01/06/2007 - D-7 - 1st round
The French will elect the 577 members of the National Assembly, their lower house in Parliament on 10th and 17th June next. 7, 639 people are officially running in these elections, i.e. 13.2 candidates on average per constituency. Amongst them 3,177 candidates are women i.e. 41.5% in all. "We are the only political party to have reached or nearly reached its objectives of parity. We are the only ones to have wanted to provide diversity not only an opportunity but also presence," declared the first secretary of the Socialist Party (PS) François Hollande. Indeed the main opposition party is putting 48% women forward as candidates in comparison with 30% for the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) led by President of the Republic Nicolas Sarkozy and 38% for the Democrat Movement (MoDem) led by François Bayrou. The UMP hopes however to triple the number of its women MPs (36 at present). The Socialist Party has also placed a wager on diversity since 20 of its 572 candidates are from minority populations, with 8 of them in an eligible position. The average age of all candidates running is 51 and teachers are by far the most represented group.
Over a quarter of the 78 MEPs are running for a seat: 8 Socialists, 2 from the UMP, 6 from MoDem, 1 Green and 6 National Front (FN).
Four weeks after the 2nd round of the presidential election the new head of State's popularity rating has reached record heights: 65% of the French say they are satisfied that he is now at the Elysée according to a survey undertaken by Ifop and published in the Journal du Dimanche on 28th May last. Only General de Gaulle achieved better results when he became Head of State nearly fifty years ago. Prime Minister François Fillon has a 62% popularity rating.
Nicolas Sarkozy was quick to commit himself to the general election campaign by taking part in a "republican meeting" on 30th May last in the Havre, an unusual gesture on the part of a Head of State who according to the Constitution is the President of all the French and cannot stand as the defender of a specific camp – since this role is given to the Prime Minister. Former President of the Republic (1974-1981), Valéry Giscard d'Estaing also took part in the election campaign in 1978 but only between the two rounds.
The Head of State wanted the ministers from his government to stand: 11 of them are doing so and should be elected easily, the most threatened position being the Minister of Ecology, Development and Sustainable Development, Alain Juppé, who is standing in the 2nd constituency of Gironde where Ségolène Royal was ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy on 6th May last.
The UMP stands confident before the electorate, strengthened by the success of its candidate in the presidential election on 6th May last; it is convinced that the French want to give the majority to the one they have just appointed to lead the country for the next five years.
The PS is undergoing a difficult period. Beaten for the third consecutive time in the presidential election the party is riddled with tension between the various trends which was only accentuated by Nicolas Sarkozy's "opening" (the President of the Republic called on several personalities from the left such as Bernard Kouchner, Jean-Pierre Jouyet and Martin Hirsch to take a seat in François Fillon's government); hence one third of Socialist supporters say they appreciate Nicolas Sarkozy's début in the Elysée according to a poll by Ipsos on 19th May last.
Criticism and lethal comments, notably against the PS leader, François Hollande have emerged within the opposition ranks. "François Hollande's time as head of the party is over," said the President of the Council of Franche-Comté and former President of the National Assembly, Raymond Forni who has called for the reformation of the party with a new leader. The first secretary indicated that he would not stand again at the next congress planned for November 2008, a decision that he had already revealed during the congress in the Mans in 2005.
The PS is facing these general elections in an undeniably weak position and is trying to limit the losses and save what is possible since they cannot foresee victory in the ballot boxes. Some are trying however to find the strength to fight. "An election is not won or lost ahead of time, the result is a matter of will and pugnacity," said Laurent Fabius in the Journal du Dimanche on 28th May last. "Given the urgency of the situation it is not only an appeal for reason but it is also a real cry of anger," he maintained saying that "the Socialist Party belongs to those who need a strong left to take our country forwards and to defend our rights." Dominique Strauss-Kahn is taking a different stance saying clearly that "to beat Nicolas Sarkozy he was not in principal against possibly providing support to some candidates in the MoDem party," in the 2nd round of the elections in the constituencies where the left had been eliminated. "It is not a question of giving up on our values but of adapting them, providing them with life in a world that has changed with globalisation of which everyone is aware and about which we provided no clear response during the presidential campaign," he said. The Socialist Party candidate in the presidential election, Ségolène Royal said that she could not exclude withdrawal agreements between MoDem and the PS.
François Hollande is pleading for a "campaign of conquest and not of defence or resistance." "I am appealing to the French. If you want to avoid having an overwhelming majority as desired by the government and the President of the Republic, if you want a policy that can be counterbalanced then you must act so that the only force present to play a full role on the opposition bench and even more if it is in the majority, i.e. the Socialist Party, is represented to the highest possible degree on 10th and 17th June," he stressed on 20th May last in Lyon. The PS is also pursuing its strategy to demonize Nicolas Sarkozy which was not all that successful however during the presidential campaign and that has been weakened by the opening of the government to personalities on the left. "Nicolas Sarkozy wants a majority that is devoted to him, to hand, submissive. We have someone in power who wants to crush, dominate, who wants to control all the gear sticks, there is danger and it is matter of urgency," maintains François Hollande.
Ségolène Royal also appealed for mobilisation. "Here in La Rochelle, in my region I am appealing with a message for mobilisation on the part of the electorate. Something has been started that cannot be stopped. There is a major democratic issue at stake for power not to be concentrated amongst the same hands and therefore I am calling on all voters who rallied to my name in the second round of the presidential election not to stay at home, please come and vote. It is vital that the 17 million voters come and vote and that this movement continues," she declared on 26th May last.
According to a poll undertaken by LH2, published in the daily Libération on 22nd May Ségolène Royal is the personality who best represents the values of the left in the eyes of 41% Socialist supporters, versus 28% for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The percentage is even greater amongst socialist voters since 47% of them would choose the president of the region of Poitou-Charentes versus 30% who say they support the former Economy and Finance Minister (1997-1999) in Lionel Jospin's government.
The Socialist Party does however have some chance of succeeding in being an effective opposition force in the face of a powerful, conquering right, simply because Ségolène Royal has succeeded in rallying to her name a great number of votes that have not disappeared over the last five weeks; and also because the competition between the non-Socialist opposition (Communist Party and far left parties) has fallen away significantly. Finally the socialist candidate won over her rival Nicolas Sarkozy in 65 constituencies held by the right whereas the UMP candidate only came out ahead of her in 38 constituencies held by the left. However the PS will not rebuild its political coherence in just a few weeks which it lost not because it did not provide any opposition but because it made no proposals.
François Bayrou's Democrat Movement (MoDem) is also starting from an extremely weak position in these general elections where the majority vote in two rounds will probably be fatal. François Bayrou is trying to remain optimistic and reminds people of 1951 when General de Gaulle brought about the election of nearly 120 MPs who all left him a year later. In 1958 the General came back into power. "We have started a long march and this march for me in any case is a source of enthusiasm," he declared on 24th May last seeming effectively to be dreaming more of the next presidential election in 2012 than trying to imagine how his new party might survive after the general elections. "This first battle will be followed by many others, easier more encouraging ones and next year, in ten months time the local elections will be on the table and will present a true chance to take root firmly at the base with new young men and women in all French communities," he said.
François Bayrou is running in the 2nd constituency of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The Vice-President of MoDem, Marielle de Sarnez, presently an MEP is standing in the 11th constituency of Paris. Amongst the rare MPs who remained loyal Gilles Artigues is standing in the 1st constituency of the Loire where the UMP is putting MEP Françoise Grossetête forward against him. Anne-Marie Comparini is standing in the 1st constituency of the Rhône. Philippe Folliot MP of the Tarn and Rodolphe Thomas, MP of Calvados also have the support of MoDem.
Finally some personalities such as Jean-Marie Cavada, journalist and MEP in the 1st constituency of the Val de Marne and judo champion Djamel Bouras in the 2nd constituency of Seine-Saint-Denis will also be bearing MoDem's colours. The Democrat Movement convinced a number of Greens over the last few weeks since Jean-Luc Benhamias who was among the first to join the new party, three Parisian ecologist MPs –Violette Baranda, Olivier Pagès and Danièle Auffray – copied him and were immediately sworn in for the general elections in Paris. François Florès, Vice-President of the Green Group in the Council of Paris and seven other MPs have left the Greens to join MoDem over the last few days.
UDF MPs who left François Bayrou created their own party on 29th May under the name of "New Centre". "We intend to provide this new party with the space left empty by the UDF. We shall support the idea of the centre. We hope to have 30 MPs," said its President and Defence Minister, Hervé Morin who maintains that MoDem will be obliged to come to an agreement with the Socialist Party on the evening of the first round to win just a few MPs. Hervé Morin says that he is "loyal" to the President of the Republic but promises that he
But the creation of the new party affiliated to the presidential majority is not to the taste of all amongst the former UDF MPs. Hence, Pierre Albertini MP in Seine Maritime has said that he would refuse to join the movement "led by Hervé Morin whose recent words and acts do not correspond with his personal idea of politics." He also wonders about the effectiveness of the "very minor" entry by the centrists into government and condemns a movement he qualifies as "mostly tactical and personal." Jean Dionis du Séjour, MP in Lot and Garonne did not want to join the New Centre either. "Politically we have nothing to gain by launching a new party into the present circus. We should have thought about it. The centrist electorate is also deeply upset. This has just added to the confusion," he stressed.
On the left the Communist Party (PCF) is trying to find reassurance. "We will be the third force in the National Assembly. Therefore we should stop saying that the PCF is dead," repeats its national secretary Marie-George Buffet. Alain Bocquet, chairman of the Communist group in the National Assembly who is running for his 9th consecutive term in office is also preaching confidence: "We might create a surprise by retaining 10 to 15 seats and even by winning one or two such as in Dieppe. The French are attached to pluralism and balance: maybe the leadership should campaign more on this theme." The PCF which is suffering threats from within are not due however to win back its parliamentary group. (20 MPs are necessary to form a group).
The Greens are putting 562 candidates forward in these general elections. Since they refused to come to any type of agreement with the Socialist Party the ecologists are trying to distinguish themselves from their big brother with whom they joined forces in 1995. "Voters must understand that we are no longer an annex of the Socialist Party. There will be no more automatic republican withdrawal in favour of a Socialist candidate in the second round," maintained Jean-Vincent Placé, chairman of the Green group in the Regional Council of Ile-de-France. The Greens have retained four criteria to check the "eco-compatibility" of candidates who they might provide with their support: their position with regard to nuclear power, GMO's, motorways and incinerators. But the position of being neither on the left or the right is far from meeting with everyone's approval within the party. Hence Noël Mamère, MP in the 3rd constituency of the Gironde says: "We need a left majority in the National Assembly. We hear speeches which declare that 'ecology is neither left nor right'. This is not correct; ecology is a component of the left."
The ecologist candidate in the presidential election, Dominique Voynet has shown her confidence: "Many have said that they would vote "usefully" in the presidential election but that they would come back to us afterwards," but she moderates her ambitions somewhat saying that "these general elections will be a success if our three MPs are re-elected."
On the far left Olivier Besancenot (Revolutionary Communist League LCR) who won 4.08% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election is trying to federate the anti-liberal forces. Qualifying the PS as "an ineffectual party" against a rightwing government he presents the LCR as the federating element on the radical left and is quick to hold out "a brotherly hand" to all militants. "In the face of Nicolas Sarkozy, we need political resistance. That is where I disagree with the Socialist Party. In these general elections the PS is repeating the "useful vote" trick. The really useful vote this time round is to give as many votes and force to the anti-capitalist left," he repeats. The other far left party, Lutte Ouvrière is positioning itself beyond the election. "The working classes have nothing to expect from the results of this election. What will the presence of a few Socialist Party MPs in the future Chamber dominated by the right change?" asked Arlette Laguiller on 28th May last.
"I am a sailor and when the storm approaches, the captain takes the helm himself. I thought that given the problems it was better to get involved in this election campaign," declared the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The general elections will be difficult for the far right whose electoral results are very much linked to the charismatic personality of its leader. In addition to this the majority voting method in two rounds is a handicap for the National Front as it is for all the "small parties".
The National Republican Movement (MNR) another far right party led by Bruno Megret is putting 379 candidates forward. The party came to an agreement with the Movement for France (MPF) led by Philippe de Villiers so that they do not oppose each other in 72 constituencies. The MPF should maintain the two seats it holds at present in the National Assembly.
According to the most recent poll on 28th and 29th May by the Sofres for the daily Figaro, the radio station RTL and the TV channel LCI published on 31st May the UMP and the New Centre are due to win 42% of the vote (i.e. between 410 and 430 seats). It will come out ahead of the PS allied to the Radical Left Party (PRG) and the Republican and Citizens Movement (MRC) led by former Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement which is due to win 27% of the vote (between 101 and 142 seats). The MoDem with 10% will only take between two and six seats, the PCF (4%) should win between four and ten seats, the Greens (3%) between 1 and three seats and finally the MPF (1.5%) is due to win between 2 and 3 seats.
Two thirds of those interviewed said they were sure of their choice (67%).