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How the Paris attack will influence the French election

21 April 2017

As Paris is rocked by a police shooting days out from the Presidential election, University of Sydney experts in security and politics weigh in on the corresponding security issues and implications.

A deliberate attempt by ISIS to influence the election?

“The recent shooting at the Champs Elysees is not best described as a terrorist attack," writes Professor Colin Wight from the Department of Government and International Relations, whose research expertise includes international relations, terrorism and political violence

"The direct targets of the attack seem to have been French police officers and terrorism is a tactic deployed against civilian, or non-state actors. This is best described as an attack on the French state, and it is counterproductive, and plays in the terrorists’ hands, to label it terrorism. 

“It is interesting that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack and named the attacker, before the authorities. This suggests that it is an attack organised and directed by the Islamic State, rather than an isolated individual – often labelled a Lone Wolf – acting under the influence of Islamic State ideals rather than Islamic State orders. This is the difference between being influenced by the Islamic State or being directed by it.

“If this is correct it could be a deliberate attempt by the Islamic State to influence the French elections. National Front leader Marine Le Pen will likely use the attack to her own advantage. There is no way of knowing if it will have the desired effect, but after Brexit and the election of President Trump, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

Street sign for Champs-Élysées

A swing to the right

“The French presidential election promises to be the most dramatic and unpredictable in recent decades and the latest attack might swing voters towards the far right Front National leader Marine Le Pen," predicts Professor Simon Tormey, Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences and an expert in European politics.  

“For most of the campaign it has looked likely to result in a contest between Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the socialist government turned centrist independent. However, a late surge in the polls by far left candidate Jean–Luc Melenchon has raised the prospect of a run off between the two extreme anti–EU populists, sending the markets into a panic and the media into a frenzy.

“Could France be on the brink of a populist backlash that would even eclipse the election of Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK?”

Any government may struggle to govern

"The latest terrorist attack in Paris will add to an already tense and polarised situation in France ahead of the presidential election, helping right and extreme-right candidates," says Dr Jonathan Bogais, an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences, with research expertise in violence, conflict and comprise.

"It is unlikely, however, to change the current positions as all candidates - except the left aligned - have strong views on security. 

No matter who wins the presidential election in two weeks, France is steering a course toward political and social instability.
Dr Jonathan Bogais, School of Social and Political Sciences

"The June Parliamentary (législative) election is likely to show the depth of divisions in French politics, and the struggle for the new government to govern."

A country already in a state of emergency

"This much anticipated terrorist attack in the lead up to the first round French presidential elections will see the doubling of security in a country already in a state of emergency, but is not likely to have a significant impact on the election outcome," said Professor Michael Humphrey from the School of Social and Political Sciences, whose research areas include globalisation, terrorism and migration.

"From information released so far, it appears to be an attack following a known pattern – a radicalised known to security services who undertakes an attack.

"The short term solution will be increased security but there needs to be greater effort in developing social policy that addresses the reality of globalised cities."

Annika Dean

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences)

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