Sunday, March 28, 2010

FRANCE: Elections a blow to Sarkozy

Lisbeth Latham

French voters have dealt a blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy following the first and second rounds of voting in regional elections. The Socialist Party (PS) expanded its control of regional presidencies to all but one of the 22 continental regions, based on a record voting percentage in the second round.

There were mixed results for parties to the left of the PS, and also a resurgence of the far-right National Front (FN). The elections have been marred by record-low voter turnout, with 46.5% and 51% participating in the two rounds.
During the election campaign, Sarkozy had told his right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP): Its necessary to campaign on my record. He essentially turned the regional elections into a referendum on his governments policies since being elected in 2007.

The UMP-dominated Presidential Majority Lists received an average vote of 26.9%, down from 27.8% in the European elections and 33.73% in the last regional elections. As a result, the UMP lost control of Corsica and only managed to retain conservative stronghold Alsace.

Far from giving him the ringing endorsement he wanted, the result is a rebuff to Sarkozys neoliberal agenda.

The PS vote achieved a first round at 29.48%. This was up markedly from the European elections, where it scored only 16.48%, but down from its score in the previous regional elections 36.86% (these lists had included the French Communist Party PCF).
In the second round, the PS established Union of the Left (UdG) lists including the European Ecologie, which had experienced a major growth in support from 2.25-12.8%, and the Left Front (FdG). These lists achieved a national vote of 54.3%.
In Reunion, where the Communist Party of Reunion received the highest vote in the first round, the PS stood its own candidate in the second, round allowing the Presidential Majority List to win the region. In Limousin, the FdG stood a list in the second round.

The clearest outcome for the PS was not just a relative strengthening of its position in the regions, but also a realignment of the forces to its left, with its reliance shifting from the PCF to European Ecologie.

Far-right resurgence
The election appears to have signalled the resurgence of the far-right FN. It was a significant force in French politics during the 1990s and early part of the last decade, with FN leader Jean Marie Le Pen achieving 16.86%, the second-highest vote in the 2002 presidential election.

However, the partys star appeared to be waning. Its vote declined to 6.3% in the 2009 European elections.

In the current regional elections, the FN scored an average of 12%. In the second round, the FN averaged 8.7%, however it had candidates in only half the regions in those it averaged 17.5 percent.

The resurgence of the FN has been attributed not only to the dissatisfaction of UMP working-class voters, angry at Sarkozys failure to deliver on his promise of prosperity, but more importantly his focus in the lead-up and during the election on opening up a debate on national culture, which is said to have created a space for FNs racist politics.

Parties to the left of the PS had a mixed result. Understanding this means understanding the intricacies of realignment processes occurring since the lead-up to the 2007 presidential elections.

The three main left organisations (excluding the greens) the Left Party (PdG), PCF and New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) all stood independent lists as well united slates. In the majority of regions, the PdG and PCF stood joint lists as the FdG, which the NPA had been under pressure to participate in.

The NPA has argued for an electoral and political alliance of the left based on a principled refusal to participate in or support PS governments. But both the PCF and the PdG remain open to such participation.

In the European elections, the NPA lists failed to elect any candidates. When the PdG won two seats, the NPAs position was criticised from both within and without.
At its congress in December, the NPA had an intense but inconclusive debate on its electoral strategy. The final decision was leave decisions about alliances to its regional committees. In three regions, including Limousin, the NPA agreed to participate in the FdG.

In three of the five regions that the PCF did not participate in a FdG lists, the NPA joined with the PdG to form a joint list. In a further 11 regions, the NPA participated in joint lists with other smaller left currents.

The FdG achieved the highest average vote of the left with 5.84% nationally down from 6.0% in the European elections. This vote rose to up to 14.24% in Auvergne. In Limousin, the joint FdG list achieved 13.3%. In the only region where the FdG qualified to stand its own list in the second round, it scored19.10%.

NPA lists achieved an average national vote of 3.4%, down from its vote of 4.9% in the European elections. The poor voter turnout affected this vote, as it heavily impacted the participation of younger voters who were more likely to support the NPA.

The NPAs decision to include Ilham Moussaid, an active feminist who wears the hijab, on its Avignom list meant the NPA was criticised by the right-wing media. But it was also criticised by the PdG, PCF and PS, which all said they would never stand a candidate that wore the hijab.

The NPA has been called sectarian for refusing to participate in the FdG, and this also impacted on its election results.

The impact of the regional elections on French politics is unclear. On March 14, an NPA executive committee statement argued that the growth in support for both the PS and Europe Ecologie had been fuelled rejection of the Right and Sarkozy in government ... who have made the majority of the population pay the cost of the crisis and who are destroying public services and social gains.

The statement noted that PS majorities at the regional level had not been a defence against Sarkozys defence. The election results will continue to increase pressure on the NPA to fully participate in the FdG in the 2012 presidential and national elections. However with more than 100 represenatives in PS-controlled regional executives, the coming period will also be a test for the PdG and PCF over whether they will support PS fiscal responsibility.

In the wake of the elections, Sarkozy has announced he will slow the pace of his reform agenda. However, he is continuing his attacks on pensions this looms as an immediate and major test for the left.

[This articles will be published in Green Left Weekly #832]


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