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French President Emmanuel Macron’s election gamble holds lessons for Ramaphosa

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Natale Labia writes on the economy and finance. Partner and chief economist of a global investment firm, he writes in his personal capacity. MBA from Università Bocconi. Supports Juventus.

In much the same way as Macron, President Cyril Ramaphosa must realise that whoever he decides to invite to join the ANC in a governing coalition will have to endure two years of dissent from one or another part of the ANC.

European parliamentary elections are strange things. In many respects, they function more as an indicator of national sentiment across the 27 member states of the European Union, rather than an aggregator of widespread attitudes towards the bloc.

Given the complex and diffuse nature of power and decision-making within the EU, it is unclear exactly how many voters in the second greatest exercise of democracy on the planet – only behind the Indian general elections, which happened to be held the same week – even knew exactly what they were voting for. After all, voters were not allowed to cast a ballot directly for whoever would be the next president of the EU Commission, or even their direct member of the European Parliament, who are chosen according to complicated party list systems.

The national element of this supranational election was proven resoundingly by France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday night when he stunned his country, and indeed the rest of Europe, by announcing snap elections after his centrist alliance was emphatically beaten by Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN) in the European polls. 

Le Pen managed to get 31% of the vote against Macron’s 14%.

“For me, who always considers that a united, strong, independent Europe is good for France, this is a situation which I cannot countenance,” he said.

“I have decided to give you back the choice of our parliamentary future with a vote.” 

The first round of the parliamentary elections will be held in just three weeks, on 30 June, with a run-off on 7 July.

Macron, even if he loses, will remain president – such is the presidential system of the French Fifth  Republic. 

However, the dissolution is an extraordinary gamble by the French leader. 

His alliance could be crushed, which would force him to appoint a prime minister from another party, such as the centre-right Les Republicains or even the far-right RN, in an arrangement known as a “cohabitation”. In such a scenario, Macron would be left with little power over domestic affairs, with three years left as president.

Uncertainty and risk

Reacting to the political uncertainty and risk, French bonds have tumbled since the announcement, with the yield premium over Germany leaping to its highest since October. The yield on the French 10-year bond has jumped five basis points to 3.27% since the announcement, according to Bloomberg.

Yet, as with everything with Macron, it is a calculated gamble. 

By calling national elections, Macron looks like he wants to block Le Pen’s path to the presidency in 2027, forcing the French people to decide whether they really want the RN in power.

Macron may be hoping that, as in the past two presidential elections, when presented with the choice of installing the RN in office, French voters will once again baulk. 

He may also be calculating that if the RN did win a snap poll, it would prove so chaotic in government that it would puncture the aura of inevitability around a Le Pen victory in 2027.

Perhaps he is willing to gamble that if results do go against him, and he has to preside over the chaos of a cohabitation with even potentially Le Pen as prime minister, then, come the far more important presidential elections in 2027, voters will rush back to the centre – tired of their experiment with populists having a majority in a dysfunctional political gridlock. 

At least by then, he might be thinking, some successor to himself at the centre can ride out the far right challenge in France’s two-stage presidential electoral system, which has always favoured the centrist candidate, given the cordon sanitaire against the right.

Macron’s gambit could also prove to have interesting lessons for the ANC and Ramaphosa as they set about cobbling together a coalition government within that wonderful ANC-ism of the “GNU”.

In much the same way as Macron, President Cyril Ramaphosa must realise that whoever he decides to invite to join the ANC in a governing coalition will have to endure two years of dissent from one or another part of the ANC: should it be the DA, then relations with the hardline RET faction will be fractious. If the EFF or MK, then tensions will run high with that part of the ANC which remains market-friendly.

Either way, at the next ANC conference in 2027, Ramaphosa will be out as president of the party, and whichever faction remains more powerful will set the agenda until the next general election – with a recall of the state president a distinct possibility.

For both Macron and Ramaphosa, as they face the last few years of their presidencies in increasingly chaotic ruling conditions, how their respective administrations survive the next three years will have long-term consequences on who looks set to dominate their respective political contexts, be it populist or centrist progressive, possibly for decades to come. DM

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  • Steve Davidson says:

    I hope he succeeds. The last thing the world needs at the moment are more fascist governments.

  • Agf Agf says:

    Nothing would give me more pleasure than seeing that horrible little man in his platform shoes given a giant snot klap by the French electorate. Hopefully to then be voted out as President in three years time. Next up Trudeau. One can only dream.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Mr Labia does not seem to have really understood the different electoral systems between South Africa, the EU Parliament and the French national/presidential elections. Otherwise he would not compare things that are not comparable. Unnecessary speculation.

    • Natale Labia says:

      Thanks Dietmar! Appreciate you reading and the comment. I do absolutely appreciate the differences in these electoral systems, but my point is a more general one. Feel free to DM me on LinkedIn if you want to discuss further.

  • William Stucke says:

    The obvious question, then, is why is the term of the president of the ANC out of sync with the term of the President of South Africa?

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