• A New Chapter in French Politics

  • By Elisabeth Gauthier | 25 Jun 12 | Posted under: France , Elections
  • For the first time since ten years the government of France is led by the PS (Parti Socialiste) again. In 2002, the Gauche Plurielle government and its then candidate Jospin encountered catastrophic results due to the public's massive dissatisfaction with their politics. When it became clear that they could not even proceed past the first ballot, the way was paved for a run-off between Le Pen and Chirac. Now, for the first time since Francois Mitterand’s resignation in 1995, the French president is a social democrat again.  Because of the strength of the Left in local and regional committees, the French senate has a left majority for the first time in the history of the 5th Republic. Basically all the important institutional reins of power are now held by PS- representatives.

    Record-breaking 44% of non-voters strongly indicate the delegitimisation of political representation.

    The French political system clearly enforces a two-party-system: the primacy of the presidential election, a majority vote system without any proportionality and the permanent pressure of voting ‘usefully’ for one of the major parties already in the first ballot contribute to this fact. 80% of the seats in the senate and parliament are held by representatives of the two major parties – a further proof of the necessity of establishing a 6th Republic, as proposed by the Front de Gauche (FdG).

    The election results are contradictory, though. In about 90% of the 577 constituencies the FdG won more votes than the candidates of the PCF (Parti communiste français) in the last elections (6.9% on average as opposed to 4.5% in 2007) and had above-average results especially in the bigger cities. At the same time the PS could increase their votes drastically and even surpass incumbent deputies of the FdG who are generally thoroughly successful (30%), such as Jean Luc Mélenchon in a constituency in the North (21%). As a result, along with its allies the PS achieved an absolute majority (316 MPs) even without the Greens (17 MPs) and the FdG (10MPs). This had been Aubry’s declared objective and a major factor in the failure of a joint candidature of the Left in areas with a high FN (Front National)-voter potential. The FdG lost many votes (J.L. Mélenchon scored about 4 million votes in the presidential elections) as their supporters either decided to go for the PS (about 33%) or refused to ballot in the first place. The nationwide promotion of J.L. Mélenchon as a candidate in the presidential elections could not be repeated for parliamentary elections, which are traditionally split up in constituencies. The Greens could only increase their votes in areas supported by the PS while they stagnated in the other constituencies. The extreme Left made hardly an appearance. 

    On the Right, the UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire, 229 seats) and the Democratic Movement (MoDem, 2 seats) lost seats. Two FN-deputies (among them Jean-Marie le Pen’s granddaughter) and a representative of the extreme Right on the other hand will enter parliament owing to results in the South, where their influence is exceedingly strong. All fractions of the Right prepare for their role as the opposition and speculate on a coming disillusion. The FN aims for a new composition of the crisis-stricken Right and attempts to play a central role in this process as to gain dominance within the movement for the 2017 elections. Within the UMP a debate is likely to evolve: will they clearly reject any advances of the FN or form strategic alliances? The UMP’s rightward shift induced by Sarkozy implies the latter.

    How will the PS handle its new power? Never before were there so many possibilities to fight the oligarchy’s dominance both in France and Europe. According to his program, Hollande aims at correcting the prevailing logic without questioning the very foundation it is based upon. The full force of the European crisis is yet to strike France, it is feared that the worst is still to come. Already on the first day after elections the talk is about ‘necessary efforts’ and ‘sacrifices’, which – other than in the era Sarkozy – should be ‘distributed justly’. The French president massively interfered with the elections in Greece by appealing to Greek voters for a so-called ‘pro-Euro’-decision and subsequently complimented them on the outcome. Despite his pro-growth discourse, Hollande has not shown any signs of rejecting austerity policy with regard to the EU-summit at the end of June with bank union, budget union and political federalism high up on the agenda.

    For all components of the FdG the conditions for a participation in the government are not given. They see themselves as a part of the left majority in parliament, however, not as a part of the governing majority. The committed Left will have to focus on building as much pressure as possible within and outside of institutions in order to induce a shift to the left. Here, issues such as the structure of the European Union, wages and social standards, employment, the public sector and democracy will be crucial. A further development of the FdG’s program ‘L’Humain d’abord’ (People first) with the involvement of networks and task-forces founded in the election campaign is also planned. In their campaign, Hollande and the PS hardly attempted to shift political hegemony to the left but rather concentrated on the desire for getting rid of Sarkozy. Mélenchon’s campaign on the other hand emphasised certain left-wing issues which now need to be further developed. A failure of the social democratic presidency and government could not merely have horrendous economic and social consequences but also lead to a political catastrophe and the strengthening of the extreme Right. The Left is faced with the challenge of creating a well-functioning and credible socio-political alternative.

    A further developing of the FdG is desired by its organised as well as non-organised activists, however, it will take a lot of discussion and experimenting to find feasible ways for the future. The single parties which constitute the FdG will also need to continue along this path as to contribute to a new dynamic of the movement.


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