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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Municipales: premier avertissement lancé dans les urnes au gouvernement

by Sébastien Crépel

Municipal Elections: First Round a Warning to Government

Translated Sunday 6 April 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

The estimates available at 11 p.m. on March 23 clearly put the right wing in front, with 48% of the votes going to its lists as against 43% for all the left-wing parties. The National Front is said to obtain 7% of the vote.

It’s a first, serious warning shot that left-wing voters sent on March 23 to the government’s general staff, by staying away from the ballot boxes in the first round of the municipal elections. With 43% of the vote going to its lists – all parties combined (both in and outside the governing majority) – as against 48% for right-wing parties, according to estimates at 11 p.m., the position of the left going into the second round elections on March 30 is delicate.

All day, the political general staffs held their breath, scrutinizing the mobilization of the voters. On the right wing as on the left, there was an awareness that voter participation was the big unknown that could upset all the forecasts. A government heavyweight had warned in le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France newspaper: “Just three percentage points (of abstention) more and we can go from the status quo to a spanking.” In the end, the March 23 vote should set a worrying new record for abstentions for first-round municipal elections, with between 35% and 38.5% according to the polling organizations, as against 33.5% in 2008.

The National Front plays its cards right.

The comparison with the 2008 outcome, which was excellent for the left (49.24% in the first round) is proving to be particularly cruel, even though the right (48.11% in 2008 for the UMP, the Nouveau centre, the Modem and the diverse right, combined) has not triumphed, either, in terms of the number of votes received. It is above all the National Front that has played its cards right in this first round, by winning the municipality of Hénin-Beaumont in the first round and getting around 7% of the vote for all of its lists in 596 French cities (as against 1.05% for the far right six years ago, but at that time it had lists in only 119 cities). Its candidates are said to have come in first in Avignon, Béziers, Forbach, Fréjus, Saint-Gilles and Perpignan, and came in ahead of the Socialist Party lists in Marseilles. According to the latest forecasts, the National Front lists will probably be able to remain in the running in 200 cities, a figure close to the estimates put forward by the pollsters before the elections.

In the early evening, in the television studios the leading lights in the UMP and the UDI parties, which have lost all the local elections (municipal, regional, and canton elections) for the past thirteen years, did not deny themselves the pleasure occasioned by the results, which put their lists ahead of those of the outgoing Socialist Party mayors, as in Toulouse, Strasbourg, Saint-Etienne, Reims, Angers, Quimper and especially Paris. Against all expectations, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet got more votes than Anne Hidalgo. In Pau, François Bayrou was the favorite for the March 30 second-round elections. And Niort has gone from the Socialist Party to the right wing.

“Put the left back on track”

In other cities, the hopes of the left were reduced to nothing by the re-election of right-wing mayors right from the first-round elections, as in Le Havre and Tarbes, two cities that both the Socialist Party and the Left Front wanted to win back. “The results vary. There has been a clear falling-off for the left,” said Emmanuelle Cosse, the national secretary of the Green Party, in the evening on March 23, “and we are evidently worried, on the one hand by the level of abstention, and on the other hand by the level of the far right.”

For his part, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault recognized that “some voters have expressed, by abstaining or with their vote, their worries, and even their doubts.” Harlem Désir, the first secretary of the Socialist Party, has issued a call for “all of the left and the Greens to come together right away in all of the cities” to prepare for the second round.

“We want to put the left back on track,” stated Pierre Laurent, the national secretary of the French Communist Party, calling for unity of the left in the second round, whereas it was announced that the French Communist Party had won the town hall of Magnanville, 33 miles west of Paris, from the Socialist Party right from the first round, and that a certain number of Left Front mayors had been re-elected, as in Tarnos, Allonnes, Grigny, Gennevilliers and Nanterre, Tremblay-en-France and La Courneuve, and Bonneuil-sur-Marne. Others, like those in Vierzon and in Vénissieux came out ahead in the elections. These results contrast with the election of a right-wing mayor in Pierre-Bénite, who benefited from the division of the outgoing city council, and the leading position of the right wing in Bobigny and Blanc-Mesnil. “I’m asking our friends across the country to keep their options open for the second round,” declared Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the co-president of the Left Party, who was happy that the Green Party list came out in front in Grenoble, ahead of the joint Socialist Party-French Communist Party list.

The interesting scores of the Left Front

Nation-wide, the results of the Left Front were still difficult to evaluate, as the configuration of the alliances varies from one city to another. Complete Left Front lists were presented in about half of the 408 cities in France with over 20,000 inhabitants. The parties that form the Left Front were not united or were united with other forces (the Socialist Party, the Greens…) in the other half. But interesting scores were announced in Avignon (13%), Bourges (17%), Nîmes (12%) and Tarbes (15%).

Things remain undecided for the left in the second round. Starting from a very high position following the “pink wave” in 2008, the Socialists had, of course, foreseen that they would have to content themselves with losing thirty to sixty cities of over 10,000 inhabitants, thus anticipating a possible punishment vote. “It is normal and it is probable that we’ll lose that number of cities,” Alain Fontanel, in charge of the Socialist Party federations, had warned. But they certainly did not expect such massive disappointments in the first round, which even the results in Paris and Marseilles cannot conceal.

On the right, the possible maintenance of National Front lists is now not the least of the problems. The wins foreseen in several dozen medium-sized cities could be endangered by the National Front. UMP leaders François Fillon and Henri Guaino excluded on March 23 any alliance with the National Front, but they also excluded any “republican front,” to which Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had exhorted them on March 20, by calling for “everything to be done” to prevent “the election of a National Front mayor.”

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