Wednesday, June 6, 2012


The French Presidential elections are done and dusted and France now has a Socialist President, Francois Hollande, who has replaced the centre right incumbent, President “Bling Bling” Sarkozy.

Now France is embroiled in its elections for parliament. Nothing in French politics seems easy. There were two rounds of Presidential elections and whilst voting is underway for its MPs the final outcome will not be known till the second round on June 17.

Life is too short for me to enquire further in to France’s electoral system: for the wider centre left in the UK there are only two questions. First will the French voters elect a socialist majority to support Hollande and will the voters in the Northern Europe constituency return the Parti Socialiste’s French Canadian-born candidate to the 14th National Assembly of the Fifth Republic as their MP?

French nationals à l'étranger have previously been able to vote for their president and for Senate seats. Now the French parliament has decided that for this election there would be overseas constituencies to represent its nationals abroad. I personally applaud the concept but given the size of the Northern Europe constituency I wonder how effective a voice the voters will have in practice.

When an MP stands for a seat he or she campaigns in their constituency which covers a small confined area. National leaders of the party are expected to travel from one corner of the country to another to canvass for votes. However for Axelle Lemaire, the Parti Socialiste candidate in the Northern Europe Constituency, and her rivals they have to campaign in the UK (which is home to 80 per cent of the voters), the Irish Republic then from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia to Greenland. I understand Lemaire has visited 25 cities on her campaign trail.

Axelle Lemaire is a true French international. Born of a French Canadian father and a French mother in Canada she lived there to her teenage years. Then after school and university in France she did a post graduate degree in law in London where she has lived for the past ten years. Her two children are as “international” as she is. The former advisor to a Labour MP now heads the socialist campaign in a constituency that is the Parti Socialiste’s to win.

The initial omens are good. In the first round of voting held on Sunday Lemaire took 30.16 per cent of the vote. Whilst in the second round of the French presidential elections a month ago 53.1 per cent of Lemaire’s voters backed Hollande compared with 46.9 per cent for Sarkozy. However it remains to be seen whether French voters in her constituency and wider France will give Hollande the socialist led parliament he desires. Fingers crossed for June 17.

For the picture in wider France I once again turned to Pierre Kanuty who runs international affairs for the Parti Socialiste in Paris. Pierre told me: “We hope our expectations will match the pundits' predictions. In a couple of weeks, the French voters will decided whether they want a left majority or not in the National Assembly after the victory of François Hollande three weeks ago.”

So how have French voters taken to Hollande’s new administration? Pierre stated:As the first steps of the government led by Jean-Marc Ayrault seem to get positive media coverage, we believe a victory for the socialists is possible. The stakes are high. We need to find the tools necessary to shift from austerity to growth. Even if François Hollande's debuts on the diplomatic level and the first public appearances of our new members of government brought fresh air, style and determination, we cannot depend on an artificial momentum. There is no time to rest!”

In a presidential system of government how important is it to also have a majority in the National Assembly. Pierre is in no doubt:We need an absolute socialist majority for if we need allies, we should, without arrogance, be able to count on our own in case there are hard decisions to make. By claiming so, we ask our voters to vote for us. But we have also decided to endorse candidates from the Green party so maybe, for the first time they will have a parliamentary group after the one they gained in the Senate last September.”

And what of the conservatives and Sarkozy’s supporters?

“The conservatives are very strongly divided and they have already started a violent fight between current UMP leader, Jean-François Copé and the former prime minister François Fillon. The quarrel goes from the leadership vacuum left by Sarkozy and the strategy towards the National Front. Copé claims he wants no deal with the National Front, but he and his friends use a NF like rhetoric,” warns Pierre.

“Most of all, the conservatives haven’t recover yet from their electoral hangover as they call for national unity and a new cohabitation. They consider the victory of the left as a danger, and the results of implementing our programme as catastrophe for the nation. It is weird to see a party, in power for ten years, kicked out from is by a clear vote, trying to keep its hooks in what they believe their property.”

Pierre has a clear message to those who supported Hollande on May 6. He stated: “We also use the scarecrow of cohabitation and the victory of the right to mobilize our voters. There won't be a mechanical effect just because on May 6 more than 51 per cent of the French voters chose François Hollande.”

The centre left fight back started in France on May 6 with the election of Hollande as the president. However it is clear that for socialists the job is only half done and the outcome of the June 17 parliamentary elections are vital. Let us hope for a Parti Socialiste victory and that French Canadian Axelle Lemaire will be London’s first French MP in Paris.

(Photo courtesy of Axelle Lemarie)

(The above article was publishing in the London Progressive Journal on June 6 2012).

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