IT HAS been many years since France last had a revolution, or even a serious attempt at reform. Stagnation, both political and economic, has been the hallmark of a country where little has changed for decades, even as power has rotated between the established parties of left and right.
Until now. This year’s presidential election, the most exciting in living memory, promises an upheaval. The Socialist and Republican parties, which have held power since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, could be eliminated in the first round of a presidential ballot on April 23rd. French voters may face a choice between two insurgent candidates: Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the National Front, and Emmanuel Macron, the upstart leader of a liberal movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), which he founded only last year.
The implications of these insurgencies are hard to exaggerate. They are the clearest example yet of a global trend: that the old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed. The resulting realignment will have reverberations far beyond France’s borders. It could revitalise the European Union, or wreck it.
The revolution’s proximate cause is voters’ fury at the uselessness and self-dealing of their ruling class. The Socialist president, François Hollande, is so unpopular that he is not running for re-election. The established opposition, the centre-right Republican party, saw its chances sink on March 1st when its standard-bearer, François Fillon, revealed that he was being formally investigated for paying his wife and children nearly €1m ($1.05m) of public money for allegedly fake jobs. Mr Fillon did not withdraw from the race, despite having promised to do so. But his chances of winning are dramatically weakened.