French political life is becoming more right-leaning. This shift is evident from the media headlines, from the sentiments in French society, from the political agenda, and even the political programme of Hollande and his cabinet.
France’s far-right Front National party received a record-high number of votes during the second round of regional elections last Sunday, but still failed to gain majority in any of the nation’s 13 regions. Valdai club expert Arnaud Dubien, director of the Observatoire franco-russe, shared his view on the elections’ results and their long-term implications with www.valdaiclub.com
The elections have strengthened the standing of Front National, which is now “here to stay”, and gave rise to a tri-polar political system, Dubien believes. “Almost 7 million votes received by the party ensures the presence of Front National in all the regional councils. Now in absolute figures Front National will have more votes there than the Socialists”, he said.
Votes in regional councils are distributed proportionally between the top parties, but the winner receives a +25% “premium” to be able to govern a region, Dubien explained. Thus, seven regions will be in fact governed by the right-wing Republicans, five by the Socialists and one, Corsica, by a local party.
“Nevertheless, although no region will be governed by a member of Front National, the ultra-right will not have all the trappings of a political ecosystem, like members of regional parliaments, their assistants etc.,” Dubien said. “The party has gained ground nationally except for several regions,” he added.
“Results are mixed for ex-president Sarkozy’s Republicans: they won in seven out of thirteen regions, although failed to ride on a ‘victorious wave’ as forecasted back in March. Nevertheless, although the results are far from brilliant, the party won in the most densely-populated areas, like Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles. At the end of the day Sarkozy is not so weakened as it seemed after the first tour”, the analyst said.
According to Dubien, Socialists and President Hollande have been able to minimize their potential losses. “Their ultimate results were not as bad as could be expected – thanks to the narrow (1-2%) victory in two out of the five regions where they won. Although nationally they only got the third place,” Dubien said.
On the whole, French political life is becoming more right-leaning. “This shift is evident from the media headlines, from the sentiments in French society, from the political agenda, and even the political programme of Hollande and his cabinet,” he believes. “In addition, the elections have exposed a profound mistrust of the population for the media-persons and political-elites, both national and pan-European,” the analyst said.
Dubien believes Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National, is likely to make it to the second round of the 2017 presidential election. “The factors which contributed to her success at the recent elections will still be in place. Many in France are wondering if she has achieved her ceiling or got into a political deadlock. If history is any guide, one has to garner 15 to 18 million votes to be elected president, something she is a long way off. Le Pen’s Front National can repeat the history of the French Communists, who were the top party in terms of membership but never had a president elected from their ranks”.
Holland, the incumbent president, will try to capitalize on the fear of a recast of the 2002 scenario (when the left candidate Lionel Jospin failed to make it to the second round) and to overcome the fragmentation of the left electorate, which will be a hard task amid mutual resentment between the three left forces: the Socialist Party (Hollande), Front de gauche (Melenchon) and Les Verts (which left the coalition the last year).
The biggest intrigue, according to Dubien, is who will represent the Republicans. Sarkozy enjoys support in the party, but has a high negative rating nationally, he says. Another possible candidate is Alain Juppe, French prime minister in 1995-97, twice foreign minister, mayor of Bordeaux for more than ten years. “Juppe’s biggest advantage is his contrast with Sarkozy: he is calm, self-contained, has a huge experience as a political leader. The downside is his age: Juppe will be 72 in 2017. In addition, his image as a mainstream politician causes more and more rejection amid growing disgust for the elites and political correctness,” Dubien believes.
“There are two outsiders in the Republicans’ ranks who could create a sensation during the primaries,” the analyst said. “These are [Sarkozy’s ex-premier] Francois Fillon and Bruno le Maire (who was as an advisor to Dominique de Villepin in the foreign ministry and minister of agriculture). Originally, the primaries were scheduled to be held in the autumn of 2016, but after the December 13 vote party members, primarily Sarkozy’s supporters, began to urge to hold them before the summer of 2016”, he added.