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French Presidential Election: On a Razor’s Edge

By Prabasi Nepali
Last Saturday, the French far-right and xenophobic presidential hopeful Ms. Marine Le Pen named the defeated first-round candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan as her chosen prime minister. This was an attempt to attract his voters and help win victory over the centrist favourite Emmanuel Macron. Dupont-Aignan is also an economic nationalist whose protectionist policies are close to those of Le Pen’s “National Front”. Like her, he also wants to reduce the powers of the European Union (EU) institutions. He scored 4.7 percent of votes in the first round on April 23, and announced last Friday he was backing her for the May 7 second round next Sunday.
At a Paris news conference (where her share of the vote was just 5 percent in the first round), Le Pen claimed: “We will form a government of national unity that brings together people chosen for their competence and their love of France”, notwithstanding the fact that the country is deeply divided, and that the National Front’s policies arouse fear and distrust. Dupont-Aignan himself said he had signed an agreement with Le Pen that takes into account some “modifications” of her programme.
In the French political system, the prime minister plays a secondary role to the president. It is more akin to the part played by the vice president in the American presidential system. Like the US-VP, he will have to actively coordinate with the legislature (parliament). Parliamentary elections are slated for June, and the new French president will need the support of parliament to get things done. However, the electorate has doubts about the ability of the candidates to build a parliamentary majority.
Many voters are also skeptical that either of the two candidates can solve France’s chronic unemployment or tackle security concerns. The final result will depend very much on the voters’ perception of which candidate is better equipped to manage them. The outcome of the run-off will also depend to a large extent on floating voters and potentially high levels of abstention.
The supporters of Emannuel Macron see in his youth, pragmatism and optimism the best remedy for a country mired in
economic decline and crippling self-doubt. In addition, his private sector experience brings a breath of fresh air in a jaded political system (AFP). He has positioned himself as “neither of the left nor the right”.
Trump’s Hundred Days: Dismal, Deplorable & Dire
Last Saturday, Donald Trump faced the somber realities of heading ‘the office of the most powerful man on earth’ as he marked the 100th day of the US presidency ‘distinguished’ by chaos and confusion. In a rare concession, he admitted that he had not thought that the job would be so difficult. His only solace seems to be his self-aggrandizing statements, and the continuing support among his core supporters, who neither speak evil of him, nor are ready to hear about or see evil in him (as during his presidential campaigns).
The 45th President of the United States (POTUS) has been under relentless spotlight during the campaigns and above all since stunning America and the world in November 2016 with an improbable victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton (helped in large measure by the FBI Director’s unnecessary revelations, and, of course, by massive Russian interference). Trump has struggled massively to convert his bombastic und unrealistic campaign promises into tangible achievements.
His attempt to repeal and replace his predecessor Barack Obama’s landmark health care reforms – Obamacare – have stumbled in Congress, where many of his legislative priorities have taken a tumble. Thus, funding for his promised wall along the southern US border with Mexico had to be removed from a federal funding bill to prevent a government shutdown. His tax plan, prematurely announced last week in the hope of polishing up his first 100 days with a success story, has been attacked scathingly as a multi-billion scam to benefit the wealthy and a scheme that will send the national debt escalating.
Trump has signed dozens of executive orders (the most of any president, if that can be counted as an achievement!), including several that rescinded Obama-era regulations on industry or nullified bans on oil and gas drilling, measures widely praised by
Republican lawmakers, effected industries and some voters, but condemned by environmentalists and the concerned public. The Trump administration is working against established science.
The “New York Times” columnist, Nicholas Kristof summed up the current situation:
1. Trump has had the worst beginning of any president.
2.  POTUS distinguishes himself in only one area: incompetence.
3. He remains a bully and charlatan.
4. Trump systematically betrays his supporters.
5. He has built a colossal swamp in Washington.
6. Trump has demonized some of the most vulnerable people, but large majorities of Americans disapprove of his
policies.
7. The good news (not fake): The Republic stands. Checks and balances have constrained Trump!
North Korea Defies the World
North Korea, the rogue state par excellence, thumbed its nose at the United Nations and the international community in general by test-firing yet another ballistic missile last Saturday. US and South Korean experts said the test failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March of this year. The North Koreans had probably tested a medium-range missile known as the KN-17 and it appeared to have broken up within minutes of taking off. South Korean military said the missile reached an altitude of 71 km before disintegrating. The North’s fourth consecutive missile-launch failure must be too much of a coincidence, especially to its leadership. The Obama-era instituted electronic disturbance seems to be working.
For all intents and purposes, the North has chosen confrontation. Just a day before, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chairing a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea, had repeated the Trump administration’s position that ‘all options were on the table’ if Pyongyang persisted with its nuclear and missile development programme. He elaborated: “The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland.” Thus the logical corollary according to US perception: “Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”
At the same time, Trump’s hope that China would play a pivotal role in restraining North Korea has not borne fruit. He hid behind his statement that the launch was an affront to China, the North’s sole ally and main economic partner. He could only tweet feebly: “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China and its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!”
North Korea was not impressed with Trump, nor his administration, and openly challenged: “measures for bolstering the nuclear
force to the maximum will be taken in a consecutive and successive way at any moment and any place decided by the supreme leadership.”
Must Reads: Notable New Books & Articles
Pankaj Mishra is an Indian novelist and essayist. “Foreign Policy” magazine in 2012 noted him as one of the top 100 world thinkers. His latest book: “Age of Anger. A History of the Present” traces the origins of the current international turmoil to the economic and political revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. “The Economist” of London proclaimed him as the heir to Edward Said – the masterful Orientalist. He is also a columnist for “The New York Times”.
Robert D. Kaplan was also named the world’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. He is without doubt one of the world’s most influential geopolitical thinkers and the bestselling author of “The Revenge of Geography” (2012), “Monsoon. The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power” (2010), and “Asia’s Cauldron.The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific” 2014. His latest book: “Earning the Rockies. How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World” (2017). Henry A Kissinger noted that it is “ a brilliant reminder of the impact of America’s geography on its strategy. An essential complement to his previous work on the subject of geostrategy.”

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