France doesn't want an overhaul

'The Great Debate' on April 5 featured, from left, Francois Fillon of the Republicans, Nathalie Arthaud of the extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere (LO), Marine Le Pen of French National Front (FN), Benoit Hamon of the French Socialist party, Jacques Cheminade and Philippe Poutou of Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA). (Reuters photo)

To a politically attuned American, the French presidential election sounds familiar: A great but divided country facing economic and social problems grows disillusioned with the political class. Cue a populist movement to rip up the script, deconstruct the state and drain the swamp, right?

Some of the parallels are genuine. There really is a voter revolt going on in France -- all the obvious candidates for the job were rejected and the two front-runners don't come from mainstream parties. And France does have a populist disruptor. That's Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front Party, who shares with President Donald Trump an anti-immigrant, protectionist platform. Mr Trump promised to make America great again; Ms Le Pen pledges to do the same for France.

And yet don't think for a minute this means the French want a radical overhaul. While French voters want change, it's not the root-and-branch kind that Trump voters sought, or that Britons yearned for when they voted to leave the European Union. Indeed, as I learned during a recent visit, it's hard to find anyone who wants to dismantle France's fabled social contract; the bargain by which the state delivers wide-ranging services in return for collecting a hefty share of people's incomes.

The content shown above is only a small part of the full content, which we reserve for Bangkok Post digital archive subscription members. Please log in or subscribe to get the full content.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Back to top