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Road to the Élysée Palace (Hindu.)

The presidential race in France may be gaining momentum, but clarity it is not. Centre-right Les Républicains candidate François Fillon, until recently seen to be the most likely to win the race, is engulfed by allegations of payments made to his wife, Penelope Fillon, and their children for official work they may not have done. What looked like a passing storm now looks like a weather pattern that could linger. In a rival camp to the left, Benoit Hamon’s recent victory in the French Socialist Party’s presidential primaries indicates voters are disenchanted with the ideological drift and absence of acuity in the ruling party’s policies. His comfortable victory over the centre-left rival, former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, represents a shift leftward for the Socialists, back to their ideological roots, stemming a drift towards the centre seen not just in their party but also in the Republicans. With the business-friendly Mr. Valls out of the race, Mr. Hamon faces the prospect of losing his opponent’s supporters to former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old independent centrist who is a better ideological fit for many centre-left Socialists than is Mr. Hamon. Following the election, rifts in the party have become more open, with some senior leaders saying they cannot support Mr. Hamon and others asking him to adopt policies that would appeal to a broader spectrum of voters. Among Mr. Hamon’s policies are a universal basic income of about €750 a month, further cuts in the 35-hour work week, and a plan to legalise marijuana. Not all these are palatable to Socialists to Mr. Hamon’s right.

A poll last week placed nativist Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front in the lead for round one of the presidential race, with Mr. Fillon and Mr. Macron neck-and-neck behind him. The Socialists were expected to come in fourth. This did not last, however. Growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Fillon’s response to ‘Penelopegate’ has altered the results significantly; one poll showed that over 60% of respondents want Mr. Fillon to step down. The party is considering finding a replacement candidate. This has bolstered the chances of Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen, a candidate who has benefited from the anti-European Union, anti-migrant, populist wave washing over Europe and across the Atlantic. She is still unlikely to win the second round of the race since her opponent will attract the mainstream vote. This is a good thing as the National Front coming to power would further unravel Europe and be a destabilising force in a world much in need of tolerance and stability. For the moment the Élysée Palace appears well within sight for Mr. Macron.


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