14/05/2012 - Analysis - 1st round
Five weeks after having elected the President of the Republic, 46 million French citizens are being called again on 10th and 17th June to renew the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament.
The parliamentary election includes several new elements. Firstly, it is the first to take place after the electoral re-organisation of January 2010 that involves 285 constituencies. Moreover, French citizens living abroad will elect their MPs for the very first time: 11 constituencies have been especially created for them. Since it was revised on 23rd July 2008, the French Constitution stipulates that there cannot be more than 577 MPs.
Candidates must have registered between 14th and 18th May (between 7th and 11th May for the French living abroad). The latter will vote on 3rd June next in the first round, some territories abroad will be called to ballot on 9th and 16th June due to a time difference with the mainland. The official campaign will start on 21st May next.
The French Political System
The Parliament is bicameral, comprising the National Assembly, the Lower Chamber, with 577 MPs elected by direct universal suffrage for 5 years and the Senate, the Upper Chamber, 348 members of whom are appointed for 6 six years by indirect universal suffrage.
MPs are elected in a first-past-the-post majority system in two rounds in 577 constituencies. To be appointed in the first round a candidate has to win the absolute majority of the vote matching at least one quarter of the voters registered. If no candidate is elected in the first round a second is organised one week later. All candidates that win at least 12.50% of those registered in the first round can stay for the second round.
The electoral law obliges the political parties to present at least 50% of women as candidates (with 2% leeway). The State reduces the aid it provides if parties do not respect this principle.
7 political parties are represented in the National Assembly at present:
- the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the party of former President of the Republic Nicolas Sarkozy, positioned on the right of the political scale has 313 seats;
– the Socialist Party (PS) the party of the new Head of State, François Hollande, positioned on the left has 186 MPs;
– the Communist Party (PCF) has 15 seats;
– the Radical Left Party (PRG), has 7 MPs;
– the Greens that lies to the left of the political scale, has 4 seats;
– the Democratic Movement (MoDem), the centrist party whose leader is François Bayrou, has 3 MPs;
– the Movement for France (MPF), a sovereignist party has 1 seat.
The National Assembly also has 9 independent MPs from the right and 15 from the left.
The issues at stake in the general elections
Redistribution has changed the electoral landscape. The left now has 190 'guaranteed' seats, the right, 230. Moreover just one month before the election, the left has the advantage in 130 constituencies and is under threat in twenty others.
The general election that follows the presidential election of 22nd April and 6th May last, should enable the new head of State, François Hollande, to win a majority allowing him to govern for the next five years. The dynamic created by the presidential election and the French population's will not to suffer cohabitation give the left hope to win these general elections on 10th and 17th June next. It remains to be seen whether the Socialist Party and his allies will be able to win the absolute majority in the National Assembly.
On the left
In November 2011 the Socialist Party (PS) signed an agreement with Europe Ecology-the Greens (EE-LV), the Radical Left Party (PRG) and the Republican and Citizens Movement (MRC). 63 constituencies have been "reserved" by the ecologists, 20 of which are "winnable". It remains that the weak results (2.31% of the votes) achieved by the EELV candidate in the first round of the presidential election may endanger this agreement. The Greens hope to be able to put a parliamentary group together in the National Assembly as they succeeded in doing in the Senate after the elections of 25th September 2011. The PRG hopes the same thing and is aiming to win around 15 constituencies. Its members have rallied the Socialist Party since 2002.
For its part the Left Front – a movement rallying the Communist Party (PCF) and the Left Party (PG) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, does not officially belong to the left majority that rallies around the Socialist Party. The Communist Party needs the socialists to be able to maintain its parliamentary group. The result achieved by the Left Front candidate in the first round of the presidential election (11.1%) does not enable him to influence the socialists as much as he would have liked. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has therefore chosen to stand in the 11th constituency of Nord-Pas-de-Calais – which is also that of the National Front leader (FN), Marine Le Pen. "I represent the Republic and the idea that was born in this, a mining area, it is that of a workers' movement which has found new life in the programme that I represent: which puts men and women first,
" he declared. He is therefore continuing his battle against the populist right wing – in which he lost the first round on 22nd April last when Marine Le Pen clearly beat him (17.9% of the vote, i.e. + 6.8 points more in comparison with his result). The 11th constituency of Pas-de-Calais, a leftwing stronghold since the end of the Second World War, has de-industrialised sharply and is suffering greatly from unemployment. It was also severely shaken by the corruption scandal that involved the local federation of the Socialist Party (the mayor, Gérard Dalongeville (PS) was dismissed from office in 2009). The outgoing MP Pierre Facon (PS) in office since 1997 is not standing again. The socialists have appointed Philippe Kermel, Mayor of Carvin.
On the right
Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign caused tension with the UMP. On the centre-right there were voices of protest just after the first round. Hence, Laurent Wauquiez (UMP), the outgoing Higher Education Minister regretted that the "right only spoke of security and immigration and not enough about the middle class
". "My feeling is that our defeat was not linked to believing too much but of not having assumed the spectre of our beliefs,
" he stressed. Xavier Bertrand, former secretary general of the UMP also wondered "about the lack of information about the reforms,
" undertaken during the presidential mandate during this presidential campaign. "The UMP lacked diversity. We should have maintained the party's double, centrist culture,
" declared former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (2002-2005).
Some of the UMP and notably the members of the Popular Right, a parliamentary group founded in 2010 by Thierry Mariani, Richard Mallié, Jean-Paul Garraud and Lionel Luca, who want to see their party re-focus on traditional issues such as security, the nation and the fight to counter immigration, do not agree with this and intend to maintain and strengthen the trend towards the right adopted by their party.
Outgoing Prime Minister François Fillon (UMP) said it was not the time to "settle scores". The future of the UMP has therefore been put on hold for the time being. According to one poll one third of the UMP's electorate (32%) supports the signature of agreements between their party and the National Front; 62% are against it. However amongst those who voted for the outgoing Head of State in the second round there is equality on this all round: 47% support alliances and the same number are against it.
"It is our duty to rally. We must not give in to intimidation from the left nor to the threats from the far right whose goal it is to divide us and then to break us," declared Prime Minister François Fillon.
"The UMP is a big family. I am not planning to work other than collectively and tightly knit together. We shall campaign against the rejection of the golden rule, against the right of foreigners to vote, against the fiscal hammering of the middle classes, against the destruction of the nuclear sector,
" indicated the party's secretary general, Jean-François Copé, who is leading the right's campaign in the elections of 10th and 17th June next. He recalls that the "UMP's line is very clear, there will be no electoral alliance nor discussions with the leaders of the National Front.
The UMP can count on the support of the New Centre (NC) led by former Defence Minister (2007-2010) Hervé Morin. The party hopes to maintain its group in the National Assembly and hopes to sign a joint programme with the UMP.
The National Front
On 22nd April the National Front candidate (FN) in the presidential election, Marine Le Pen, came first or second in 116 constituencies. She won more than 25% of the vote in more than half of them (59). The populist rightwing party will go the elections under the banner of "Rassemblement bleu marine
". Its leader hopes to change the FN's name after the election.
The FN's strategy mainly rests on the UMP's difficulties. "The UMP will collapse,
" forecasts (and hopes) MEP Bruno Gollnisch (FN). The party will remain everywhere where it is able to, which means that the government right will be forced into triangular situations, the outcome of which can only be fatal.
The two round election goes particularly against the "small parties" and therefore against the National Front. Hence in 2002 when its then leader Jean-Marie Le Pen won 16.86% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election (thereby reaching the second round), his party "only" won 11.34% of the vote in the general election a month later. Moreover the FN may suffer on 10th June to the weak establishment of its leaders (mayors or general councillors) on a local level and low turnout that would make it difficult to achieve the vital 12.5% to be able to stay in the second round.
According to a BVA poll, published on 11th May last, the leftwing is due to win 45.5% and the right 49.5% in the first round of the elections. The UMP is due to win 32.5% and the National Front 16% of the vote, ie its highest level ever in the general elections. Half of the French (53%) say they want victory for the left whilst one quarter (24%) want the right to win on 10th and 17th June. Moreover 61% of the French think that the left will in these general elections; 23% believe that the right will emerge victorious from this ballot.