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Bayrou, heir to liberal-right UDF tradition, joins forces with center-left Macron

François Bayrou, giving up plans to run in what would have been his fourth attempt at the French presidency, has endorsed Emmanuel Macron. (Facebook)

In French politics, François Bayrou is always the bridesmaid — never the bride.

That was true in the 1990s, it was true in the 2000s and it now seems true in the 2010s as the longtime centrist ended his own presidential hopes for 2017 and endorsed the center-left independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron.

The 65-year-old Bayrou, who got his start in politics in the 1980s, and who has waged three earlier presidential campaigns, is forming an alliance with Macron as France turns to the first round of its presidential election on April 23, a presidential runoff on May 7 and parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18.

In stark language, Bayrou warned that his country was at ‘extreme risk’ after an election campaign that had so far ‘made a mockery of France,’ a risk that necessitates an ‘exceptional response’ — in the form of elevating the relatively inexperienced 39-year-old Macron to the presidency.

Bayrou came closest to winning the presidency himself in 2007, when he appealed to voters with doubts about both the center-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the candidate of the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), Ségolène Royal, winning nearly a fifth of the French electorate in that year. But his appeal faltered in recent years, and polls show that Bayrou would win merely 5% or 6% of the vote among an extraordinarily fluid and crowded 2017 field.

Once a rising moderate star of the French right, Bayrou served as education minister under former prime minister Édouard Balladur from 1993 to 1995 and then under Alain Juppé from 1995 to 1997. Bayrou also serves as the mayor of Pau, the capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region of southwest France. Yet Bayrou never incredibly warmed to Sarkozy, and he has excoriated François Fillon, the former Sarkozy prime minister who came from behind to win the Républicain nomination (eclipsing both Sarkozy and one-time frontrunner Juppé). Fillon has been stung by accusations in recent weeks that, while in office, he funneled public funds to his wife, Penelope, and children for jobs they never actually performed.

Greater scrutiny is taking its toll on Macron

Though Macron’s popularity soared in December and January, his campaign has stalled with voters at around 20% support. With the far-right candidate of the Front national, Marine Le Pen, leading the first-round vote with around 26%, Fillon and Macron are essentially tied for second place and the all-important ticket to the May presidential runoff against Le Pen. Polls show that either Fillon or Macron today would trounce Le Pen by a nearly 60%-to-40% margin.  Continue reading Bayrou, heir to liberal-right UDF tradition, joins forces with center-left Macron

Final thoughts on French parliamentary runoff results

As noted in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s parliament elections, the French left looked likely to take a narrow absolute majority of seats in the Assemblée nationale.

As it turns out, the Parti socialistof François Hollande did even better — it and its allies took 314 seats, not including the 17 seats that its electoral partner, France’s Green Party (Europe Écologie – Les Verts) won: significantly higher than the projection of between 270 and 300 and nearly equivalent to the parliamentary wave after Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election.  In this sense, Hollande’s party actually outperformed Hollande in the presidential race.

But the left’s victory was expected — the pattern of French voters handing a solid presidential majority in June parliamentary elections (following the May presidential runoff) therefore continues.

It will mark the first time that the French left have won control of the government since the 1997 legislative elections; the left lost power in 2002, following Jospin’s surprise third-place finish in the presidential election of that year.

With the final results now counted, here’s a look at each party and its road ahead:

Continue reading Final thoughts on French parliamentary runoff results

Final French parliamentary election results for first round

France has now had a full day since learning the results of Sunday’s first round of the French parliamentary elections (France votes again in the second round this coming Sunday), and there’s really not much surprise in the aggregate result.

Much as predicted: the Parti socialiste of newly inaugurated François Hollande narrowly led the first round with 29% to just 27% for the somewhat demoralized and rudderless Union pour un mouvement populaire.

It seems likely that Hollande and his allies will control a parliamentary majority following Sunday’s second round (although it’s not certain) — the Parti socialiste is projected to win 270 to 300 seats to just 210 to 240 seats for the UMP.  In the best case scenario, the Parti socialiste and its allies would like to win 289 seats outright this Sunday.  If they wins less than 289 seats, however, they will be able to rely first on France’s Green Party, Europe Écologie – Les Verts, with which the Parti socialiste has an electoral alliance (projected to win 8 to 14 seats, largely because of the alliance) and then, if necessary, with the support of the Front de gauche (projected to win 14 to 20 seats), a group of communists and other radical leftists under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Hollande would prefer to avoid the latter, as many potential Front de guache deputies are members of France’s communist party who would attempt to pull Hollande’s agenda further leftward. Continue reading Final French parliamentary election results for first round

Le Pen and Mélenchon battle in Hénin-Beaumont precinct highlights four-way French campaign

The most interesting contest in Sunday’s first round of the French parliamentary election may well be the most irrelevant to determining whether President François Hollande’s center-left or the center-right will control the Assemblée nationale — but it also showcases that the far-left and far-right are both playing the strongest role in over a decade in any French legislative election.

The race is the 11th precinct of the Hénin-Beaumont region, where Front national leader Marine Le Pen is running against Front de gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Le Pen originally targeted the region in 2007 (where she won 24.5% of the vote) — it’s an economically stagnant area where coal mining was once the major economic activity.  Think of it as the part of Wallonia that’s actually part of France.*

Like many of the old French Parti communiste strongholds, it is today receptive to the economic populist message of the Front national — in the first round of the presidential election, Le Pen won 35% there, followed by Hollande with 27% and Nicolas Sarkozy with just 16%.

So it’s a constituency that Le Pen continues to view as fertile ground, a great pickup opportunity in what seems to be the Front national‘s best shot at seats in the Assemblée nationale since 1997.

Mélenchon, however, decided to parachute into the precinct to run against Le Pen (although neither have true roots in the region), prolonging the bitter antagonism that marked the presidential race.  In the spring, their enmity seemed greater than even that between Hollande and Sarkozy.

Mélenchon’s eagerness to attack the Front national led to a surge of support in the first round.  Although Mélenchon won less than some polls indicated he could have, his 11% total was still the best presidential result for the far left in two decades.

For a time, it looked as if Mélenchon’s move was a masterstroke — he would secure a seat for the Front de gauche and in so doing, polls showed, would become the left’s champion in defeating Le Pen.  As predicted, the campaign for Hénin-Beaumont has become a battle royale between the far left and the hard right, with rhetoric matching that of the presidential campaign:

“I find it funny the passion he has developed for me and that he follows me all across France,” Ms Le Pen remarked to a group of journalists at her constituency headquarters in the recession-hit town of Hénin-Beaumont. “But it is good. He divides people. There are people who would not vote for me if he wasn’t here.”

Speaking earlier as he greeted shoppers in a street market in neighbouring  Noyelles-Godault, Mr Mélenchon brushed aside the innuendo that he has some kind of obsession with his rival.

“I do not find her erotic, as I have read in certain newspapers,” he protested. He had become a candidate in Hénin-Beaumont to “shine a light on the vampires” of the National Front, he said. It would be “absolutely shaming” for the left if Ms Le Pen were elected in a former mining area “at the heart of the history of the French workers’ movement”.

And so on.

But as the campaign concludes, polls show an uptick for Parti socialiste candidate Philippe Kemel, who had previously polled far behind the two national stars — even the retiring PS deputy had abstained from endorsing Kemel.

Two polls on Wednesday showed a tight race, however: Continue reading Le Pen and Mélenchon battle in Hénin-Beaumont precinct highlights four-way French campaign

Warning signs for Hollande in French parliamentary campaign

The campaign for French parliamentary elections kicked off just last Monday, for what most observers believe is a formality in installing the newly inaugurated President François Hollande’s Parti socialiste as the majority of the Assemblée nationale.

French voters go to the polls this Sunday for the first of two rounds — in each parliamentary district, if no candidate wins over 50% (with at least 25% support of all registered voters in the district), each candidate that commands at least 12.5% support of all registered voters (or the top two candidates, alternatively) in the first round will advance to the second round on May 17.

In 2002, parliamentary and presidential elections were fixed so that the former follows nearly a month after the latter.  As in 2002 and 2007, it is expected that the winner of the presidential race in May will thereupon see his party win the parliamentary elections in June.

The rationale is to avoid cohabitation — the divided government that sees one party control the presidency and another party control the government, which has occurred only three times in the history of the Fifth Republic (most recently from 1997 to 2002, when Parti socialiste prime minister Lionel Jospin led the government under center-right President Jacques Chirac).  More than in most countries, the French electorate seem a bit more allergic to divided government, which should give Hollande some relief in advance of Sunday’s vote.

But there are complications this time around, which may result in a somewhat murkier result.

Wait a minute, you might say: Deposed president Nicolas Sarkozy is off licking his wounds in Morocco, leaving a decapitated center-right split between followers of outgoing prime minister François Fillon and Jean-François Copé, head of the Union pour un mouvement populaire (which, unlike the Parti socialiste, is not a decades-long party, but only the latest brand of a series of shifting vehicles of France’s center-right) — Fillon and Copé last week were already sniping at one another.

A surging Front national on the far right (and increasingly and uncomfortably encroached on the center-right and parts of the populist left as well), under Marine Le Pen, garnered nearly one out of every five votes in the first round of the presidential election and is hoping to do just as well in the legislative election.

Meanwhile, Hollande’s prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, seen as a prudent and moderate choice to lead France’s new government, has a 65% approval rating (higher than Hollande’s own 61% approval!), and Ayrault is already moving to reverse part of Sarkozy’s signature reform — raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 — by allowing a small subset of longtime workers to retire at 60.

How, under these conditions, could the PS possibly lose? Continue reading Warning signs for Hollande in French parliamentary campaign