approval rating dropped to 14 per cent and his lack of popularity continues to fuel political rivals like former French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
While Hollande waits to make his next political move, candidates like Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen have made issues involving national security and immigration policy central to the election. Although the majority of candidates propose similar economic stimulus plans, classified by tax cuts and lower public spending, the real issue that defines this election is the proposed laws regarding immigration and the fight against terrorism. From the Charlie Hebdo shooting to the November 2015 terrorists attacks in Paris, the French people crave a sense of national security and strength. Many candidates like Sarkozy and Le Pen are playing off the fears of the French people, exploiting issues of terrorism and immigration for political gain. In the most recent debate, Nicholas Sarkozy ‘advocated administrative detention for thousands of individuals currently under surveillance for terrorist sympathies — which would probably require constitutional reform.’ Sarkozy is taking a hard-line approach in regards to fighting terrorism and immigration, contrasted with his biggest opponent from the Les Républicains party, Alain Juppé. Juppé took a less aggressive stance on the issue of immigration, stating he would enact more limited measures ‘that would preserve public liberties and the rule of law’ instead of requiring constitutional reform. Bruno Le Maire, another candidate of the Les Républicains party, suggested banning all veils in universities and urged France to reform its relationship with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, stating that, ‘The fight against terrorism is also a matter of diplomacy.’
Le Pen and Sarkozy have been openly compared to United States Presidential nominee Donald Trump in regards to their comments surrounding the Muslim community. Le Pen described the French Muslim population as an ‘occupation of France.’ Le Pen states: ‘It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of districts in which religious laws apply…there are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents.’ Le Pen’s statements, seasoned with anti-Islamic sentiments, are not uncommon in the immigration debate happening across France. Even President Hollande had choice words to say regarding the Muslim community stating: ‘It’s not Islam that poses a problem in the sense of its being a religion that is dangerous in itself, but because it wants to assert itself as a religion in the [French] republic.’ The characterisation of immigrants and Islam, and their association with terror and violence, have been very controversial and have made choosing candidates difficult for both French and American voters.
A Young French voter stated in an interview with WMRA, ‘What I’m hoping is, if Trump does get elected, maybe French people will be afraid of voting for our own extreme right party… I’m hoping he’s giving us an example of what not to do.’ Voters on both sides of the Atlantic find themselves at an uncertain crossroads. Hollande has not instilled a sense of hope and security within the French people. The youth of France are leaning more towards the Socialist Party, aligning themselves with the moral liberal stances on economic cuts and reforms.
This election could mark a new era for France, as the new leader is likely to impose immigration reform of some kind. Civil liberties are at stake. The Muslim community in France fears continued discrimination without the protection of strong leadership and governance. These debates should serve as a call for action throughout the country. Time is of the essence, and candidates should be closely scrutinised in order to pick the best and most beneficial representative to lead France into the future.