French elections: prospects for the second round

By Jeff Apter

French left and green parties over the last few days have been canvassing to get the vote out in the run-off for their joint lists of candidates for the country’s 13 Regional and 101 Departmental Councils this Sunday, 27th June. All French parties are affected by the record national low 33.3% turnout in the first round of the elections on 20th June, compared to the 50% turnout in these elections in 2015.

For these elections, the Socialist Party (PS), French Communist Party (PCF), La France Insoumise (LFI), small left party allies, and the various factions of Greens (EE-LV) in each region and département have agreed joint lists made up of joint female/male candidates, ensuring equal representation on councils. The lists are based on the agreed relative party strengths in the various areas, with anti-austerity and anti-privatisation manifestos on transport, roads, secondary and grammar schools and other subjects within each region’s competency.  Tacit political agreements have been reached for the party alliances in all the regions to support other left or left-green lists which were ahead in the first round. Any party attaining 10% of registered electors can stand in the second round, while those winning 5% may merge with another list.

The second round of the two six-yearly contests are France’s last elections ahead of April 2022, when Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek re-election to a second term as President of France. In 2017 he beat Marine Le Pen of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN, now called RN – Rassemblement National) in a run-off to win the presidency on a 66% turnout – very low for a presidential election, after the sitting Socialist Party President François Hollande stood down and did not seek re-election.

Macron, who had never held elective office, won the ensuing legislative elections in a landslide. LR (Les Républicains), the traditional right-wing party of government came third with the now disgraced François Fillon, the former prime minister to Nicolas Sarkozy. Also recently disgraced and on trial, Sarkozy, had lost the presidential race to Hollande in 2012. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, representing La France Insoumise, backed by the French Communist Party, came fourth behind Fillion with 19% of the vote. Benoît Hamon, the PS candidate, now leader of the new left-wing Génération.s party, received only 6% of the vote.

The PS also collapsed in the legislative elections taking only 28 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly. Its EE-LV ally, which in 2012 had for the first time been able to form a parliamentary group, lost all its MPs. On the non-social democratic left, the PCF increased its representation in Parliament to 16 MPs and the left-wing LFI gained its first MPs to form a 17-strong parliamentary group. LR returned as the main opposition, sitting in four separate groups. The FN returned eight MPs, its largest contingent since 1986, but far below its expectations.

The PS previously had bad results in the 2014 municipal and European elections and also in the 2015 regional contest, suffering substantial losses in seats and membership. EE-LV made a comeback in the 2019 European elections, and last year’s March and June 2020 municipal elections showed improved electoral results for the united left and green lists, retaining the Paris City Council and winning several of France’s largest cities including Marseilles, Lyon and Bordeaux and electing Green and PS mayors and many other left-wing councillors, many of them women. Meanwhile the right-wing LR maintained its positions but Macron’s ruling La République En Marche made little progress in local representation.

Last Sunday’s first round results are an indication of what could happen for the left and green alliances, whose aim is at least to maintain the positions of 2015 and crucially beat the right and extreme right. But low turnout continues and masks what the voting population really wants.

Jeff Apter, a Labour Party member in Islington North, is a freelance journalist working as a correspondent in France.

Image:  The French president Emmanuel Macron, Source: http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/54617/photos,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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