IN TWO months’ time, the French electorate will be invited to choose between four presidential hopefuls to lead their country into what increasingly seems like an uncertain future.
They will choose between – in the order of opinion poll popularity – extreme right wing Marine Le Pen (National Front): 25%; independent centre left candidate Emmanuel Macron (En Marche): 20%; centre right wing François Fillon (the Repubicans): 18%; and left wing Socialist Benoît Hamon (Socialist Party): 15%.
It’s safe to assume that the Socialist Party candidate trails in the polls because of the terrible poll fortunes of the incumbent Socialist Party government under President François Holland. The now highly unpopular Holland was brought in at the last minute to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also known as DSK, former leading Socialist candidate and IMF chief who was hugely popular at the time.
DSK had been arrested and charged with sexual misconduct in New York while in transit to face former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was eventually defeated by Holland. DSK had been expected to win with an even bigger margin, but that remains in the realms of speculation.
Marine Le Pen is hugely inspired by the November electoral victory of US President Donald Trump on the one hand, and that of Brexit on the other. She has not made it a secret that were she to win the elections in April, she would frogmarch (pun intended) France out of the European Union within six months of coming to power, British style, and introduce Trump-style border controls to clamp down on immigration, specifically from the Muslim world.
Like Trump in the US, she has been appalled by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open border policy towards refugees from places like Syria – a policy that is now beginning to hurt Merkel in the polls.
But, if history can be trusted to repeat itself, there is no guarantee that Marine Le Pen will become president of France in 2017. Back in 2002 one Jean Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and founder of the National Front, upset Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin, who had been expected to come in second place in the first round of the elections.
Instead, that second place was taken by Jean Marie Le Pen, who closely trailed then leading candidate, Jacques Chirac, by a small margin of 3.2%. Fearing what would happen if France were to be led by the racist and Holocaust-denying Le Pen, the left wing and centre right wing French voters rallied massively behind Jacques Chirac, who won the second round with a landslide.
In the beginning – well, soon after he won the primaries for the Republicans – François Fillon was the darling of the polls, favoured to be the possible next president of France. But his light has since been dimmed significantly after it emerged that he had been employing his British wife Penelope at a huge state salary as his assistant, paying her some €500 000 over a period of eight years.
There is no documentary proof of her having done anything during that time. For now, Emmanuel Macron might face Marine Le Pen in the second round; then we shall know for sure where the national sentiment of the French stands. Will it seek to follow the Trump way, or will it push back?
Russia goes for the gap
Elsewhere, Russia has seen the gap – but some accuse it of having helped create it – and begun taking advantage of the noise in the smoke-filled room that is the current world stage to reassert itself. NATO and the West can jump all they can, but Russia is back in the Crimea to stay.
It is hard to imagine any foolish world leader even thinking of hounding Russia out of its newly (re)acquired territory. No economic sanctions will achieve anything resembling a return to a geopolitical order that would leave the Crimea free of Russian military presence and ripe for NATO occupation under the guise of protecting Ukraine, so close to the Russian border.
Elsewhere, China is increasingly pushing its weight in the South China Sea, laying claim to disputed little islands under the administration of countries like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and not giving a toss about the geopolitical ramifications of its show of force.
The US can shout all it can; it is unlikely to wage a military battle against China. That would be a battle of battles that would engulf millions of innocent victims in the region and, possibly, elsewhere.
Much of the Middle East remains in chaos as the bombs continue to fall. Sunnis and Shias continue to be at one another’s throats while ISIS, having seen the opportunity apparently created by American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is proving to be hard to uproot from territories it has taken in recent years.
Emboldened by Trump’s arrival into office, even tacitly encouraged by some of his now notorious tweets, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has announced its intention to take more Palestinian land and render any prospects of creating a viable Palestinian state within the generally accepted route of a two-state solution impossible to realise.
Were he to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem, Donald Trump would be encouraging the continuation of hatred and bloodshed in the region for generations to come.
Where does South Africa stand?
Now, all of these worrying developments present us with a world without credible leaders; all of the ones who are supposed to have the wherewithal to lead the world to calmer waters are busy gazing at their own navels, oblivious to the unfolding disconnectedness around them.
Can South Africa take advantage of the gap to elect leaders who will lead from the front, ones who instead of doing wrong and defending the indefensible because others elsewhere are doing so, will stand up and introduce a third way to a world that is clearly hungry for it?
What kind of South Africa and the world do we want to live in? What kind of leaders to we need in order to realise it?