ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le socialiste Jean-Pierre Bel élu president par toute la gauche
by Max Staat
Translated Friday 14 October 2011, by Bill Scobleand reviewed by
The Fifth Republic had never seen the likes of it. On Saturday, October 1, Socialist Senator Jean-Pierre Bel became the Senate’s first Left-Wing President.
Never before under the current French Constitution  had a Leftist president been elected by the Senate. One round was enough for Socialist, Communist, Ecologist, and other Left-leaning senators to impose their candidate against the divided and dispirited Rightist ranks.
It all began with the oldest senator being called upon to chair the opening session - namely Communist Senator Paul Vergès from the overseas département of La Réunion. His speech on the great national and planetary issues earned him a standing ovation from the unanimous House.
Then came the time to vote for the various candidates to the Senate’s presidency. Jean-Pierre Bel was the Left’s sole candidate, Gérard Larcher was the incumbent candidate for the UMP (the governing party), while Valérie Létard stood for the Centrist parties.
Jean-Pierre Bel was elected in the first round
As each senator mounted the platform to cast a secret ballot, no incident was to be noted, except on Pierre Charon - a dissident UMP candidate against the official UMP minister Chantal Jouanno - mounting the platform: a muted voice called him a “bastard”, causing uproar in the House at such unusual verbal impropriety, and denoting how strained relations among Rightist members have become….
Once the poll was over, Paul Vergès announced the results. With 179 votes, one more than the total number of Leftist Senators, Jean-Pierre Bel reaped a clear majority of the 342 votes. Applause broke out in the ranks of the Left and among the many guests that sat in the great conference hall next door, somewhat covering up the announcement of the Right-wing candidates’ results. Gérard Larcher got 134 votes, Valérie Létard all the Centrist vote, namely 29 ballots. Five senators, clearly UMP members, opted for a blank or null vote.
Now was the time for Jean-Pierre Bel to step up towards the president’s chair and deliver his first speech. Emotions ran high on this occasion, which many deemed historic.
Introducing the philosophy of his term of office as president Jean-Pierre Bel declared: “I am not going to be the servant of any clan; I shall always set the common interest first.”
Towards a general assembly of local councillors
While promising that “We shall never consider ourselves as a bastion”, he promised that “our opposition to all kind of injustice, exclusion, discrimination, and inequality…shall nevertheless be relentless.” Noting that all their electors  had voted for change," he insisted that this invests him with a “historic” responsibility, since the Senate had “opted for a political alternative”, and their electors had expressed their “discontent” and “moral dissatisfaction” and wish for a “new Senate”. He committed himself to “a democratic renovation of the higher chamber”, declared himself in favour of “a fresh impetus to be given to decentralisation” and proposed “convening all local councillors to work for the future.”
Nicole Borvo Cohen-Seat, president of the Communist, Republican, and Civil group said “this new mandate provides an opportunity to annul the local authorities’ reform imposed by the Right and rejected by local councillors.” And she went on to declare that her group will act as "a warrant for real advances in clear opposition to the government’s policies.”
On walking out of the House after the vote Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former UMP Prime Minister said, reassuringly and rather imprudently, that “victory won in September does not guarantee victory in May”, but confessed all the same that this defeat “is a real political problem for us.”
Sitting in a neighbouring room where he had attended the acceptance speech, Pierre Mauroy, who has just left the Senate at the age of 83, confided to us that “(he) had been waiting for this moment for twenty years.” To him “it is an epoch-making event that will make things easier in 2012.”
Cécile Cuckierman, a 35-year-old Communist senator, the youngest member of the Senate, has just lived through her first session. She confessed to “feeling quite small in this venerable historic place”, but vowed that “we are at the highest level of the State in order to be in the people’s service.”