No political observer in his right mind would have expected at the beginning of 2016 a Brexit vote in Britain in June, the resignation of David Cameron, a dogfight between the two main Brexit supporters and propagandists within the Tory party, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and eventually the rise of Theresa May. Nor would he have foreseen, for that matter, the election of Donald Trump in the United States on November 8.
Something similar is happening in France now — on a much larger and trickier scale. A few months ago, it was taken for granted that François Hollande’s ineffectual socialist administration would be succeeded after the 2017 election — on April 23 and May 7 — by a conservative government led either by former president Nicolas Sarkozy or former prime minister Alain Juppé: a simple matter of the swing of the pendulum, as is the rule among democracies. What the French are facing now, however, is an unprecedented upsurge of the National Front, the elimination of a generation of political leaders on almost all sides, and the collapse or near collapse of classic Left and Right parties. While many voters welcome the change, others are just in a state of shock. On March 18 — one month or so ahead of the first ballot — 34 per cent of the electorate and 43 per cent of voters under 35 had still not decided whether to vote or not.