facing the war in Ukraine, the disarray of presidential candidates

From one crisis to another. While the fifth wave of Covid-19 had once raised fears of a presidential campaign curtailed by health restrictions, it is now the war in Ukraine that is collapsing French political life. For 10 days and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, this news has dominated all others, from the Agricultural Show to the latest alarming report from the IPCC. To the point that the faces of Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky have become more familiar to the French than those of the candidates vying for this capital election, the first round of which takes place in 35 days, on April 10.

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The conflict has relegated the presidential series, however long it waited, to the background. “We have no campaign”even Valérie Pécresse, the LR candidate, complained on France 5 on Wednesday. And while “The worst is yet to come” in this crisis, according to the president of the republic, nothing says that the geopolitical situation can cause debates in public opinion to surface as the crucial deadline approaches.

In the past two weeks, all campaigns have been adjusted, first on form. Here Marine Le Pen and France 2 agree to postpone by a week the “Elysée 2022” program dedicated to the RN candidate and originally scheduled for February 24, the day of the Russian invasion. There, Yannick Jadot cancels his participation in the Forum of Possibilities, which is planned the day after the outbreak of war, Friday 25 February, in Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme). “We organize our meetings by adapting them to the context”explains Marine Tondelier, spokesperson for the environmental activist.

Public gatherings also change character. This is what Anne Hidalgo has decided, turning a classic meeting planned in Bordeaux (Gironde), Saturday, February 26, into an event in support of the Ukrainian people. Jean-Luc Mélenchon does nothing else with his “meeting for peace”, in Lyon, Sunday 6 March.

A month before the first round, everyone is trying to adapt to this new international situation, with one goal: to find the right tone so as not to be out of step with current events, but without letting precious campaign days slip by. The voices are more serious and every word is weighted, as if the war in Ukraine had veiled the usual intensity of a presidential campaign. “Everyone needs to raise the level of moral standards regarding the elections”Anne Hidalgo assures franceinfo. “We can criticize, but without adding anything”in abundance Eric Coquerel, deputy La France insoumise of Seine-Saint-Denis and lieutenant of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

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

Eric Coquerel, Deputy LFI for Seine-Saint-Denis

at franceinfo

However, the controversies between the candidates have not disappeared. They just took to the international field, such as Anne Hidalgo’s violent indictment of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Monday. In The Expressthe PS candidate accused her rival of La France of being insouciant “became Vladimir Putin’s ally and supporter”“These are defamatory comments”, answers Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s entourage. On the left, the Ukrainian issue has revealed clear rifts in diplomatic affairs. This is the case on both the right and the far right: for ten days now, Valérie Pécresse has been attacking Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour on their ties to Vladimir Poutine.

However, one candidate in this case escapes the frontal attacks of his rivals: Emmanuel Macron. The head of state, who formalized his candidacy for a second term on Thursday evening, was expected in turn by all his competitors, after a winter marked by the Omicron wave of Covid-19. The war in Ukraine has forced its opponents to put aside their sharpest criticisms. In foreign policy, “There is no need to attack Emmanuel Macron”Evacuates Anne Hidalgo, “in phase with the decisions” taken against Moscow. After the qualification of the head of state as “monarchy and dictator”On Friday, former Republican President Laurent Wauquiez “to put out” this term, “not adapted” in the real context

If they sometimes spare him, all opponents of Emmanuel Macron fear at least a bonus for the warlord under these conditions. “He’s basically the only one with the competence on this topic at the moment, so it’s a virtuous circle for the power in attendance.”, analyzes political scientist and sociologist Virginie Martin. Senator Les Républicains Bruno Retailleau says he fears, with the Monde (paying article), “a legitimist reflex of the ‘rally around the flag effect’, ‘rallying to the flag'”.

This concept, theorized in the United States by political scientist John Mueller in the 1970s, puts forward the idea of ​​greater support, in times of war or great crisis, for the power that is present. The outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020 had thus led to a marked rise in the popularity of the Chief Executive. Two years later, before the Ukrainian crisis, the opposition is waiting for the loss of momentum, which appeared in the polls in mid-February. “In the beginning, during a crisis, it empowers the president a little bit… as long as the decisions seem to be the right ones. Then it fades away.”Eric Coquerel hopes.

The war in Ukraine has yet another impact on the outgoing president’s campaign: in the running for his own succession, he has not yet proposed a detailed program or even concrete measures. While there had been controversy over the absence of candidate Macron’s program two months before the first round of the election, the outgoing president’s 2017 project has not really been at the center of discussion this year. “Five years ago the program was at stake because of its credibility, but this year it won’t be important”wipes a campaign strategist.

“Emmanuel Macron will be judged less by his program than by his incarnation.”

A member of his campaign team

at franceinfo

How will the head of state invest in this particular campaign without a real project, five weeks after the deadline? His entourage has repeatedly explained that he does not intend to participate in the pre-election debates. “It is likely that he will settle for this ease of not debating”fears a relative of Anne Hidalgo. “Two weeks ago we thought we had a candidate for president who was mainly a candidate. Now, with the campaign crushed, Emmanuel Macron will be mainly president. He will only be able to use small gaps for his re-election.”justifies a majority framework.

These gaps may not even turn out to exist. “None of the French would understand that the army chief is not solely focused on this crisis”, suggested Bruno Le Maire on franceinfo, Tuesday, suggesting keeping a campaign to a minimum. For now, according to the Parisianis a meeting of candidate Macron initially scheduled for Saturday in Marseille, postponed by a week to March 12.

A favored president but intermittent candidate, exchanges swamped by the war in Ukraine… “If there is no debate, assessment, project and the president is re-elected, that is in a form of democratic omission with a risk of legitimacy during the mandate”on Monday on Europa 1, warned Senate President Gérard Larcher, whose fears are shared by other candidates.

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

Anne Hidalgo

at franceinfo

For her part, political scientist Virginie Martin anticipates a revival of protest movements, such as the “yellow vests” in the autumn of 2018. “While the elected officials are already very poorly elected, confiscating the campaign could ignite opposition frustration”, the specialist judges. For her, the current rural climate could lead to many people not going to the polls in April.

Is abstinence the biggest risk of a campaign that never really started? “We have never seen French people lose interest in a presidential election, that remains an exceptional meeting”wants to believe former prefect Gilbert Payet, adviser to Eric Zemmour. “For the vast majority of people, whatever we say, questions about the end of the month, security or civilization will inevitably find their place” in the coming weeks.

It doesn’t matter if this resembles some form of Coué method, the challenge is also not to let the war in Ukraine set the pace of French political life. “It would be paradoxical and dangerous to put our democracy on hold”, warns Eric Coquerel. Despite a more than uncertain situation in Ukraine, all teams involved in the race for the Elysee Palace have ruled out a postponement of the vote for the time being.