Yesterday, I ran into one of the French presidential candidates on the sidewalk. I mean this literally: I was leaving my apartment, looking at my phone as I tried to get Spotify to load, when I accidentally bumped into someone and looked up to see Francois Fillon.
A bit of context: French presidential elections, held every five years, consist of two rounds, one to narrow down a wide field of candidates to two finalists and a second to choose between them. The first round, called the “premier tour,” of the 2017 election was two days ago on Sunday, where the pool of eleven candidates became a race between two, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine le Pen. The two will face off for the presidency in early May. This election has been one of the most contentious and probably the most historic in all of French history, and it is the first time that France has sent through to the second round two candidates outside of the traditional two-party system. A massive shock to the country’s political system, this election has shown the French people’s desire to overturn the existing structure and reform their parties drastically. The first round also demonstrates a huge divide in political ideology: while Macron is staunchly pro-European Union and favorable towards immigration, le Pen is an islamophobic anti-immigrant populist candidate. The two present two very different visions of the future of France and of the EU.
Before the “premier tour,” results came in, however, the election appeared incredibly close, a four-way race between Macron, le Pen, Melanchon, a far-left anti-globalization candidate, and Fillon, the candidate for the traditional, conservative Republican party (the same party as former president Sarkozy). As the results came in on Friday night, it was unclear who would be passing through to the next round, and once the two winners were confirmed, it was reported that Melanchon and Fillon had been within a percentage of the victory.
All of this background brings me to yesterday afternoon, when casually bumped into one of the most important political figures in France on my way to class. I knew it was Fillon immediately – all of the campaign posters of the candidates had been posted ubiquitously around the city for weeks leading up to the election, so I knew his face well – and froze for a moment, unsure what to say. I quickly apologized, and he just smiled and kept walking. I’ll admit that I turned around several times to look back, still not believing it.
I love politics. They’re the reason why I’m at Georgetown, and one of the main reasons I decided to study abroad at Sciences Po – it’s basically the place to be if you want to become involved in politics in France. And I love being in Paris this semester of all times, because this election will have huge ramifications on the future of Europe and the global community and will be remembered for decades to come. Most of my classes here are political science classes, and I’ve learned so much, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing political change in real time, in the capital city of one of the most important countries in Europe. I’ll be able to say for the rest of my life that I was in Paris for this election, that I saw it all happen, and that I – quite literally – bumped into French politics on every corner.