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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Décryptage d’un scrutin sanction

by http://www.humanite.fr/2008-03-11_L-Evenement_Decryptage-d-un-scrutin-sanction

French Local Elections: A National Vote Decrypted

Translated Monday 17 March 2008, by Isabelle Métral

The on-going elections (9th and 16th March) concern town and “canton”(district) councillors. A few general lessons can be drawn from the first round countrywide.

Voters have issued a warning to Sarkozy

Though the president’s party, the union for the popular majority (UMP),° attempted to minimize the significance of the results at first, it is now clear that the blow has struck home. For all its protests that the setbacks it suffered in the first round of the municipal and canton (district) elections were no rejection of its national policy, its general secretary Patrick Devedjian conceded on the next day that his party had indeed suffered a setback and called for a massive mobilization of right-wing electors in the second round. Not only did the Right lose Rouen, Laval, Alençon, Dieppe, Rodez, Vierzon etc. in the first round, but it is set to lose Caen, Strasbourg, Quimper as well in the second. Besides, its position is precarious in large towns: Françoise de Panafieu got relatively few votes in Paris, Dominique Perben was disqualified in Lyon; the Right is paralyzed with the fear of losing Toulouse or even Marseilles (though the balance of the forces there is more uncertain). That is a stern warning to Sarkozy, especially as he himself issued a challenge at the beginning of the campaign, calling these elections “a national test”.In the hope of giving a salvaging jolt, Sarkozy went down to Marseilles on the 11th to work voters up on one of his favourite issues: immigration. The large towns that had given a majority to the Left in 2001 have confirmed their vote. Like Paris. In Lyon, the Socialist incumbent mayor’s team was re-elected in the first round, thus inflicting a humiliating defeat on former Minister Dominique Perben. In the large cities run by the Right so far, suspense will come to an end on March 16th. Moreover the forty towns or so of 10,000 inhabitants and above that were lost to the Right in 2001 (ten of which had a communist mayor) look set to be regained by the Left.

The Right resists in its strongholds

Although the Right’s position is precarious in quite a few towns that it conquered in 2001, it resists in its strongholds despite competition from dissident candidates, some of whom did better in the election than the official ones, as was the case in Reims where Catherine Vautrin got ahead of Minister Renaud Dutreil, the UMP’s candidate. But as a rule, with the exception of Ministers Christine Albanel and Christine Lagarde, who lag far behind Delanoë’s lists in Paris, Rama Yade, who might be beaten next Sunday at Colombes (Hauts de Seine), and Education Minister Xavier Darcos, who is in a difficult position in his Dordogne fief of Périgueux, the ministers that are competing in the local elections are doing fairly well. Fourteen of them were elected or re-elected in the first round last Sunday, like Jean-Louis Borloo in Valenciennes or Xavier Bertrand in Saint-Quentin. The Right holds its ground in some of the towns that it conquered in 2001, as in Drancy where Jean-Christophe Lagarde was re-elected in the first round with 19.5% of the vote.

The Frontier between Right and Left Validated

Owing to voter dissatisfaction on social issues, the distinction between Left and Right has come back downstage in the public debate. That is indeed the most outstanding characteristic in the first round, which is why left-wing electors favoured the Socialist-Communist-Green lists of the united Left, which often included candidates from local associations and far left movements: the Trotskyite party Lutte ouvrière took the unprecedented step of joining the leftist lists in quite a few towns. The right-left polarization did not entail a loss of visibility for the Communist Party, for the PCF has conquered new positions. It did not wipe out the other component movements of the left or far left or the ecologists either: in several towns independent lists got modest, yet significant results.

Union against Sarkozy is a must

The lists where the Left stood united often got excellent results, whatever the political affiliation of their leaders. That was why it conquered new towns in the first round. In the départment of Seine-Maritime in Normandy, the towns of Dieppe and Rouen swung to the left with a clear majority (around 55%). In towns so far run by left-wing councils the united-left lists sometimes got massive support. In Lorient (a port in Brittany), the left who had won 58% of the vote in 2001 was elected in the first round with 64% of the vote. In Bagneux (Hauts de Seine) south of Paris, the communist mayor Marie-Hélène Amiable who headed the list for the first time (she succeeded former Mayor Janine Jambu in the middle of the term) got 56% of the votes with her team. In Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis), north of Paris, Stéphane Gatignon (who was first elected mayor in 2001) and his team got 59% of the vote.

The French Communist Party is beginning to get back on its feet.

After its very low 1.9% at the presidential election and disappointing results at the legislative election, one of the issues at stake in this ballot was how the PCF would fare in this new electoral contest. On the whole, the picture after the first round of the municipal and canton elections affords some grounds for satisfaction. The communists that headed union lists rallied large swathes of voters. Wherever its militants and local councillors seemed likely to rally a majority of voters, the PCF gained votes. In the département of Seine-Saint-Denis, the Socialist party launched an “assault on communist municipalities” [1] which did not fail to spark off a lot of prognostication; yet the attempt ended in failure almost everywhere, as the PCF came first in all the primary contests but one. The loss of two canton seats in that département will however reverse the balance of forces within the leftist majority of the council. Yet this situation should not blind one to the gains in the number of seats elsewhere in several départements, or to their being promoted to the head of the list in quite a few municipalities.

The centrist Modem party is courted by the UMP to defeat the Left

The party’s founder, François Bayrou, former presidential candidate in the 2007 election, saw his hopes to win the election in his fief of Pau in the Pyrenees frustrated: he came second behind the leftist team. Modem lists countrywide have captured a heterogeneous electorate ranging from those that were dissatisfied with the Socialist party to right-wing voters that were put off by Nicolas Sarkozy’s toughness. Despite this, the results they got were far below those of the Modem’s candidate at the presidential election. In Paris, where the party got 9% of the vote, its leader’s repeated call for “partnership” with Bertrand Delanoë (the incumbent mayor) have so far remained unanswered. True, the centrist movement got above 10% [2] in quite a few towns, but the confusion between right and left that François Bayrou has deliberately cultivated makes his “variable strategy” incomprehensible. Last Monday Prime Minister François Fillon called on the Modem to pass reciprocal agreements with the UMP for the second round, as he thought that they must be “exchanges” between the two parties. “What I mean is that if Modem leaders are willing to back UMP lists, then as a matter of course we will back the Modem candidates when they are in a position to compete in the second round and to be backed by our majority.”

The Trotskyite LCR (revolutionary communist league) congratulates itself on its “modest breakthrough”

Satisfied with the “modest breakthrough” achieved by the LCR at the municipal elections, Olivier Besancenot, its candidate in the 2007 presidential election, means to take advantage of the results of his lists to speed up the foundation of his “anti-capitalist party”. The far-left movement, who opted in favour of independent lists, sometimes did far better than it had hoped. It got above 10% of the vote [3] in Clermont-ferrand (13,81%), Foix (10.85%), or again in Sotteville-lès-Rouen (14.62%). Olivier Besancenot’s party benefited from votes that had gone to Lutte Ouvrière in 2001. But it enlarged the far-left constituency in some towns, rallying voters that were critical of the local PCF-PS alliance in the first round. The far-left vote was however far more limited in towns with a communist mayor. Whereas it had got in many places the minimum 5% needed to merge with other lists in the second round, the league said it would not join leftist majorities anywhere, but would concede at the most “technical fusions” if the Right could be beaten.

The UMP is still gobbling up the far-right vote

The time when the National Front (FN) succeeded in putting up candidates in the second round in 103 towns of 30,000 inhabitants and more, and carried Orange, Toulon and Marignane – as it did in 1995 - seems to be over. Hénin-Beaumont (Pas de Calais), which Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s leader’s daughter wanted to make the far-right party’s showcase, will not wind up in the party’s net. For all that, the FN branch of the département is hoping to be present in the second round, beside the UMP, against Jacky Hénin, the communist mayor of Calais. He proposes merging the two lists. The fusion was officially rejected by the UMP. But that might well be a signal sent to right and far-right voters. Have we come back to the time when the Right and the National Front were allies in their attempt to conquer regional majorities? Even though it has been marginalized, the National Front is still above the 10% threshold in some towns. In Fréjus, for instance, or Vénissieux, Calais, Perpignan, Mulhouse, or again in two key-sectors in Marseilles. The far-right still has a solid base in Orange besides, where Jacques Bombard, formerly a prominent member of the front, was re-elected in the first round with 60.97% of the vote. In Marignane, however, Daniel Simompieri, another former member of the front, now UMP candidate, was defeated by the right-wing dissident candidate by a wide margin.

[1"Rouge banlieue" as the latest slogan goes

[2The minimum required for a list to merge with another previous to the second round

[3The minimum required for a list to be allowed to stay through to the second round

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