CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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The dilemma of no one left to vote for

HONG KONG (SE): In response to the question, “Who won the presidential election in France on May 6?” a reader glued to The Global Times on the mainland could well be forgiven for answering, “China!”
 
The paper trumpeted the success of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen as a victory for human civilisation, which can be credited with doing much to turn back the encroaching attack on humanity, which it also implied is being led by the likes of Le Pen.
 
It hailed the result as a defeat for populism, while at the same time having a bit of a dig at the newly elected president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, portraying him as not acting in the interests of the Chinese people.
 
The president of China, Xi Jinping, was effusive in his praise, off the mark early in sending a message of congratulations to Macron assuring him that Beijing will share with Paris an important responsibility for peace and development in the world.
 
“China is ready to work with France to advance the Franco-Chinese strategic cooperation to a higher level,” Xi said in congratulating Macron on the victory he picked up with 66.06 per cent of the overall vote.
 
Xi was quick to dive into history as well, but he was careful not to go too far back to the acrimonious days of the French colonisation of his country, or even to when the likes of Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping made their final option for the Communist way while studying in France in the 1920s.
 
Instead, he chose 1964 as the date to celebrate, reminding Macron that was the year France became the first western country to form diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, in an age when the bulk of the western world still regarded the Communist Party as an illegitimate government.
 
He stressed to the new president of France, “Maintaining the steady development of the China-France relationship benefits not only the two countries and peoples, but also world peace, stability and development.”
 
Japan and Israel were also at the celebration party early, with Shinzo Abe equally ebullient in speaking of the victory over inward-looking and protectionist moves, and applauding what he called Macron’s mandate for the European Union.
 
“I want to work together with you for world peace and prosperity at a time of continued challenges to the international order,” Abe said in his congratulatory message.
 
Benjamin Netanyahu honed in on terrorism. The prime minister of Israel said in his message to Macron, “Islamist terrorism is one of the great threats to the whole world that affects Paris, Jerusalem and other cities… France and Israel are long-standing allies and I am convinced that our relations will be strengthened.”
 
However, every party has a pooper, and at this one it was the chairperson of the Russian Chamber of Commerce Information Commission, Alexei Pushkov. His remarks were in stark contrast to his Asian and Israeli counterparts, predicting that the French will soon be disappointed with Macron, as he has inherited a virtually irretrievably split nation.
 
Le Pen was able to salvage something from her defeat, as she noted her 33.94 share of the vote almost doubled what she was able to glean in 2012 and more than doubled the best vote her father, Jean-Marie, ever picked up in his three attempts at the top job in 1974, 1988 and 1995.
 
But more significantly, she now heads what is a sizeable minority opposition that could well become stronger if Macron stumbles at hurdles along the way.
 
However, her threats to the European Union and inward-looking nationalism did not tickle enough fancy among the population to get her anywhere near the winner’s circle.
 
Macron, on the other hand, ploughed the middle ground with his En Marche movement—neither right nor left—aiming at reducing bureaucracy and public spending, as well as promoting his controversial reform labour laws.
 
His push for job contracts, where pretty well all work conditions are on the table in negotiations between company and employee, have not gone down well with the labour movement, since he has flatly refused their demand to look at any reforms on the conduct of business.
 
Paris-based commentator, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, wrote in America magazine prior to the election that French society was split and that a glimpse at the politics of the Catholic Church provided a mirror image of what seemed to be an ever widening across the board gap.
 
He pointed out that the Catholic political association, Sens Commun, which he describes as the biggest Catholic right wing organisation in the country, refused to endorse either candidate, unlike most right wing groups which put their weight solidly behind Le Pen.
 
He also pointed out that while the bishops deliberately refrained from supporting either candidate, the discernment points they released, which pushed issues like acceptance of refugees, would be hard to interpret in this circumstance as anything other than support for Macron.
 
Some bishops even expressed their own political choice, saying explicitly that they would vote for Macron, although they added the qualifier that this was not a policy of the Church.
 
In the aftermath, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Archbishop Georges Pontier, publicly stated that he is pleased that Macron won the election, while offering the hope that he will actually be able to function after the legislative elections in June.
 
“We must hope it succeeds,” he commented, “for the good of our country, otherwise it will be catastrophic.”
 
La Croix, the biggest Catholic newspaper in France, ran a feature on Catholic voices in which priests, sisters and academics were interviewed. Almost 100 per cent said they voted for Macron, which Bobry says reflects a disconnect with the more ambivalent base of Catholics.
 
He claims that French Catholics and French conservatives, both of which see problems with large scale immigration, especially of Muslims, and regard the European Union as taking more than it gives from the country, have a lot in common.
 
Bobry adds that this factor alone would have given them a leaning towards Le Pen, although many of them would have found her a bit too rich to stomach at the polling booth, despite the fact that Macron seemed to represent everything that is wrong with the country and, with the demise of the conservative, François Fillon, they were left with no obvious Catholic choice and the dilemma of having no one left to vote for.
 
Fillon picked up 44 per cent of the Mass-going Catholic vote and the Harris Interactive Poll indicated that he got 68 per cent of the vote from the overall mass of Catholics in the primaries. A string of scandals brought his campaign undone.
 
While Xi and Abe are undoubtedly attracted to Macron’s open-door money flow mentality, Xinhua reported that Xi also noted that both France and China are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and he is willing to work with him in pushing the close and comprehensive Sino-French strategic partnership to a higher level.
 
Commentators said that Xi was in fact profoundly worried at the prospect of a Le Pen victory, but no doubt he would have managed to muster an equal enthusiasm had she been able to get over the line, but it would have cost him a lot more imagination.
 
But as the reaction of others seems to indicate, the Chinese president’s joy may have been prompted more by relief than belief.

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