French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are headed to a runoff on April 24 after winning the most votes in France’s first round of presidential elections on Sunday. We speak with Rokhaya Diallo, French journalist and writer, who says France’s political landscape is now dominated by three parties — the far-right, the liberal right and the left, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who urged his supporters to not vote for Le Pen in the following election. Diallo also explains how Le Pen — who ran against Macron in the last presidential election — has since softened her xenophobic rhetoric. “She has hidden in a way the real agenda of the National Rally, which is explicitly anti-immigrant, xenophobic and also sexist,” says Diallo.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
French President Emmanuel Macron and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen are headed to a runoff election on April 24th. In the first round of voting Saturday, Macron won over 27% support. Le Pen placed second at 23%. Macron urged French voters to reject Le Pen’s xenophobic policies.
PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: [translated] I solemnly call on my fellow citizens, whatever their leaning and whatever the choice they made in the first round, to join us. … At this turning point for the future of our nation, nothing will ever be the same. This is why I want to reach out to all those who want to work for France. I am ready to invent something new to gather different convictions and leanings in order to build with them a common action for our nation for the coming years. It is our duty.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, after the vote, Le Pen called on French people of all parties to vote for her in the runoff later this month.
MARINE LE PEN: [translated] From this moment, I’m calling on all French, from all sides, from the right or left or elsewhere, French of all origins, to join this great national and popular movement. Together we will build, with enthusiasm and conviction, this victory to implement the great shift that France needs, and drive with joy our country into the third millennium. Long live the republic! Long live France!
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon placed third with about 22% of the vote. He urged his supporters to not give a single vote to Marine Le Pen in the runoff.
For more, we go to Paris to speak with Rokhaya Diallo, French journalist, writer, filmmaker, contributing writer to The Washington Post, her latest piece headlined “France has a chance to choose progressive ideals over hate and division.”
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Rokhaya. Explain the significance of this vote.
ROKHAYA DIALLO: So, first of all, thank you for inviting me. I’m glad to be back on air on Democracy Now!
The significance of that is that it’s something — the fact that Emmanuel Macron would face Marine Le Pen on the second round was something that was expected, but for the first time we’ve had two strong candidates from the far right, and there is also the fact that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as you just mentioned, is also now impersonating the leading voice on the left. So, his party, La France Insoumise, is like the most likely to challenge the right and the far right. And to me, what has happened yesterday just showed that now there are three — three oppose, if I can say, on the French political landscape, which is the far right, the liberal right and then the left, impersonated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his party, La France Insoumise.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what actually took place and what the protest vote against Macron is all about. For example, most of his time recently he has been focused on Ukraine. Today he’s headed to the north, to Le Pen country. Talk about what Marine Le Pen represents, what she said she would do if she became the head of France.
ROKHAYA DIALLO: So, Marine Le Pen is the leader of the National Rally, which is the party that was created from the National Front by her father in the early ’70s, so it’s a very far-right party that was created in early ’70s by former Nazis, French, from France, and which has been — which has taken a very strong stance against immigration and against — yeah, mostly against immigration and against immigrants, and on the idea that French citizens should be privileged in front of the people from other countries. So, Marine Le Pen has put her feet in the legacy of her father but has really tried to change the party in a way to — in a certain way to soften the package.
So, now she has chosen, during that campaign, not to focus on immigration but on the cost of life and the fact that the French people, the French citizens, have lost much of their purchasing power. So, she has hidden, in a way, the real agenda of the National Rally, which is explicitly anti-immigrant, xenophobic and also sexist, to put herself in the shoes of a leader who would support French people who are facing challenges because of the rise of the prices. So that’s the reason why she’s been — she’s gained so much support. And Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in 2017, given the fact that he really supported policies that would have made the rich richer, have sparked much anger among the population. And that anger has found, in a way, some — its way to the National Rally, that is the party of Marine Le Pen.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about how Ukraine figured into this, and the relationship between Macron, the current president of France, with Putin, and the ad he put out with Marine Le Pen, rhyming “Le Pen” with “Putin,” and her close relationship with Putin?
ROKHAYA DIALLO: The thing is that, yes, indeed, among the presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen was one of the ones who were saying that she had an admiration for Putin. So, after the war started in Ukraine, of course, what she said, the fact that she was someone — an admirer of Putin, didn’t look good. So Macron is using now the fact that she’s been supportive to Putin, also the fact that in 2017, in order to fund her campaign, she borrowed money from Russia. And this year, in 2022, she borrowed money from Hungary. So Macron is using that to say that she’s more likely to be in solidarity with Russia than him, because he says that he challenged Putin, and he was one of the people who went to visit him and who tried to stop the war in Ukraine.
So, it’s true that Marine Le Pen is very ambiguous with Putin, but it’s not the only thing that she needs to be addressed about. And also, the thing is that Emmanuel Macron for the first time said that Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Rally, was racist, which he hasn’t done during his mandate during the five years. He was more, I would say, blurry about the line that he should have drawn between his party, his politics and the far right.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you expect in this run-up to the final election on — what is it? — April 24th?
ROKHAYA DIALLO: So, for now, Emmanuel Macron is the most likely to win. But if he wins, he will not win in the same way as he won in 2017, because in 2017 he was the face of a renewal of the revolution, which was the name of his book, and he was claiming that he was neither from the right nor from the left. But we can tell now, after five years of his presidency, that he was definitely from the right and that he was supporting a neoliberal agenda. So, now it will be very difficult for him to be appealing to the voters from the left, who are likely not to vote at all. So the challenge now is to make sure that the far right doesn’t come into power, but at the same time not to give — to make Macron under the impression that he has the support of the whole population.
And whether Marine Le Pen wins or not, she will have won in the way that she has been able to anchor herself and her party into the political landscape and to make sure that her ideas have been widespread over the whole political landscape. And we can tell that in the fact that Emmanuel Macron, as a president, really supported the hard line regarding immigration and regarding minorities. So, to me, she has won in a way that she has changed the French mentality, and she has had a very important influence over the voters, who now, if we addition her votes to the votes of the other far-right parties, makes the far right over 30%, which is much.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Rokhaya Diallo, French journalist, writer, filmmaker, contributing writer for The Washington Post. We’ll link to your latest piece.
Next up, we’re going to go down to Texas, where a prosecutor arrested a woman for murder after accusing her of causing a “self-induced abortion.” After massive public outcry, he says he will drop the charges. Stay with us.