faced the war in Ukraine, the confusion of candidates

From one crisis to another. While a fifth wave of Covid-19 once raised concerns about a presidential campaign curtailed by health restrictions, now the war in Ukraine is breaking into French political life. For 10 days and the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, this news has dominated everything else, from the Agricultural Exhibition to the latest disturbing IPCC report. To the extent that the faces of Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zelensky have become more familiar to the French than the faces of the candidates competing in these capital elections, the first round of which takes place in 35 days, on April 10.

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The conflict has pushed the presidential succession, though highly anticipated, into the background. “We don’t have a campaign”even lamented Valerie Pecresse, LR candidate, on Wednesday at France 5. And although “The worst is yet to come” in this crisis, according to the President of the Republic, there is nothing to suggest that the geopolitical situation can allow debate to surface in public opinion as the deadline approaches.

In the meantime, the last two weeks, all campaigns have been adjusted, primarily in form. Here, Marine Le Pen and France 2 agree to postpone for one week the RN Candidate’s Elysée 2022 program originally scheduled for February 24, the day of the Russian invasion. There, Yannick Jadot cancels his participation in the Forum of Opportunities scheduled in Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dome) the day after the start of the war, on Friday, February 25th. “We organize our meetings by adapting them to the context”explains Marine Tondelier, environmentalist candidate spokesperson.

Public meetings also change character. So decided Anne Hidalgo, turning the classic meeting scheduled in Bordeaux (Gironde) on Saturday, February 26, into an event in support of the Ukrainian people. Jean-Luc Mélenchon does nothing else at his “peace rally” in Lyon, Sunday 6 March.

A month before the first round, everyone is trying to adjust to this new international situation with one goal: to find the right tone, not to seem too out of tune with current events, but not to miss the precious days of the campaign. Voices have become more serious, every word is measured, as if the war in Ukraine has overshadowed the usual heat of the presidential campaign. “Everyone should raise the level of morality in connection with the elections”Anne Hidalgo assures Franceinfo. “We can criticize, but without adding to it”abounds Eric Cockerel, deputy of La France insoumise for Saint-Saint-Denis and lieutenant of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

“The moment does not call for sacred union, but more restraint.”

Eric Cockerel, Deputy LFI for Seine-Saint-Denis

on Franceinfo

However, the differences between the candidates have not disappeared. They just entered the international field like Anne Hidalgo’s brutal accusation against Jean-Luc Mélenchon on Monday. IN Expressthe PS candidate accused her opponent from La France insoumise of being “became an ally and supporter of Vladimir Putin”. “These are slanderous statements”, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s entourage answers. On the left, the Ukrainian question revealed clear differences in diplomatic affairs. The same applies to the right and the far right: for ten days now, Valerie Pecresse has not stopped attacking Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour about their connections with Vladimir Putin.

However, in this case, one candidate avoids the frontal attacks of his rivals: Emmanuel Macron. The head of state, who announced his candidacy for a second term on Thursday evening, was waiting in line for all his competitors after a winter marked by a micron wave of Covid-19. The war in Ukraine forced its opponents to withdraw their harshest criticism. in foreign policy, “There is no need to attack Emmanuel Macron”evacuates Anne Hidalgo, “in phase with decisions” taken against Moscow. After the Head of State was granted the status “monarch and dictator”On Friday, former Republican President Laurent Vauquiez “took” this term, “not adapted” in a real context.

If he is sometimes spared, then all opponents of Emmanuel Macron are afraid in any case of a bonus for the commander in these conditions. “In fact, he is the only one who is competent in this matter at the moment, so this is a kind of spiral for the current government”, analyzes political scientist and sociologist Virginie Martin. Republican Senator Bruno Retaio says he fears Monde (paid article), “a legitimist reflex of the ‘rally around the flag’ effect, ‘rally under the flag'”.

This concept, theorized in the United States by political scientist John Mueller in the 1970s, puts forward the idea of ​​increasing support for the incumbent in times of war or major crisis. Thus, the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020 led to a marked increase in the popularity of the chief executive. Two years later, in the Ukraine crisis, the opposition is witnessing a loss of momentum that showed up in the polls in mid-February. “At first, in times of crisis, it strengthens the president a bit… as long as the decisions seem right. Then fades away”hopes Eric Cockerell.

The war in Ukraine has another implication for the outgoing president’s campaign: running for president, he has not yet put forward a detailed program or even specific measures. Although two months before the first round of elections in 2017 there was controversy over the absence of a Macron candidate program, this year the project of the outgoing president is not really at the center of discussions. “Five years ago, the program was a bet on its credibility, but this year it will not matter”sweeps the campaign strategist.

“Emmanuel Macron will not be judged by his program, but by his implementation.”

Member of his campaign team

on Franceinfo

Without a real project five weeks before the deadline, how is the head of state going to invest in this particular campaign? His entourage has repeatedly explained that he does not plan to participate in pre-election debates. “It is likely that he is complacent at this ease of not having a discussion.”fears relative Ann Hidalgo. “Two weeks ago we thought we had a presidential candidate who was basically a candidate. Now that the campaign is crushed, Emmanuel Macron will be basically president. He will only be able to use small gaps to get himself re-elected.”justifies the limits of the majority.

These gaps may even be non-existent. “None of the French will understand that the commander of the army does not deal exclusively with this crisis”, Bruno Le Maire told Franceinfo on Tuesday, suggesting that the campaign be kept to a minimum. At the moment, according to ParisianMacron’s candidate’s meeting, originally scheduled for Saturday in Marseille, has been postponed by a week, until March 12.

Beloved president but fickle candidate, exchanges consumed by the war in Ukraine… “If there is no debate, assessment, draft and re-election of the president, then it will be in the form of democratic inaction with the risk of legitimacy during the mandate”Senate President Gérard Larcher warned on Europe 1 on Monday, a concern shared by other candidates.

“If the choice of the French is not made consciously, we will have to pay the price later.”

Ann Hidalgo

on Franceinfo

For her part, political scientist Virginie Martin foresees a resurgence of protest movements like the Yellow Vests in the fall of 2018. “While elected officials are already very poorly elected, if the campaign is confiscated it could ignite the embers of opposition frustration”judged by an expert. In her opinion, the current climate in the countryside may lead to the fact that many people will not go to the polls in April.

Is abstinence the main risk of a campaign that never got off the ground? “We have never seen the French lose interest in the presidential election, which remains an exceptional meeting.”wants to believe the former prefect Gilbert Payet, adviser to Eric Zemmour. “For the vast majority of people, no matter what we say, questions about the end of the month, security or civilization will inevitably find their place” in the coming weeks.

As much as Coué’s method looks like, the challenge is also to prevent the war in Ukraine from dictating the pace of French political life. “It would be paradoxical and dangerous to suspend our democracy”warns Eric Cockerell. Despite the more than uncertain situation in Ukraine, all the teams participating in the race for the Champs Elysees rule out the possibility of postponing the vote for the moment.

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