By Marie Dupont
Last Sunday, 14 March, the first round of the regional elections in France saw a big shift in favour of the left – although there was a 52 per cent abstention rate. The Socialist Party won 30 per cent while the ruling UMP of President Sarkozy received 27 per cent. However in the second voting round the UMP will have no allies, while the Greens, who won 12.5 per cent and the Front de Gauche (Left Front), which won 7 per cent will call for a vote for the Socialist Party. The election overall therefore saw a big rejection of Sarkozy.
The second major feature of these elections was the growth of the extreme right wing National Front (NF) which won 11.7 per cent. The NF will not call for a vote for the UMP in the second round of the elections – in the 12 regions where the NF received more than 10 per cent of the vote.
A defeat for the UMP
The outcome of the election is the worst result for a right wing party at local elections since 1958. If this had been a legislative election the UMP would have won only 45 sets in parliament instead of the 320 it has at present. This is of course a result of Sarkozy’s drastic attacks on the working class, since winning office. Since Sarkozy’s election in 2007 he has attempted to implement at a rapid pace a Thatcherite model of `liberalising’ the economy and reducing state intervention as much as possible. The attacks on the welfare state have increased with the economic crisis, with a speeded up program of cuts – the so called `reforms’.
The low vote for the UMP shows a massive rejection of this policy.
The National Front back on the political stage
In 2007, Sarkozy’s strategy was to take into his program traditional themes of the NF to cut into its vote. This was effective. The NF’s vote decreased from 18 per cent in 2002 to 10.5 per cent in the 2007 presidential elections and 6.3 per cent at the European elections. Some analysts predicted the NF’s death. But the NF’s themes were widely popularised by the Sarkozy government. Especially recently, in the run up to the local elections, in order to evade the issue of the crisis and debate on his program of more cuts and less autonomy to the regions, Sarkozy increased his racist rhetoric. Sarkozy and Besson, his minister on immigration, launched a debate on `national identity’, proposed a bill banning the niqab. The right (Le Figaro and UMP members) ran a media campaign against the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA candidate) wearing the hijab, campaigned against hallal restaurants, against a black SP candidate, and so on. Unfortunately for Sarkozy, people preferred the NF original to the copy. He planted the seeds and the NF collected the votes.
The NF’s 11.5 per cent is unevenly distributed. In the north of France, the NF’s leader Jean Marie Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, had been trying for the last ten years to give a more `respectable’ face to the NF — focussing on local and social issues, rather than immigration. She gained 18.3 per cent in her region (le Pas de Calais). In the South East (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, or `PACA’ region) the campaign was quite different with a poster `No to islamism’ showing a woman wearing a niqab and a French map covered with an Algerian flag surrounded by 7 minarets shaped as missiles. Le Pen, who stood in PACA as a candidate, got 20.9 per cent. Finally, Bruno Gollnish who hopes to replace JM Le Pen got 16 per cent in Champagne-Ardennes.
The results for the left, in all its component parts, were high. After its 16.5 per cent at the European elections, the 30 per cent for he Socialist Party represents an important change — not only because it got more votes than the UMP but because, unlike the latter, the Socialist Party has allies for the second round. The Greens received 12. 5 per cent of the vote (less than their 16 per cent at the European elections) and the Front de Gauche received 7 per cent in the 17 regions they had candidates.
The real victory for the left has been the complete marginalisation of the ‘MoDem ‘ led by Bayrou. This is a bourgeois ‘centrist party’ which received only 4 per cent at these elections compared to 16 per cent at the presidential elections in 2007, when it had won votes from the Socialist Party. The temptation for the Socialist Party (and the Greens) to make alliances with the ‘MoDem’ was very strong in the last three years, a strategy proposed originally by Segolene Royal, the Socialist’s candidate at the last presidential election, which had progressively spread to the whole party. The Front de Gauche waged a campaign against any alliance with a bourgeois party explaining the disastrous experiences of such alliances in Italy and Germany. Instead at this election the Socialist Party has turned towards the Greens and the Front de Gauche to build a strong left majority for the second round of the elections on 21 March.