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After presidency, Macron would face uphill battle for National Assembly

Emmanuel Macron might win the presidency, but he’ll face a steeper battle winning a parliamentary majority. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

Step back from the obsession over Marine Le Pen’s economic nationalism or from the day-to-day headlines over François Fillon’s scandals and imploding campaign. 

With about six weeks to go in the French election, we know that the two established parties of the French political elite — Fillon’s center-right Les Républicains and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) of president François Hollande and its presidential nominee Benoît Hamon– are doing historically poorly.

It’s entirely possible that the Republican and Socialist candidates place third and fourth, if current polls are predictive, giving the French public for the first time a runoff without either major party. In aggregate, the two candidates poll around 33%, a massive drop from the combined first-round percentage of Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 (55.81%), and even lower than in 2002, when incumbent Jacques Chirac and Socialist Lionel Jospin still managed a combined total of 36.06%. (You’ll remember 2002 as the year Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the runoff by edging out Jospin to second place).

If the election were held today, both of the runoff candidates would be ‘outsiders’ — the Front national leader, Marine Le Pen, and the independent Emmanuel Macron, the head of the En marche movement and a former Hollande aide and economy minister running as a centrist. Polls show that Macron holds a roughly 60%-40% edge over Le Pen in the May 7 runoff.

But that also creates a far higher level of uncertainty about the outcome of the elections that follow on June 11 and 18, when voters — fresh after selecting a new president — will also select the 577 members of the lower house of the French parliament, the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly). There’s surprisingly little coverage of those elections, though they will be just as important (maybe more) than the presidential race.

A return to cohabitation or a shift to coalition-style politics?

Prime minister Ségolène Royal? It fits Macron’s bill for an experienced leader. (Facebook)

Neither Le Pen’s Front national nor Macron’s En marche today seems to have the kind of national party infrastructure to follow a presidential victory with a parliamentary victory, though the president-elect has for the last three election cycles roared into June parliamentary elections with massive momentum. Macron has vowed that En marche will field 577 candidates for the parliamentary elections, and while he has indicated he wants to accept political refugees from mainstream parties, he also wants at least half of the movement’s candidates to have no previous political experience or affiliation.

Since 2002, each French presidential term (now five years, reduced from seven years) has lined up with the term of the National Assembly, such that the parliamentary elections follow a month after the presidential runoff. Generally speaking, since 2002, the prime minister has served as the chief parliamentary official carrying out the president’s legislative program.  Even in 2012, when Hollande narrowly edged Sarkozy in the May presidential runoff, the Socialists and their allies still wound up with nearly 58% of the seats in the National Assembly after elections a month later.

When presidential terms and parliamentary terms weren’t harmonized, it was far likelier that the presidency and the National Assembly could be controlled by different parties. In cases of divided government — cohabitation — the president’s power crumbles and the opposing prime minister sets the domestic agenda and much of the foreign policy agenda. In the Fifth Republic, France has seen only three periods of cohabitation: the Chirac premiership under the Mitterand presidency (1986-88), the Balladur premiership under the Mitterand presidency (1993-95) and the Jospin premiership under the Chirac presidency (1997-2002).

But with the Front national as strong as it’s ever been (Le Pen still leads Macron, narrowly, in the first-round polls) and with a Macron victory becoming more likely, the Republicans and Socialists will not simply give up.  To make things trickier, the Front de gauche (Left Front) will also be running candidates in the parliamentary race — presumably including its presidential contender, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as he did in 2012.

That makes it more likely that no single party or movement will win the June parliamentary elections. Even if Macron wins the presidency in a massive landslide, he might still have to face  cohabitation or, for the first time in French political history, cobble together the kind of multi-party coalition government so much more common in the Nordics and Germany.

In the past, voters have had a good idea about who will form the government because, presumably, the prime minister and other key officials will come from the same party as the president. But Macron doesn’t have a party. So if, indeed, ‘personnel is policy,’ French voters are somewhat in the dark about what to expect under Macron. Rather unhelpfully, Macron hasn’t specified exactly who would be prime minister, or what he’s looking for in a prime minister, other than someone with experience who can command a parliamentary majority. (Well, of course…).

It may be that Macron doesn’t want to tip his hand, or it may be that Macron knows just how unsettled the June parliamentary elections will be. Per Macron, the next prime minister will not be François Bayrou, a center-right moderate and three-time presidential contender who announced he would not run this year and, instead, endorsed Macron. Earlier today, Macron mused that it would be great to appoint a female prime minister and, indeed, former Socialist presidential nominee, ecology minister Ségolène Royal, has praised Macron throughout the election (though not quite formally endorsed him). She would fit the bill.

Traditionally, France’s unique two-round system has helped the two major parties maintain their lock on power. Smaller parties and contenders are often weeded out after the first round, often setting up a direct second-round contest between the center-right and the center-left. Unlike for presidential runoffs, however, it is possible to have a three-way runoff (triangulaire) or even a four-way runoff (quadrangulaire) if the additional candidate(s) wins at least 12.5% of the vote in a given constituency.

So far, they have been surprisingly rare. Among 577 constituencies, only 44 resulted in triangulaires in 2012 (despite Marine Le Pen’s robust third-place showing in the 2012 race) and the high-water mark is 1997 with 79 triangulaires. France hasn’t seen a parliamentary quadrangulaire since 1978.

This system, in the past, has massively disadvantaged third parties. Despite Marine Le Pen’s third-place showing in the April 2012 presidential election and despite the Front national‘s 13.6% support nationwide in the first round of the June 2012 parliamentary election, the party ended up with just two seats in the National Assembly (0.35% of all seats).

In a world where the Socialists and the Republicans are struggling to win 15% or 20% of the national vote, however, you can expect a rise in the number of triangulaires or even the return of a handful of quadrangulaires. 

Buckle up for a bumpy five-way contest for the National Assembly

With the traditional French parties faltering, there’s no clarity about who will win June’s elections for 577 deputies to the National Assembly.

But that calculus changes when the Front national is winning more supporters than the Republicans, and when Macron’s En marche movement appears stronger than the Socialists and the Front de gauche. Moreover, the unprecedented nature of the election and the shifting political sands leave much of the parliamentary election in doubt (with surprisingly few polls available to guide analysis).

No one ever gave Hollande or anyone else in the Socialist camp much chance at winning in May. Barring a major upset over the next six weeks, the Socialists will also lose seats in June, in light of Hollande’s unpopularity and Hamon’s weakness. Hamon is running harder to the left than either Hollande or one-time presidential frontrunner Manuel Valls, the former prime minister. In a sense, the real winner of the Socialist primary contest was Macron, who is closer to the center-left than the center-right. To that end, leading Socialist officials are already breaking ranks by abandoning Hamon for Macron — most recently, the former Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, though Royal and finance minister Michel Sapin are very sympathetic to Macron’s candidacy. Hollande (who remains close to Macron, his former deputy chief of staff) and Valls have yet to campaign for Hamon.

As it becomes more likely that Macron will win the presidency, it’s possible that the Socialist Party will split into factions, with a core leftist wing supporting Hamon and a more centrist wing migrating to En marche. While that could benefit Macron in June by adding some experience hands to the En marche movement, it also tarnishes Macron’s avatar as an independent agent of change.

Before his campaign cratered due to the ‘fake jobs’ scandal and impending indictment for corruption and abuse of public funds, former prime minister and Republican nominee François Fillon was favored to edge out Macron and then win the runoff against Le Pen. (In hypothetical scenarios, Fillon still leads Le Pen by a margin only slightly smaller than Macron does). But as Fillon falls further into third place behind Macron (police indicate that Fillon will be notified of a formal investigation — essentially indicted — on March 15), and as leading Republicans, including his former rival Alain Juppé, abandon his campaign, the Republicans risk depressing their own turnout in June as well as in April. 

There’s still time for the Republicans to replace Fillon if the embattled prime minister drops out of the race. But Juppé on Monday, even as he slammed Fillon’s campaign as ‘at a dead end,’ ruled himself out as a Plan B. Other top Fillon surrogates, including Bruno Le Maire and many of Fillon’s campaign staff, have already abandoned him. On Monday, senior Republicans met and reaffirmed their support for Fillon, though it’s still possible for Fillon to drop out — François Baroin, a 51-year-old rising star, Troyes mayor and former finance and budget minister, who is close to Sarkozy and Fillon, now seems the most likely ‘plan B’ candidate, if it comes to that. If Fillon’s numbers drop further, however, it could lead to catastrophic losses in the parliamentary elections that, only two months ago, would have been an easy follow-up after a resounding Fillon victory. 

A new re-branding of the French left and the French right — or a new re-ordering of French politics into liberal and illiberal camps

As Fillon falters, Marine Le Pen is becoming the dominant figure of the French right — or of a new French illiberalism that mixes nationalism with economic protectionism and social conservatism. (Facebook)

It’s true that parties have been historically weak in France compared to the United Kingdom or the United States. The ‘Republican’ veneer is a 2015 rebranding of what was, during the Chirac and Sarkozy eras, the ‘Union for a Popular Movement,’ which was a successor the old Gaullist ‘Rally for the Republic,’ itself three makeovers removed from Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Rally of the French People’ that dates to the WWII Free French resistance.

The Socialist Party has had more etymological consistency, if not policy consistency. It existed as the French Section of the Workers’ International from its foundation in 1905 in the middle of France’s Third Republic through 1969, when it was just one of a handful of leftist French parties and movements that ultimately (but not completely) consolidated behind François Mitterand in the 1970s and 1980s. France’s communists remained separate, and form the nucleus of the Front de gauche today.

It’s also true that, in a narrow sense, a Macron-Le Pen runoff looks a lot like ‘left-right’ runoffs of the past — this is just another realignment of a new left and a new right as in the past. But Macron’s call for reform is closer to Sarkozy’s economic vision than that of many French Socialists today, and Le Pen’s economic protection is far out-of-sync with the business-friendly conservatism of Fillon and the Republicans.

Instead, the Macron-Le Pen runoff looks more like a contest between liberalism and illiberalism, which increasingly, more than traditional left-right differences, the central fight in developed democracies.

For now, the French political scene looks like a free-for-all — especially if Macron and Le Pen emerge as the runoff contenders. How that translates into a two-round parliamentary election in just three months’ time, however, is anyone’s guess.

Final Paris mayoral election results

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Anne Hidalgo won a strong victory to become Paris’s first female mayor, extending the electoral hold of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) in the French capital.France Flag Iconparis

Hidalgo, who has served as France’s first deputy mayor under the administration of Bertrand Delanoë since 2001, won the election by  a larger-than-expected margin, besting   Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a moderate former environmental minister and a rising star of the French right, by a margin of around 54.5% to 45.5%. Kosciusko-Morizet narrowly won the first round of the election on March 23, but polls showed that Hidalgo always had a clearer path to victory in the runoff, thanks to a large reservoir of green and other leftist voters.

Despite the margin, Kosciusko-Morizet ran a strong race in a city that has veered further to the left over the past 15 years — a wild swing from the two decades that Jacques Chirac served as mayor (before winning the French presidency in 2005). Though Kosciusko-Morizet lost Sunday’s election, the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) made marginal gains on the Paris city council, and Kosciusko-Morizet  strengthened her profile by taking on the challenge of a campaign that was always going to be a stretch for the UMP.

If it was a sweet victory for the Socialists, it was one of the only bright spots of a very brutal round of municipal elections nationwide for the party and for its unpopular president François Hollande. The Socialists lost Toulouse, Angers, Quimper, Reims and Saint-Étienne — and the left lost power in Limoges for the first time since 1912.  Continue reading Final Paris mayoral election results

Runoff looms to select Paris’s first female mayor

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The success of the far-right Front national (FN, National Front) dominated headlines from Sunday’s municipal elections in France.
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France Flag Icon

In Paris, though, the mayoral race has shaped into a predictably traditional runoff between the French left and the French right, a personality-driven campaign to determine whether Anne Hidalgo or Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet will become the first woman to serve as the city of France’s capital.

Though president François Hollande and the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) may be faltering throughout the rest of France, and though Marine Le Pen’s Front national may be cutting into the traditional strongholds of both the Parti socialiste and the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement), Paris remains a stronghold for the Socialists. Outgoing mayor Bertrand Delanoë, one of the few members of Hollande’s party with robust approval ratings, is leaving office after 13 years as the city’s third directly elected mayor — former president Jacques Chirac held the office from 1977 to 1995.

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Polls show that Parisians will likely replace him with Hidalgo (pictured above), an Andalusia-born official who’s served as Delanoë’s first deputy mayor since he took office in 2001. In a city where residents seem largely happy with the status quo and with Delanoë, Hidalgo is the narrow frontrunner to win in Sunday’s second-round runoff. Delanoë’s rise has coincided with the capital city’s leftward shift, as longtime working-class Socialist voters join educated professionals to give the Socialists an increasingly strong electoral coalition over the past decade.

As mayor, Delanoë has increased housing and social welfare spending, though he might be most well-known for two things.

First, he was one of the world’s first openly gay high-ranking officials — Delanoë’s longtime honesty about his sexuality helped paved the way for greater LGBT acceptance throughout Europe. Secondly, Delanoë’s Paris has been at the vanguard of the urban livability trend. He created the Paris-Plages project in 2002, which every summer recreates a beach, complete with sand and palm trees, on the banks of the Seine. In 2007, Paris became one of the first major global cities to institute a bike-sharing programs, Vélib’, which today is the largest program of its kind outside of China.

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Gaffes from both women have dominated the campaign’s coverage. Kosciusko-Morizet (pictured above), who comes from a wealthy background, has had a difficult time shedding her often awkward aristocratic mien. Her comments romanticizing the Paris metro as a ‘charming place’ overshadowed an otherwise welcome plan to keep it open until 2 a.m. on weekdays. But her background as a rising star from the UMP’s moderate wing, her experience as France’s environmental minister, and her high-profile role as campaign spokesperson for Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign makes Kosciusko-Morizet a better fit for Paris than other prominent UMP figures. She’s given the French center-right a chance of becoming Paris’s next mayor — even if she loses in the second round to Hidalgo, she has raised her profile considerably.

Hidalgo, in the meanwhile, is campaigning largely on consolidating and extending the gains of the Delanoë administration — more green space, 10,000 new homes a year (65% of which would be public housing), and extending not only the Paris metro, but the Vélib’ system to scooters (Scooterlib’) and electric cars (Autolib’).

But the literal cloud hanging over the municipal elections is the recent smog that enveloped Paris. Continue reading Runoff looms to select Paris’s first female mayor

Weekend municipal elections from Japan to France

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It’s another busy weekend for world politics — especially with regard to municipal elections in two G-8 countries.

Here’s a quick weekend update of the three world elections taking place today and tomorrow.

Maldivian parliamentary electionsmaldives

First, the Maldives on Saturday elected all 77 members of the Majlis, the unicameral Maldivian parliament. The parliamentary elections follow the highly botched presidential election last autumn — the initial September vote was annulled and Maldivian election officials postponed the vote to the point of constitutional crisis. By the time the country held a new vote in November, it pushed through a runoff just five days later. Former president Mohammed Nasheed, who won the first round, lost the runoff to Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who previously governed the Maldives between 1978 and 2008. 

The polls are already closed there, and the voting has gone smoothly, according to initial reports. Results are expected on Sunday, and the contest pits Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party against Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives. 

Osaka municipal electionosakacity osakaprefectureJapan

In Japan, Osaka’s controversial mayor Tōru Hashimoto (橋下徹) is forcing a mayoral election after resigning in February in what amounts to a power play over his plan to unite the city of Osaka and Osaka prefecture into a larger ‘Osaka-to’ region.

Though no major party is running a candidate against Hashimoto (pictured above), the popularity of the former television personality has fallen rapidly both at the national and local level.

His bid to join forces with former Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara to form the right-wing Japan Restoration Party (日本維新の会, Nippon Ishin no Kai) made waves in December 2012 when it nearly became the second-largest force in the lower house of the Japanese Diet, but Hashimoto’s rising star has faded over the past 15 months, not least of all because of his insensitive comments that attempted to justify the use of ‘comfort women’ — Korean sexual slaves — by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Though Hashimoto will likely win reelection in the Osaka vote on Sunday, his critics have attacked the election as an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money.

Hashimoto, who served as the governor of Osaka prefecture between 2008 and 2011, has served as the city of Osaka’s mayor since 2011. In 2010, he founded the Osaka Restoration Association (大阪維新の会, Ōsaka Ishin no Kai) under the banner of ‘One Osaka,’ his longtime campaign to unite the prefecture and the city as one larger metropolis, like the structure of Tokyo’s combined metropolitan government. Osaka is Japan’s second-most populous metropolitan area, and Osaka prefecture, which encompasses the city of Osaka, is home to 8.9 million residents.

The plan faces opposition by the Osaka city council, where Hashimoto’s Osaka Restoration Association doesn’t hold a majority. Though there might be gains in merging the prefecture and city governments, critics fear that Hashimoto is more motivated by the possibility of creating a regional political empire. The central government also opposes the plan, because it might mean ceding power from the federal to the prefectural level.

Paris (and other French) municipal electionsFrance Flag Iconparis

French municipal elections are also taking place this weekend — the first round will take place Sunday, with second rounds to follow next Sunday, March 30.

The indisputable highlight of the French elections is the Paris mayoral race, with Bertrand Delanoë stepping down after 13 years in the office. The race will almost certainly result in a runoff next week between first deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo, the Andalusia-born candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a moderate who served as a former minister of ecology, sustainable development, transport and housing and as campaign spokesperson for Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.

The vote takes place amid one of the worst bouts of air pollution that Paris has seen in recent years, which caused the city government to impose emergency restrictions on automobiles last week.

Though polls forecast a tight race, Hidalgo has held a consistent, if narrow, lead over Kosciusko-Morizet for nearly a year — the most recent BVA poll from mid-March predicted that Hidalgo would win the second round by a margin of 53% to 47%.

Outside Paris, however, the elections are a test for the struggling administration of France’s socialist president François Hollande, and an opportnity for France’s far-right Front national (FN, National Front), with its leader Marine Le Pen hoping to win at least some mid-sized towns and villages in the FN’s traditional stronghold in the Mediterranean south and in the economically depressed post-industrial north.

Why is the opposition to same-sex marriage so strong in France?

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To the rest of the world, France is a virtual billboard for sexual freedom and sophistication.France Flag Icon

Sex, of course, made an entire generation or two of French and European cinema — from Les enfants terribles to Jules et Jim to Last Tango in Paris.  Paris, for nearly a century, has been the world’s premier city of romance, and its popular mayor since 2001, Bertrand Delanoë, is openly gay.

As recently as a few years ago, the amorous French were rated, alongside the Spanish, the Italians and the Brazilians, as the world’s best lovers.  The international vocabulary of sex encompasses everything from French kissing to the ménage à trois.  French voters have long accepted a certain liberté among their leaders — French president François Hollande and Ségolène Royal shared lives and children together for decades without formally marrying, former president Nicolas Sarkozy famously divorced and courted singer Carla Bruni in the first months of his presidency and former François Mitterand had a daughter with his mistress.

So it’s somewhat incongruent to see such strident opposition to same-sex marriage — on the day that France’s Assemblée nationale passed same-sex marriage into law, anti-marriage forces appear to have rioted in Paris, the city of love.

Since at least 1789, the French have never shied away from a riot — in recent years, France has seen civil unrest over everything from the plight of young Muslims in 2005 to the raising of the retirement age in 2010.  But that hardly explains why same-sex marriage has become such a heated issue.

More troubling is that the vote follows at least two incidents of anti-gay violence perpetrated in France in recent days.  Opponents vow to continue their fight — they’ve scheduled another large protest for May 26, notwithstanding the celebration of proponents of same-sex marriage, in France and beyond, and same-sex opponents have attacked Hollande’s government with increasing vitriol:

“They’re opening a Pandora’s box,” says Alain Escada, the head of the fundamentalist Christian group Civitas. “The next thing they will want three-way or four-way marriages,” blasted the archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin. “And then the ban on incest will be dropped.”

“Who would then, in the name of the sacrosanctness of love, still be able to convey that sex with animals or polyandry are wrongful,” asked the umbrella organization of Muslims in France. Finally, Frigide Barjot, the acid-tongued self-appointed icon of the anti-gay marriage movement, declared, “If Hollande wants blood, then he will get it.” The activist later retracted her statement.

Although the United Kingdom’s push for same-sex marriage hasn’t been without obstacles, it’s nonetheless moving forward and likely to be enacted by the end of the summer, largely without the passionate public opposition that we’ve seen in France.

Hollande has indicated he will sign the law, though the opposition has filed a challenge with France’s top constitutional court, so same-sex marriage, despite Tuesday’s vote, is not entirely a fait accompli.

There’s no mistaking the anti-marriage movement for the anti-marriage protesters in the United States, which is steeped in a more evangelical Protestant tradition.  The name of most active anti-gay group ‘Manif pour tous‘ (‘Demonstration for all’) sounds at first like it could be a pro-gay group.  It’s also a bit weird that the anti-marriage movement has adopted pink as its color, which makes the anti-gay protests in France look like, well, pretty much a gay pride parade in any other country:

franceLGBT

So why, given the famously laid-back approach of the French to l’amour, are so many of the French so actively opposed to gay marriage?

The push for same-sex marriage remains a very partisan issue.  Unlike in the United Kingdom, where a Conservative prime minister has made its enactment a priority, largely with the support of the even more socially liberal Labour and Liberal Democratic parties, same-sex marriage remains an entirely leftist project in France, pushed by Hollande and his allies in the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) who control the French national assembly.

Yesterday’s vote was largely split on partisan lines, with 331 in support and 225 opposed — the opposition largely coming from Sarkozy’s Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement).  It’s odd to see the French right doubling down on opposition to gay marriage, even as conservatives in the United Kingdom and even in the United States are coming to embrace same-sex marriage.  But it largely has to do with internal politics — Jean-François Copé, the UMP president, and other top center-right leaders remain terrified of losing support to the more socially conservative Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front national (FN, National Front).  The same dynamic pulled Sarkozy increasingly to the right during his own presidential career on issues like immigration and crime.

Continue reading Why is the opposition to same-sex marriage so strong in France?