Tag Archives: FN

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.

The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

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The Front national’s vice president, Florian Philippot, is a not-quite-openly gay man at the heart of a socially conservative, anti-immigrant far-right party that previously had little use for France’s LGBT community.

With both the mainstream left and right teaming up to defeat the far-right Front national‘s two most outspoken leaders in Sunday’s second (and final) round of regional elections, party president Marine Le Pen, in France’s far northern region, and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, in France’s southeast, it was never likely that anyone from the Le Pen family tree would have won control of any of France’s regional councils. France Flag Icon

Indeed, after the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) universally withdrew from the two (of six) regions where the Front national (FN, National Front) led after the December 6 first-round results, it made a second-round victory of either Le Pen very unlikely.

Socialist unity fell short in three northeastern regions, where the Front national came far closer to winning:

  • In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, the Socialists maintained their hold on the region, but only narrowly — with 34.7% to 32.9% for the center-right Républicains (Republicans) to 32.4% for the Front national. 
  • In Centre-Val de Loire, again, the Socialists won 35.4% to 34.6% for the Republicans and 30.0% for the Front national.

But it was Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine where the Front national‘s chances of picking up a region were deemed strongest. The new region cobbles together three very different smaller regions,  much to the disdain of the wealthier Alsatians, lumped into a ‘super region’ with the poorer, industrial Lorraine. (And indeed, the Front national did most poorly within the districts of the former region of Alsace, picking up larger margins in Lorraine).

Florian Philippot, one of the FN’s brightest rising stars, won the first round with 36.1% to the center-right’s 25.8%. In the second round, however, Philippot still won just 36.1% while the center-right consolidated its support (and a wide swath of the center-left and those in the electorate who didn’t bother to vote in the first round) to a whopping 48.4%, easily taking the region.

The surge in turnout among moderate voters in opposition to the Front national‘s first-round success stopped Philippot — as it did the party’s other candidates on Sunday. Still, without that shift, and a generous shift of left-wing voters to the Républicains, Philippot today might be the only Front national figure leading one of France’s 13 councils.

In contrast to the party’s self-cultivated status as an outside force with disdain for the French political elite, the 34-year-old Philippot is a graduate of the École nationale d’administration, as elite an institution as exists in France today. Since July 2012, he has been the Front national’s vice president, in charge of strategy and communication. But he’s really been the chief strategist to Marine Le Pen as she’s worked for the detoxification — or dédiabolisation — of her party, so much so that one of Le Pen’s former foreign policy advisers, Aymeric Chauprade, an MEP, left the party arguing that Philippot had created a ‘Stalinist’ environment among the party’s top guard.

There’s just one problem. For a party with a historical ambivalence to France’s gays and lesbians, Philippot is a not-quite-openly gay man.  Continue reading The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

Marine Le Pen is still a longshot to win France’s presidency in 2017

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As predicted, everyone’s getting even more carried away today wringing their hands over the notion that the horrific Charlie Hebdo killings will play right into the hands of the far-right in France, elevating Marine Le Pen into the presidency in May 2017.France Flag Icon

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

There’s a simple reason why a Le Pen presidential victory, though not impossible, remains incredibly implausible — and that’s as true today as it was last week or last month. It’s because France, like many countries around the world, has a runoff presidential system. While Le Pen stands a good chance of leading the first round of the next presidential vote, that only means that she end up in a runoff against either a center-left or a center-right figure that will command virtually the entire spectrum of political support from the center-right leftward.

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RELATED: In Charlie Hebdo massacre,
French values find a rallying point

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We know this because it happened just over a decade ago.

Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, narrowly edged out the candidate of the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), prime minister Lionel Jospin, in the first round of the 2002 presidential election, with just 16.86% of the vote. That set up a runoff against the center-right incumbent Jacques Chirac. Despite a widespread lack of excitement about Chirac’s reelection, virtually the entire political mainstream lined up behind Chirac, who walloped Le Pen by a margin of 82.21% to 17.79%.

Continue reading Marine Le Pen is still a longshot to win France’s presidency in 2017

Don’t rule out Sarkozy just yet for 2017 comeback

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At the rate that the French political elite is going, Dominique Strauss-Kahn might be the last palatable option standing to challenge nationalist Marine Le Pen in the 2017 election.France Flag Icon

The decision by French prosecutors to open a formal investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy today, following his detention on Tuesday for questioning, is certain to rupture Sarkozy’s comeback plans to lead the French center-right in the April 2017 presidential election, leaving both major parties sullied by unpopular, unimaginative and possibly corrupt leadership.

But even as French and global analysts begin writing Sarkozy’s obituary, the current investigation, which involves Sarkozy’s alleged attempts to trade a job in plush Monaco to a judge in exchange for illegal information relating to another investigation, may not necessarily torpedo Sarkozy, even as the former president faces additional legal troubles in related corruption cases.

That will be especially true if Sarkozy is ultimately exonerated, given the aggressiveness with which French investigators have pursued Sarkozy. If he’s not found guilty, the investigations could actually strengthen Sarkozy, allowing him to play victim against an aggressive, out-of-control French judicial system. That’s a well-worn path that’s worked for other European leaders in the past, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Sarkozy has already compared the phone-tapping to East German Stasi tactics, and he appeared on French television Wednesday night to blast the ‘political exploitation’ of the legal system.

Nevertheless, Sarkozy will find it difficult to proceed with plans to retake the presidency of his center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) later this year. Sarkozy is believed to be keen on returning to the UMP presidency in light of former UMP president Jean-François Copé’s resignation in late May, related to accusations of falsifying 2007 campaign invoices to evade spending limits. 

The current scandal revolves around phone taps that revealed conversations between Sarkozy and his attorney, Thierry Herzog. Those taps, however, were originally designed to gather information about whether Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign was illegally financed with up to €50 million from former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. 

The Herzog conversations, however, relate to yet another scandal, the  Bettencourt affair, in which L’Oréal heiress and socialite Liliane Bettencourt may have ferried illegal funding to Sarkozy’s reelection efforts. Though investigators ruled out charging Sarkozy in the Bettencourt matter, the case revolved around the admissibility of Sarkozy’s presidential diaries.

Sure, that’s a lot of scandal and a lot of circumstantial noise surrounding Sarkozy. But what happens if Sarkozy actually goes to jail?  Continue reading Don’t rule out Sarkozy just yet for 2017 comeback

The US perspective on the European parliamentary elections

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I sat down with Brian Beary from Europolitics late Sunday night to discuss the results of the European parliamentary elections, with a particular focus on the US perspective. USflagEuropean_Union

The link is here (unfortunately, subscription only), but here’s one excerpt:

Is there a US equivalent to the Eurosceptics that did so well in the European elections?

In a formal sense, it is a peculiarly European thing. There are no parties in the US that are saying ‘we need to pull out of the United States’. The one thing they do share is that politicians in the US, for at least two generations now, in every election run against Washington. And in Europe, whether it is the hard Euroscepticism of groups like UKIP or Front National, or the soft Euroscepticism of certain members of the British Labour Party, or Silvio Berlusconi, there is an anti-Brussels-ness that reminds me of the way US politicians campaign against Washington.

Though many commentators and academics like to refer to the European Union today as a kind of ‘United States of Europe,’ especially during the EU’s ill-fated constitutional debate in 2004 and 2005, I argued that the European Union today more closely resembles the confederation of US states that existed under the 1781 Articles of Confederation.

Most US headlines in the lead-up to the European elections have concerned Ukraine and the ongoing security crisis and showdown with Russia that’s caused a regeneration of interest in transatlantic security, NATO’s role and additional follow-on issues,  such as the potential US export of liquified natural gas to Europe. In the aftermath of the European elections, US headlines are focusing on the rise of eurosceptic parties like Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party and Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France.

In both cases, that’s understandable — and both topics are incredibly important. The real issues where the European Parliament will have the most impact in the next fiver years, however, are somewhat less sexy, but they should be on the radar of US policymakers and investors in the years ahead: Continue reading The US perspective on the European parliamentary elections

A rogues’ gallery of the EU’s top 13 eurosceptic parties

skepticismAs voters in 28 European countries prepare to head to the polls, beginning on May 22 and running through May 25, no one knows whether Europe’s center-left or center-right will win more seats, and no one knows who will ultimately become the next president of the European Commission.European_Union

But the one thing upon which almost everyone agrees is that Europe’s various eurosceptic parties are set for a huge victory — not enough seats to determine the outcomes of EU legislation and policymaker, perhaps, but enough to form a strong, if disunited, bloc of relatively anti-federalist voices. Voters, chiefly in the United Kingdom, France and Italy, are set to cast strong protest votes that could elect more than 100 eurosceptic MEPs.

In some countries, such as Spain, euroscepticism is still a limited force the center-left opposition Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) is tied for the lead with the governing center-right Partido Popular (the PP, or the People’s Party) of prime minister Mariano Rajoy. But Spain is quickly becoming an outlier as eurosceptic parties are springing up in places where unionist sentiment once ran strong.

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RELATED: In Depth: European parliamentary elections
RELATED: The European parliamentary elections are really four contests

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Of course, not all eurosceptics are created equally. Some anti-Europe parties have been around for decades, while others weren’t even in existence at the time of the last elections in 2009. Some are virulently xenophobic, far-right or even neo-Nazi in their outlooks, while others are cognizably on the more mainstream conservative / leftist ideological spectrum. Some seek nothing short of their country’s withdrawal from the European Union altogether, while others seek greater controls on immigration. Some are even pro-Europe in the abstract, but oppose eurozone membership. That’s one of the reasons why eurosceptics have had so much trouble uniting across national lines — the mildest eurosceptic parties abhor the xenophobes, for example.

If everyone acknowledges that eurosceptic parties will do well when the votes are all counted on Sunday, no one knows whether that represents a peak of anti-Europe support, given the still tepid economy and high unemployment across the eurozone, or whether it’s part of a trend that will continue to grow in 2019 and 2024.

With 100 seats or so in the European Parliament, eurosceptics can’t cause very many problems. They can make noise, and they stage protests, but they won’t hold up the EU parliamentary agenda. With 200 or even 250 seats, though, they could cause real damage. There’s no rule that says that eurosceptics can’t one day win the largest block of EP seats, especially so long as most European voters ignore Europe-wide elections or treat them as an opportunity to protest unpopular national government.

For now, though, they’re all bound to cause plenty of trouble for their more mainstream rivals at the national level, and in at least five countries, they could wind up with the largest share of the vote. So it’s still worth paying attention to them.

Without further ado, here are the top 13 eurosceptic parties to keep an eye on as the results are announced on Sunday:

Continue reading A rogues’ gallery of the EU’s top 13 eurosceptic parties

Who is Manuel Valls? Meet France’s new prime minister

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In choosing Manuel Valls, the popular interior minister, as France’s new prime minister, French president François Hollande is taking a risk that elevating the most popular minister in his government will attract support from among the wider French electorate without alienating the leftist core of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party).France Flag Icon

Pivoting off the poor Socialist showing in last weekend’s nationwide municipal elections, Hollande’s cabinet reshuffle is a sign that he understands he has largely lost the trust of the French electorate in less than two years. Other ministers, including finance minister Pierre Moscovici, could also lose their jobs in a reshuffle to be announced later this week.

Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault resigned today after just 22 months on the job. LIke Hollande, Ayrault has become increasingly unpopular as the government has pursued aggressive measures to stabilize France’s budget, including tax increases and adjustments and cuts to France’s pension system — all in the face of a sluggish economy, a 10.8% unemployment rate and a greater crisis in confidence over France’s role within the European Union and the world. 

In a short statement announcing Valls, Hollande pledged to continue pursing a payroll tax cut and additional pension and labor law reforms as part of a recent attempt to win support from the French business community, a series of reforms that Valls has enthusiastically promoted throughout his career. He also promised that Valls would lead a ‘combative government,’ which sounds like somewhat of an understatement in translation from a gouvernement de combat.

In light of Ayrault’s highly collaborative style, and Valls’s much more aggressive style, even the original French seems like an understatement.

But while the latest IFOP poll from mid-March gave Hollande a 23% approval rating (his highest, in fact, since last October) and Ayrault a 26% approval rating, Valls has an approval rating of 63%. That goes a long way in explaining why Hollande is replacing Ayrault with Valls today.

It’s not a choice without risks. Valls, a centrist with controversial views about the Roma and immigration, could divide the French left. If Hollande’s unpopularity continues, he could taint one of the few remaining popular figures within the Socialist Party. If Valls succeeds, he could supplant Hollande as the more attractive presidential candidate in 2017.

Continue reading Who is Manuel Valls? Meet France’s new prime minister

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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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

Le Pen v. Wilders: a tale of two far-right European movements

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The big story from Sunday’s municipal elections in France is the success of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front national (FN, National Front), overshadowing the marquee Paris mayoral election.France Flag IconNetherlands Flag IconEuropean_Union

The far-right won the mayoral race in Hénin-Beaumont, a former mining town in the north, in a rare first-round victory, the FN came in second in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, and it led in at least six other locations as France prepares for second-round runoffs on March 30.

The result should certainly boost Le Pen in her efforts to win  support in European parliamentary elections in May — and to unite the populist hard right across the continent.

According to preliminary results, the Front national won just 4.65% of the national vote. That’s a big deal because the party was running in just 597 of around 37,000 jurisdictions — it’s a massive increase from the 2008 municipal results, when the FN won around 1% and ran in just 119 constituencies. 

The other narrative from Sunday’s vote is the collapse of France’s center-left — president François Hollande’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) won 37.74% nationally, while the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) of former president Nicolas Sarkozy won 46.54% nationally. The bright spot for the Socialists remains Paris, where first deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo is the slight favorite to win a runoff against former Sarkozy campaign spokesperson and ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet — but don’t rule out an upset next Sunday there, either.

The success in the 2014 municipal elections is just the latest chapter for Le Pen’s rebranding of the Front national in France as a slightly more moderate alternative than the party her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, led for decades. It’s harder today to target the Front national as a xenophobic, anti-Semitic fringe, because Le Pen has focused on an agenda much heavier on euroskepticism and economic nationalism. While the Front national isn’t exactly immigrant-friendly, its position has largely converged with the UMP’s position since the Sarkozy presidency, which embraced hard-right positions on immigration and law-and-order issues. By shifting rightward, Sarkozy may have sidelined Le Pen during his presidency and co-opted her supporters, but today, Sarkozy is almost as responsible as Le Pen for bringing the Front national within the political mainstream.

With the line blurring between the UMP and the Front national, Le Pen could become the chief voice of the French right in 2017, especially if the UMP succumbs to more infighting between its right-wing leader Jean-François Copé and the more moderate former prime minister François Fillon. The next presidential election is still a long way off, but if Sarkozy doesn’t run for the presidency in 2017, Le Pen stands just as much chance as Copé, Fillon or any other UMP figure of representing the French right in the second round.

More immediately troubling for France’s political elite are the European parliamentary elections in May. Despite its breakthrough performance on Sunday, the Front national isn’t about to overrun the city halls of France. Its victory is more symbolic than substantive. But if it’s one thing to turn over your local government to Marine Le Pen, it’s a far different thing to support the Front national as a protest vote with respect to European Union policy.

Polls show that the Front national and the UMP are competing for first place in the European elections within France — the most recent Opinion Way poll from early March shows the UMP winning  22%, the FN winning 21% and the Socialists just 17%. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a wave of undecided voters support the Front national at the last moment, nor would it be a surprise to learn that polling surveys currently underestimate FN support.

Extremists on both the far left and the far right are gaining strength throughout the entire European Union. That’s perhaps understandable, given the harsh economic conditions that have plagued Europe since the last EU-wide elections in 2009. But the euroskeptic right, in particular, seems poised for a breakthrough. Nigel Farage hopes to lead the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party to a breakthrough performance in May, and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria) is tied for first place in polls in Austria.

But just as Le Pen hits her stride, another standard-bearer of the hard right, Geert Wilders, found himself in free fall last week after pledging to allow fewer Moroccans into the Netherlands, remarks that have launched a cascade of criticism and a handful of defections from his party: Continue reading Le Pen v. Wilders: a tale of two far-right European movements

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.

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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. 

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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.

Latest Bettencourt turn removes obstacle for Sarkozy presidential bid in 2017

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You thought you were tired of all of the talk in the United States about the inevitability of a presidential run by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in November 2016.France Flag Icon

But imagine if your next presidential election isn’t until May 2017 and everyone is already speculating.

That’s the case in France, where former president Nicolas Sarkozy is now even more likely to become the frontrunner for the 2017 race for the Élysée Palace after French officials dropped a criminal case against Sarkozy in the so-called Bettencourt affair.

Sarkozy was accused of soliciting L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for secret campaign funds.  The fundamentals of the scandal are similar to those for which former US senator and presidential candidate John Edwards stood criminal trial for soliciting secret campaign cash from banking heiress Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, who was 96 years old at the time.

French judges are still pursuing an investigation over whether party officials in Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement) took advantage of Bettencourt’s mental frailty and advanced age in taking campaign donations for Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign — in particular, former UMP treasurer Eric Woerth still faces criminal liability.  But after Monday’s decision not to include Sarkozy’s name in the list of those who face liability, the former president has escaped the worst of his potential legal and political troubles for the foreseeable future.

That means that the single-most difficult obstacle between Sarkozy and a 2017 presidential bid is gone.  Though he’s no longer mis en examen (placed under investigation) Sarkozy’s legal troubles haven’t totally evaporated, and he remains under a cloud of suspicion for a handful of other shenanigans, including allegations that Libya’s regime paid €50 million to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.  But the Bettencourt affair was always the most serious case against Sarkozy.

As with the Clinton 2016 speculation in the United States, it’s folly to think that we can forecast with accuracy the dynamics of an election that’s years away.  But it’s stunning in some ways that Sarkozy, who lost the May 2012 presidential runoff to François Hollande, the candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), remains such a strong challenger for 2017 just 17 months after leaving office.

Moreover, the specter of a Sarkozy return is affect French politics today (and not just 2017) by shaping the way that other top UMP officials posture and by placing pressure on the current, vastly unpopular Hollande regime — the possibility of a Sarkozy comeback also exerts a gravitational pull on the far right of French politics, too.

Only 23% of the French electorate has confidence in Hollande, according to an October TRS-SOFRES poll — Hollande has watched his popularity erode in record time to become the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic:

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France’s GDP growth dropped from 2% in 2011 to exactly 0% in 2012, unemployment has risen to 10.9%, and the economy’s doing not much better in 2013.  Hollande was damaged almost from the beginning of his presidency over a nasty spat between his former partner, 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and his current partner Valérie Trierweiler.  His bold effort to introduce a top income tax rate of 75% (of incomes over €1 million) invited capital flight and global ridicule — and a rejection by France’s top constitutional court.

His woes are so great that I wondered back in May whether the French left (and France, generally) might have been better off if Dominique Strauss-Kahn had survived his sex scandal to run for president.

Most immediately, of course, all of the ‘Sarko 2017’ talk serves to prevent the emergence of a truly post-Sarkozy center-right standard-bearer.  Recall last November’s internal UMP primary to determine a new general secretary — right-wing candidate Jean-François Copé’s 50.03% was so narrow (and so challenged) by his opponent, the more moderate former prime minister François Fillon that the result threatened a UMP civil war.

Though the tensions subsided into more of a cold war than a civil war, there was always a sense that Copé was a stalking horse for a potential Sarkozy comeback — by defeating Fillon, Copé’s narrow win prevented Fillon from becoming the undisputed leader of the French right.

What was a Copé-Fillon showdown in 2012 has now transformed into a more open Sarkozy-Fillon showdown, with Fillon billing himself as the clean-break candidate for 2017, though Sarkozy himself has yet to decide whether to make a comeback bid for the presidency and is unlikely to join the political fray against either Fillon or Hollande anytime soon.  An IFOP poll earlier this year showed that six out of 10 French voters preferred that neither Sarkozy nor Fillon run in 2017, though Fillon generally held higher approval ratings as prime minister than Sarkozy did as president, and there’s reason to believe he would have made a better candidate for the UMP in 2012 than Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, no consideration of the UMP’s machinations would be complete without considering the far-right Front national (FN, National Front) that, if anything, is gaining more strength than either the UMP or the Socialists.  The far right notched a huge victory in a by-election in the southern canton of Brignoles on October 7, when the Front national candidate Laurent Lopez won 40.4% of the vote and will face a runoff against the UMP’s candidate Catherine Delzers, who won 20.8% (another far-right party, the Parti de France, won just over 9%.)

Despite Sarkozy’s lurch to the right on immigration and crime throughout his career, it didn’t stop Front national leader Marine Le Pen from winning 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election.  Among the factors that could push the UMP away from Fillon and toward a leader like Sarkozy or Copé in 2017 is the fear that a relatively moderate standard-bearer like Fillon would allow Le Pen to siphon even more support from the center-right.

How would Italian politics function under a ‘French’ electoral system?

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Former center-right foreign minister Franco Frattini is far from the fray of Italian politics these days — he didn’t run in last week’s Italian elections and he’s currently a candidate to replace Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.France Flag IconItaly Flag Icon

Nonetheless, Frattini (pictured above) spoke in Washington yesterday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as to a small audience at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and amid a set of thoughtful remarks about Italy’s election and its post-vote gridlock, one remark stood out in particular — that Italy should revise its electoral law by adopting the system currently in use by France, a two-round system whereby deputies are elected in single-member constituencies.

When election results came in last Monday, despite pre-election polls showing that the broad centrosinistra (center-left) coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani would win, returns showed Bersani’s coalition doing poorer than expected.  The broad centrodestra (center-right) coalition headed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-establishment, anti-austerity Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) founded by blogger and activist Beppe Grillo, both polled much better than expected — so much so that Italy now has a hung parliament. A centrist coalition headed by outgoing technocratic prime minister Mario Monti placed far behind in fourth place.

A ‘winner bonus’ for Bersani in Italy’s lower house, Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies), based on the fact that his coalition (just barely) won a greater number of votes than any other coalition or party, means that the center-left will command a 340-seat absolute majority in the Camera.

But because seats are awarded on a regional basis to Italy’s upper house, the Senato (Senate), no one emerged with anything close to a majority — and it became clear that even a widely mooted Bersani-Monti coalition would fall far short of a majority.

So election law reform has become a top-shelf issue in the wake of last week’s elections, not only because of the inconclusive result last week, but because it’s one of a handful of items that both Grillo and Bersani, the leader of the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), agree upon, so reform could be a key element of any agenda that a short-term Bersani-Grillo alliance might enact before a new election.

Even members of Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) want to reform the election law, and even Roberto Calderoli, who pushed the law through the Italian parliament, has called it a ‘porcata,’ a pig’s dinner.

But agreeing that the election law is a mess and agreeing on a new law are two different things.

So what have Italy’s three most recent voting systems — the postwar open-list proportional representation system, the mixed, mostly first-past-the post system adopted in 1993, and the closed-list proportional representation system (with a ‘winner bonus’) adopted in 2005 — historically meant for stability or chaos in Italy’s parliament?

How does the French system vary from Italy’s current system?

And how would a French system work in Italy?

Continue reading How would Italian politics function under a ‘French’ electoral system?

Four reasons why Cope’s narrow Sunday win of France’s UMP leadership could be ruinous

After a tense Monday during which both candidates declared victory and accused the other of fraud, it appears that Jean-François Copé (pictured above) has emerged as the presumptive leader of the French right.

With just a 98-vote margin, Copé won the election for general secretary of the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, after an election held among UMP members on November 18.  Copé defeated former prime minister François Fillon by about 50.03% to 49.97%.

Although Copé has served as general secretary since 2010, this election has taken on significant importance as a proxy fight not only for the upper hand to win the UMP’s 2017 presidential nomination, but as a proxy fight for the future of the French right.  Fillon, a cosmopolitan and relatively moderate figure, was viewed by the French public as more serious about government than Sarkozy, and it was Fillon who pushed through many of Sarkozy’s reforms as the head of his government.  Fillon, generally speaking, is more popular among the French electorate than Copé.

So there’s good cause for the French right to be worried about Copé’s victory.  Here are four reasons why. Continue reading Four reasons why Cope’s narrow Sunday win of France’s UMP leadership could be ruinous

The French right prepares to choose Sarkozy’s successor (maybe)

France’s center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) will vote on Sunday, November 18 to choose its next general secretary in what’s widely seen as a fight to get the upper hand on the UMP’s presidential nomination in 2017. 

The UMP will choose between two key figures — former prime minister François Fillon (pictured above, top) and Jean-François Copé (pictured above, bottom), who has been general secretary since 2010.  As the contest approaches, both candidates have accused the other of fraud, marking an ugly end to what has been a dogfight within the French right.

Unlike most French prime ministers, Fillon actually remained in Matignon — the residence of the French prime minister — for all five years of the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.  Throughout the Sarkozy presidency, he maintained or even gained approval from French voters as a competent and moderate head of government who seemed at times more grounded and focused on Sarkozy’s reforms than even Sarkozy.  Indeed, there’s reason to believe that if Fillon had contested the presidential election against the Parti socialiste‘s François Hollande, he might have won.

Fillon, age 58, both urbane and technocratic, seems to hold a clear lead over Copé, age 48 — a recent Harris poll shows Fillon with a 67% to 22% lead among UMP voters, and a wide edge among French voters generally.

Copé, mayor of Meaux, a non-practicing Jew whose mother is Algerian, previously served as budget minister under prime minister Dominique du Villepin and president from 2005 to 2007, and he’s seen as belonging to the more strident right wing of the UMP.  In some ways, that makes him more like Sarkozy, who was no stranger to pulling hard to the right on issues like immigration or crime in order to win votes.  Copé is, in fact, styling himself as the same sort of hyperactive, gritty leader as Sarkozy.  During the campaign for the UMP leadership, Copé has spoken out against ‘anti-white’ racism in France, a naked bid for voters sympathetic to the hard right, and he mocked Muslims for taking away children’s pain au chocolat during Ramadan.

As such, Sunday’s vote is a bit of a proxy contest for the UMP’s direction in the years ahead — Fillon represents the moderate center-right and Copé represents a more full-throated hard-right approach.  But the next French election is over four years away — in April 2017.  In contrast, consider: five years before 2008, no one in the United States had even heard of Barack Obama.

After all, there’s nothing stopping Sarkozy himself for running for a second term in 2017 — many French voters still prefer Sarkozy to either Fillon or Copé for the time being, and Sarkozy has indicated he may be interested.

The winner of Sunday’s contest will have a delicate task in balancing an appeal to the broad center of French voters, while not allowing other political movements steal support on the UMP’s right.  Marine Le Pen, who won nearly 18% of the first-round vote of the presidential election in April 2012 will almost certainly try to make a bid to expand her appeal beyond the narrow confines of the far-right Front national and become the strongest candidate of the French right in 2017. Continue reading The French right prepares to choose Sarkozy’s successor (maybe)