21/05/2007 - Analysis - 1st round
Five weeks after having elected the President of the Republic 44.5 million French are being called to ballot on 10th and 17th June to renew the National Assembly, the lower House in Parliament.
The official campaign for the general elections started on 21st May.
The French Political System
The French Parliament is bicameral and comprises the National Assembly, the lower House with 577 MPs elected by direct universal suffrage for five years and the Senate, the Upper Chamber whose 331 members are elected for six years by indirect universal suffrage.
MPs are elected by uninominal majority voting system in two rounds in 577 constituencies. To be elected in the first round a candidate has to win the absolute majority of the votes cast corresponding to at least one quarter of the voters registered. If no candidate is elected in the first round a second round is organised the following Sunday. All candidates who have won at least 12.5% of those registered in the first round can stand in the second round.
The minimum age required to be able to stand in the general elections is 23.
Since 28th June 1999 equality between men and women features in the Constitution article 3 of which stipulates that "the law promotes equal access by both men and women to electoral offices and elective functions." The responsibility of applying the principle of equality lies with the political parties who are obliged by the law of 6th June 2000 to present (i.e. local elections in towns of under 3,500 inhabitants and regional elections) equal numbers of candidates of both sexes at all elections otherwise the lists cannot be accepted. As far as the general elections are concerned the electoral law punishes parties who do not present equal numbers of candidates of both sexes financially by reducing the subsidies the party receives from the State, by a percentage equal to half of the difference between the number of candidates of each sex in comparison with the total number of candidates.
The main problem which occurs in applying the parity law lies in low financial sanctions. These are not restrictive enough leaving the freedom of choice to political parties not to respect the law! The general elections of June 2002 presented an opportunity to see that the parties often preferred to pay a fine rather than to bring women onto their lists which in many cases means replacing outgoing MPs by women. In June 2002 the only parties to have respected exact parity were on the far left (Workers' Struggle, LO, the Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) and the Greens. With 48.85% of women candidates the National Front was not far from the final goal, the Communist Party (PCF) presented 43.95% of women amongst its candidates. However the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP), presented 19.93% of women, the Union for French Democracy (UDF), 19.68% and the Socialist Party (PS), 36.13%. After the general election the UMP had to pay a fine of four million euro, the PS 1.5 million and the UDF 600,000 euro. A very low percentage of women were elected to the National Assembly in June 2002 (12.3%) which places France 24th out the 27 Member States in the Union.
4 political parties are represented in the present National Assembly:
- the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) the party of the President of the Republic Nicolas Sarkozy who succeeded Jacques Chirac (UMP) on 16th May. At present in the majority the party lies to the right of the political scale and has 359 MPs;
- the Socialist Party (PS), the main opposition party led by François Hollande has 149 seats;
- the Union for French Democracy (UDF), a centrist movement that lay to the centre-right of the political scale for a long time – led by François Bayrou who started a new party on 10th May called the Democrat Movement (MoDem). With 29 MPs in the outgoing National Assembly only a minority of the UDF representatives followed François Bayrou, most choosing to join the presidential majority led by Nicolas Sarkozy (23 of them);
- the Communist Party (PCF), a party led by Marie-George Buffet has 21 seats.
The Issues at Stake in the General Elections
Since the general election is taking place just after the presidential elections of 22nd April and 6th May it will enable the new Head of State, Nicolas Sarkozy to win a majority allowing him to govern for the next five years. The impetus generated by the presidential election, the excellent results won by the right on 22nd April and 6th May last and the low scores achieved by the parties on the left will enable the UMP to hope for victory in the general elections on 10th and 17th June next.
Nicolas Sarkozy asked his Prime Minister, François Fillon to lead the UMP's campaign. The President of the Republic did however declare during his electoral campaign that it "was up to the one elected and not the one appointed" to do this. "The first of my priorities is to win the general election battle. If we don't have the majority in the National Assembly we can do nothing about the promises made by the President of the Republic," François Fillon declared on 17th May – Mr Fillon is standing in the 4th Constituency of the Sarthe where he will face Stéphane Le Foll, the righthand man of the Socialist Party leader whom he beat in the first round of the general elections in June 2002 with 55.21% of the vote (versus 25.06%).
According to the Presidential Pact put forward by its candidate Ségolène Royal in the presidential election and under the banner of "The Left that acts, the Left which protects", the Socialist Party published its programme on 14th May last. It warns of what Nicolas Sarkozy intends to do as Head of State, highlighting four main principles: the truth, protection, dialogue and the reform of political practices, the institutions and political action. The party takes up the pact's proposals to create "springboard jobs", to bring the minimum salary (SMIC) up to 1,500 euro, to establish a social activity income for any unemployed person who takes up paid work, to build 120,000 social lodgings per year, to fight against discrimination, to create a single mandate for MPs, to establish a certain amount of proportional voting in the general elections and to reduce the debt. The Socialist Party has also re-iterated its desire to see growth feature at the heart of the European Central Bank's objectives. The party would like the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe to be re-negotiated and simplified and finally submitted to referendum in France again.
The Socialist Party, weakened by its defeat in the presidential election and sapped by internal quarrels, will test its ability to rally the forces on the left during these general elections. François Hollande will lead the general election campaign. "It is the role of the first secretary of the party," he declared. The authority of the Socialist leader has been seriously challenged over the last few days. Dominique Strauss-Kahn maintained that François Hollande was "the main person responsible for the failure" of Ségolène Royal to win the presidential election. "We are all responsible according to the responsibilities we carried. The greater the responsibility, the more we are responsible," he indicated. "Defeat was avoidable, we could have won. If our candidate was not elected it was because her Presidential Pact did not convince the electorate," maintained Claude Bartolone, a close colleague of Laurent Fabius. The latter also said, "We did not convince the electorate enough that our candidate could be Head of State."
However Ségolène Royal undeniably succeeded in creating a direct link with the electorate and also with supporters which might last well beyond the campaign. The Socialist candidate did however shake up the party machine, a machine that might fail her in the future. In spite of the pressure placed on her by several friends, Ségolène Royal has decided not to stand in the general elections. Believing it was important "to be coherent between words and acts and not just according to circumstances," she will not add an MPs mandate to that of president of the region Poitou-Charentes. Delphine Batho will therefore stand in the second constituency of Deux-Sèvres where Ségolène Royal has been an MP since 1988.
The Socialist Party has set aside, in exchange for an automatic withdrawal agreement for the PS candidate in the second round, 32 constituencies for the Radical Left Party (PRG) and 10 for the Republican and Citizens' Movement (MRC), a left oriented party founded in 2003 by Jean-Pierre Chevènement. Believing themselves hard done by the Greens refused the 14 constituencies (of which 6 or 7 were winnable) offered to them by the PS. The Socialist Party announced that it would not present a candidate against the three outgoing Green candidates who were standing for re-election (Noël Mamère, Yves Cochet and Martine Billard) the same applied to François de Rugie, candidate in the first constituency of Loire-Atlantique.
The Democratic Movement (MoDem) launched on 10th May by François Bayrou and which aims to be "a new, independent, open political movement", will put 535 candidates forward. "We can hope for a group of around 40 MPs," maintained a manager in François Bayrou's team just after the first round of the presidential election. A rather rash hope given the method of majority election applied in the general elections which will be a great handicap to the new party. The most important thing is to win votes and win seats. Only withdrawal agreements seem to allow the continued existence of the Democrat Movement after 17th June, since the UMP has clearly said that it wants to be present in every constituency where MoDem puts a candidate forward. The Democrat Movement decided, with 6 exceptions, not to stand against the outgoing candidates who supported François Bayrou in the first round of the presidential election. The latter has refused for the time being to foresee any electoral alliance before the first round of voting. "We shall then see which candidates can remain in the second round," he declared.
In the first round of the presidential election on 22nd April François Bayrou came out ahead in only four constituencies (the four in his department of Pyrénées-Atlantique) and second in around 40 others. He rose above the 12.5% threshold of those registered in 469 constituencies out of 577. However the exceptional participation rate of 22nd April last is not likely to be repeated on 10th June next.
Amongst the five MPs who remained loyal to François Bayrou, Anne-Marie Comparini will stand in the first constituency of the Rhône, Gilles Artigues in the first of the Loire, Jean-Christophne Lagarde in the fifth of Seine-Saint-Denis and Jean Lassalle in the fourth of the Pyrénées Atlantique. The last one, Gérard Vignoble, MP in the 8th constituency of the North gave up his bid to stand in the next general elections where he would have faced Salem Kacet (UMP), his own doctor who saved his life. "I cannot, I could not campaign against a man I deeply respect," he explained.
François Bayrou will stand in his constituency, the second of the Pyrénées-Atlantique, where he has regularly been elected since 1986. His former presidential campaign director and number two in the Democrat Movement, Marielle de Sarnez will stand in the 11th constituency of Paris where she will face outgoing MP Yves Cochet (Greens). Finally the former delegate minister to the Prime Minister, responsible for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities in Dominique de Villepin's government (2005-2007), Azouz Begag will defend the colours of MoDem in the third constituency of the Rhône.
The other Parties
To the left of the political scale stands the Communist Party which may not maintain its parliamentary group (a minimum of 20 MPs is required to constitute a political group within the National Assembly). Seven MPs might maintain their seat: Jean-Pierre Brard, Jacques Dellasangre, Patrick Braouezec, André Gérin, Alain Bocquet, Daniel Paul and the party's leader, Marie-George Buffet (who won 1.94% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election). The Communist Party is putting 518 candidates forward in the elections and will support about 10 'anti-liberal' personalities.
The Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), which intends to "organise a resistance movement against Nicolas Sarkozy" and which is "against the hard right in power and the soft left which is looking for coalition with the centre," is putting 460 candidates forward, a record for the far left organisation which was only present in 420 constituencies in the last general elections in 2002. Strengthened by the 4.11% vote he won on 22nd April Olivier Besancenot wants to build "left of the left" unity around his party. Workers' Struggle (LO) led by Arlette Laguiller (1.34% of the vote on 22nd April) will also be present in nearly all constituencies.
On the right the Movement for France, whose leader Philippe de Villiers called for a vote in support of Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of the presidential election and should maintain his two seats in Vendée (held by Véronique Besse and Joël Sarlot) since the UMP will not stand in those two constituencies. In all the Movement for France will present 400 candidates on 10th June next.
On the far right the National Front maintains that it will be ready to stand in 237 constituencies but in all likelihood this figure is overestimated. According to the polls the National Front might at best be present in the second round in 77 constituencies. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's leader and unfortunate candidate in the last presidential election (10.44% of the vote on 22nd April), announced that he would lead the election campaign himself. His daughter, Marine who might succeed him as leader of the National Front will stand in the 14th constituency of Pas-de-Calais.
Another far right movement led by Bruno Mégret, the National Republican Movement (MNR) will put 430 candidates forward on 10th June.
Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Traditions (CPNT), the party led by presidential election candidate Frédéric Nihous (1.15% of the vote on 22nd April), will also stand in nearly all constituencies. Frédéric Nihous will be facing François Bayrou in the 2nd constituency of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Around 12 other political parties will also stand including the alternative left.
Just one month before the election all the polls seem to indicate that the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) will easily win the next general election. A poll published on 15th May last by IFOP credits the UMP with 37% of the voting intentions versus 28% for the Socialist Party. The Democrat Movement is due to win 14% of the vote, the National Front 7%, the Communist Party 4%, the Greens 4% and the far left 3%.
The main issue at stake in the general elections lies in fact in the size of the UMP victory which all political observers are watching for. However two other questions vital for the future shape of the political arena emerge: how will the Socialist Party manage to rally the opponents to Nicolas Sarkozy's political project? And how will the new centrist party perform, since it stands at a great disadvantage due to the majority election method?
Reminder of the first and second round of the general elections
on 9th and 16th June 2002 in France
Participation rate: 64.52%
Source : National Assembly
Participation rate : 57.69%
Source : National Assembly