A non-partisan journal of the left.

Historic Victory and a Spicy Tale

Wed 20th Jun 2012

The various rounds of the French presidential and parliamentary elections are now over. Before they started, socialists throughout Europe were on the back foot. Now France has a socialist president and the Parti Socialiste will also have an overall majority in the National Assembly for Hollande’s five year term. This is historic but as Pierre Kanuty, who runs the international affairs of the Parti Socialiste in Paris points out – it is the end but also the beginning.

As I write this, the final share of the seats in the French parliament is not known but the Parti Socialiste will have between 312 and 323 of them. The figure for an absolute majority is 289 out of the 577, so Hollande’s party will rule outright without having to rely on the support of the Greens or other left wing groupings.

One of those MPs will be Axelle Lemaire who is the first MP to be elected for the new Northern Europe constituency which includes the UK, the Republic of Ireland and all the Nordic countries. Lemaire is a French Canadian who spent her teenage years in France before settling in London. In the second round of voting, she secured 54.8 per cent of the vote (Hollande received 53.1 in the presidential vote). A clearly delighted Lemaire expressed: “Un immense merci à tous ceux qui ont cru en moi, à mon équipe et aux électeurs! Fierté, responsabilité.” Her constituency must be one of the largest in the world but thankfully 80 per cent of her electorate lives in the British Isles.
So now to Paris where Pierre Kanuty is celebrating the second major victory for the Parti Socialiste in just over a month. However he takes a sober view of events telling me: “the socialist party made it and won an absolute majority. This is historical, but we’re not hysterical. Historical because, for the very first time in the history of our country, the left, has all the powers: [at both] the local level and the national level. In a sense, it was mechanical, and no one forgets where we are coming from.”

Indeed the socialists in France have spent years out in the cold. Pierre observes: “Ten years ago, the defeat was so bitter that we’ve been through a deep depression. Under the leadership of François Hollande, the crisis was hard but we started to re-conquer from [a] local basis thanks to our victory [in] all local elections from 2004 to present [day]. With the local powers came the main cities like Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, the regions and the departments - local councils.”

So why did Sarkozy win in 2007, I ask Pierre? “In a way, winning the presidential elections of 2007 was possible, but at the time, there was a strong gap between the fierce campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy and the controversial campaign led by Segolene Royal. Although we lost that year, we got more MPs than five years before and it was [a] promise of future victories. The landslide of municipal elections in 2008 and regional elections in 2010 brought a historical change with our victory in the Senate, for the very first time in history.”

Axelle Lemaire will be one of the new MPs and Pierre makes the point that this election was: “Historical also because, more than one hundred female MP's, most of them socialists, will enter the new assembly. The conservatives had decided to sacrifice gender equality to secure an impossible victory. Ethnic minorities are also part of the winning pack with a dozen new MP's.”
So I asked Pierre how will the new parliament look? He explained: “François Hollande and Jean-Marc Ayrault have now a strong majority to implement their commitments. For the first time, the Green party will have a parliamentary group. The left front (a coalition including the communists) are the big losers of the campaign. Melenchon decided to defy Marine Le Pen, but the socialist candidate was ahead. This personal failure is to be added to a political crisis for the left front on the very day Syriza didn’t win the elections in Greece.

“On the right side, the right wing went wrong. Most of the MPs from UMP who had been flirting with the National Front have been defeated. The National Front will have two MPs: a former controversial lawyer and the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who will be the [country’s] youngest MP.

“If we look at the map, we have historical victories in traditionally conservative constituencies. In many parts of the eastern side of the country, next to the borders, in areas that have not recovered yet from the collapse of industries, the conservatives and the nationalists made a strong performance.”

Pierre started his remarks by saying the Parti Socialiste had secured a historical victory but the socialists were not being hysterical. He explained why: “we're not hysterical because we fully understand the pressure of responsibilities. The current economic and social situation is the main frame. The situation has never been so hard. The socialists never had such a majority. But mathematical superiority must match political possibilities. It is the end of a decade in opposition and the beginning of a new era full of uncertain stakes and challenges. This will question the real strength of politics. Are we able to tackle unfair choices, to take over financial markets and stop the hysteria of austerity or are we just good [at] managing hard times?

“The government has the support needed to rule for economic efficiency and social justice. It is also a momentum for François Hollande and the time for him to make the right moves in Europe and in the G8 and the G20. It is a strong hope for the progressives. Now it is time to move forward.”


The Spicy Tale: In early April I wrote the first of this series of articles on the French elections. I touched on the colourful love lives of French politicians and that is how I shall close. Segolene Royal, the former partner of Francois Hollande and mother of his children, was the Parti Socialiste’s presidential candidate in 2007. This time around, she stood as an MP in Charentes-Maritime in La Rochelle. She was defeated by an independent socialist, Olivier Falorni, by 63 per cent to 37 per cent.

Hollande had pledged his support for Royal but the new first lady who sits in the Elyse Palace in her place, Valerie Trierweiler, is said to have posted her support for Falorni on Twitter. In her speech conceding defeat, Royal spoke of betrayal.

“Cherchons la femme” as they say in the Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche.
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