By Najete Michell and Paul Taylor
France goes to the polls on June 12 and 19 to elect a new National Assembly. It is normally expected that the newly elected president will win a majority in the subsequent legislative elections. Consequently, voters from the parties of the defeated presidential candidates are more likely to abstain.
But this time, President Macron faces a serious challenge from the left. Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise have correctly decided to use the parliamentary elections to build the biggest possible obstacle to the next wave of Macron’s attacks on the people.
Mélenchon narrowly missed out on reaching the second round of the presidential elections. His defeat was met with disappointment by the working-class and the oppressed. But the mood completely changed after Mélenchon declared that the election process was not over. He described the legislative elections as a 3rd round: an opportunity for the people to vote for a left majority in the National Assembly backing him to be prime minister.
The creation of la Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Social – NUPES – is a huge step forward in the rebirth of the French left. La France Insoumise has now been joined in an electoral coalition by the French Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communist Party.
Such a coalition is completely new in French politics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the traditional, leading left parties across Europe embraced neo-liberalism. In response there was the slow and uneven emergence of a new left, which was met with hostility by the neo-liberal left. In France this trend has seen the programme of la France Insoumise at the heart of the discussions to create the electoral platform of l’Union Populaire.
The campaign calling for Jean-Luc Mélenchon to become prime minister correctly proposes that people vote for a left government. It reframes French politics as a battle between the left and the right, pushing to one side the previous framework of politics as a contest between the right and the far-right.
A divided left enabled Le Pen to reach the second round of the presidential elections. However, a united left can become the largest bloc in parliament.
Candidates who receive 12.5% or more of all those registered to vote in the first round of the parliamentary elections are entitled to contest the second round. Any candidate who reaches 50% plus 1 in the first round is automatically elected.
L’Union Populaire is now well placed to make the second round in constituencies across France.
The programme of l’Union Populaire
Following a week of negotiations between the left parties, the new Union Populaire campaign for the parliamentary elections in June will have at its core a comprehensive alternative to neo-liberalism, racism and disastrous climate change.
Mélenchon spelled out the platform of l’Union Populaire in a recent tweet.
- Price lock of basic necessities
- Guarantee of autonomy for each young person
- Retirement at aged 60
- Re-establishment of a wealth tax
- Green laws
- Citizens’ referenda
The 2022 presidential election marked a watershed in French politics. The unstable equilibrium of the last period has disintegrated. It saw the obliteration of the traditional parties of the left and right. The Socialist Party collapsed to 1.7% and the conservative Republicans won only 4.8%. The new political landscape is dominated by three blocs: a new left, the right and the far right.
The results of the second round of the presidential elections
Source: Le Monde
Macron enters the parliamentary election campaign in a more fragile position than the last legislative elections in 2017. He won in the second round against Le Pen in 2022 with less support than five years ago and in large part because voters did not want the far-right to win. Only Pompidou in 1969 won the presidency with less support in the history of the 5th Republic. The second round also saw the second highest level of abstentions and spoilt ballots over the same period.
Results of the second round of the presidential elections
Macron is, after Georges Pompidou in 1969, the president with lowest popular support during the Fifth Republic.
But it is also important to acknowledge that notwithstanding any future attacks on the people, Macron has already served his purpose for capital in his first term with his huge economic and political onslaught on the population. His presidency to date has seen a big shift of wealth from labour to capital, a raft of racist legislation and increasing levels of authoritarianism.
Going into the parliamentary elections he has, with some success, made overtures to the right-wing of the Socialist Party and the conservative Republicans. Even if his En Marche party loses seats, it will be no easy task to overturn its current huge parliamentary majority.
Macron spent five years preparing the ground to face his opponent of choice, Marine Le Pen, in the 2022 election. He mainstreamed racism and Islamophobia thereby boosting the profile of the far right. He wanted to fight another election as the republican bulwark against the far-right.
Consequently, the far-right remains a threat. This was confirmed in the second round of the presidential election with Le Pen increasing her vote from the 2017 election.
A comparison of Marine Le Pen’s performance in 2017 and 2022 in communes, Parliamentary constituencies, départements and regions.
Marine Le Pen’s campaign to de-demonise her party has been successful. Also the ideas of the far-right have been popularised for years in the media by other people including the other far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. This degeneration in public political debate extended to the conservative Republican candidate for the presidency, Valérie Pécresse, who adopted the far-right’s racist ‘replacement’ myth into her campaign.
But the blame for the spreading of the far-right ideas cannot be exclusively laid at the door of Macron. Previously, presidents Chirac and Sarkozy also ‘played with fire’ by deliberately boosting the profile of the far-right and whipping-up racism primarily directed at Muslims to strengthen their own position as ‘defenders’ of the Republic and to weaken the left. Even the socialist president François Mitterand, in the 1980s, helped to revive the far-right in an attempt to divide the right for electoral gain.
The rise of la France Insoumise FI as the leading force on the left means that anti-racism rather than concessions to racism is the policy of the l’Union Populaire. The FI under the leadership of Mélenchon has opposed those on the left who have joined with the right to weaponise laïcité [loosely translated as secularism] against Muslims.
The long-term weaknesses of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party on racism, Islamophobia, immigration and secularism has helped to accelerate their decline as electoral forces.
The momentum of the Mélenchon campaign
Mélenchon’s programme and campaign for the presidency has provided the platform for the next stage in the rebirth of the French left, not just as an oppositional force, but one with aspirations to be the government.
As Le Monde reported, in his presidential campaign Mélenchon did well in Paris and led in the other big cities. He also polled well in working-class areas; with Muslims; young voters, and also the ‘green ecology vote’;. His dynamic campaign received wide-spread praise, including from Ségolène Royal, the Socialist party candidate in the 2017 presidential election.
L’Union Populaire goes into the parliamentary elections riding the Mélenchon wave. As in 2017, Mélenchon’s poll ratings for the presidency were boosted by the exposure of the election campaign. The latest polls suggest that the parliamentary election campaign could well see a similar surge.
The neo-liberal presidency of the Socialist Party’s François Hollande between 2012 & 2017, not only destroyed the Socialist Party, it also weakened the whole left and gave credibility to the grotesque claim of Le Pen to speak for the ordinary people of France.
The hope is that 2022 parliamentary elections will see a major advance for the left, the working-class and the oppressed in France. Mélenchon’s consistent opposition to neoliberalism and racism in the presidential campaign makes that a realistic prospect.
Mélenchon for PM #MelenchonMatignon