Squaring up to round two
With all the hype over François Hollande’s presidential race, you might be forgiven for suffering a dose of French election fatigue. But on Sunday the first round of parliamentary elections put the new president and his project to a crucial test. Their outcome will determine whether Hollande has the parliamentary majority required to get his ambitious policies through the Assemblée Nationale. While the socialists made a promising start in round one, with high abstention and fierce competition from across the political spectrum there is little room for complacency.
The first results to come through gave sweeping images of the success of the left and right. The parliamentary left won almost 47 per cent, while the parliamentary right totalled around 34 per cent. Beyond these blunt figures, a complex electoral landscape is emerging.
First, and to no great surprise, the Parti Socialiste topped the scoreboard with 29.21 per cent of the vote, followed by the UMP with 26.62 per cent. At first glance, these figures square poorly with the equivalent results in 2007, in which freshly elected Sarkozy’s UMP clocked up an almighty 40.95 per cent, next to the Socialists’ 26.67 per cent.
Commentators have been quick to point out the lack of a Socialist ‘pink wave’ across the country. Yet the PS-UMP face-off is not the only story worth telling.
The Front National’s vote surged from 4.7 per cent to 13.77 per cent. Often, the far-right share of the vote is amplified by low turnout. Yet this year’s record abstention rate – close to 43 per cent – masks no false trend: at over 3.5 million votes, the FN’s vote has almost tripled.
Marine Le Pen has come first with over 42 per cent in the northern constituency of Hénin-Beaumont, beating far-left firebrand and ex-presidential rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon into third place. She will face the Socialist candidate in the run-off, while 61 other FN candidates also go through second-round battles, concentrated in the south-east and north of the country. The Socialist party leadership has called for a ‘republican bloc’ against the FN, asking a number of third-place candidates to step out of the second round race and support, if need be, the UMP. This has met with much reluctance, while the latter party has not reciprocated the call.
Another novelty of the 2012 campaign is the Socialists’ alliance with the Green party. In a deal last November, the Socialists left 63 seats for the Greens to contend alone, while the two agreed on a common programme for government (with a few caveats on issues such as electoral reform and aspects of nuclear power).
Elsewhere, Ségolène Royal is fighting a controversial contest on the west coast, in La Rochelle. Parachuted into the seat, she is in a narrow first place, having met with fierce local opposition, and will be up against a defiant local left candidate in the second round. In the south-west, leader of the centrist party MoDem and former presidential hopeful François Bayrou having come in second place to the Socialist candidate to potentially lose his seat in the run-off.
So, how might all this play out in the 577-seat assembly? Second round predictions are notoriously hard to make, but initial estimations by Ipsos put the PS* on 275 to 305 seats, with the UMP** between 205 and 235. The Greens, in a breakthrough from their current tally of four, could finish with between 10 and 15 seats, thanks to the PS deal. On the losing side, MoDem is on the brink of annihilation, with a maximum predicted three seats. All eyes will be on the Front National: Ipsos predicts they could see up to two MPs elected – the party’s first places in the national parliament in years.
Barring an unprecedented shift in voting, the left as a whole looks set to gain a comfortable overall majority in the second round on 17 June. Most pundits predict that the PS will get an outright majority, as did Chirac in 2002 and Sarkozy in 2007 (changes to the electoral cycle and shortening of the presidential term in 2000 having made la cohabitation unlikely). The Socialists continue to call to voters for a ‘large, solid and coherent majority’ in order to embark on the ‘change’ the party campaigned for. This electoral feat is in sight – but it won’t be won without some fierce and fascinating contests.
*Includes members of its parliamentary group: Radical Party of the Left, Republican and Citizen Movement, and miscellaneous left.
* Includes New Centre and miscellaneous right.
Felicity Slater is a member of Progress and tweets @FelicitySlater
France, Francois Hollande, Front National, international, Marine le Pen, Nicolas Sarkozy, parti socialiste, Segolene Royal, UMP