After Presidential Defeat, French Parties Divided

Both the Republicans and Socialists are divided three ways. Many lawmakers do not even seek reelection.

The French Socialist Party's Benoît Hamon participates in a meeting, March 21
The French Socialist Party’s Benoît Hamon participates in a meeting, March 21 (Facebook)

Neither of France’s two major political parties was able to get their candidate into the second voting round of the presidential election last week. That failure, without precedent in the history of the Fifth Republic, has plunged them both into a deep crisis.

The situation is worst in the Socialist Party, which has lost the presidency and is almost certain to lose its majority in the National Assembly next month.

The party’s failed candidate, Benoît Hamon, has announced the start of a new left-wing “movement” despite winning just over 6 percent support in the first presidential voting round.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who placed fourth with 20 percent support, has called on Hamon to join him.

The two leftists failed to do a deal during the presidential contest. Two things have changed: Hamon may no longer feel he owes loyalty to a party that failed to unite behind him and Mélenchon has lost the backing of the French Communist Party. It is fielding candidates against his La France insoumise in the legislative elections in June, splitting the far-left vote.

Divisive Macron

Whether Hamon decides to ally with Mélenchon or not, he will also face competition from his former mentor, Martine Aubry.

The mayor of Lille, who took Hamon under her wing when she served as labor minister in the late 1990s, has teamed up with her Parisian counterpart, Anne Hidalgo, to launch another “movement”, this one aimed at creating a “European, ecological and social democracy.”

Aubry ran against François Hollande in the left-wing primary five years ago and emerged as one of his leading critics when the president converted to social democracy during the second half of his tenure.

For old-school leftists like Aubry, Hollande’s reforms, which made life a little easier for French businesses, were a betrayal. But for Socialists on the right of the party, the changes didn’t go far enough. They now want to work with Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister and incoming president, to reform labor laws that have kept unemployment at 10 percent throughout Hollande’s presidency.

They are in the minority. Most Socialists are interested in neither a pact with Macron nor Mélenchon. Their indecision could make them vulnerable: reform-minded voters may prefer a candidate from Macron’s En Marche! while left-wing purists could support an ally of Mélenchon’s.

Republican split

The right-wing Republicans are less vulnerable but nevertheless split three ways.

Moderates, who backed Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé in the primary, are ready to join Macron. Their leader is Bruno Le Maire, a former agriculture minister under Nicolas Sarkozy.

Social conservatives, who helped François Fillon prevail, saw many of their voters switch to Marine Le Pen in the runoff. They fear permanent defections to the National Front if the Republicans collaborate too closely with the proudly globalist Macron. Laurent Wauquiez is the loudest voice in this faction.

Then there are Republicans who call for opposition to Macron without compromising with the National Front. They are centered around François Baroin, a former finance minister. Like the Socialist centrists, they refusal to take sides could prove costly.

Dual office

Many veteran lawmakers aren’t even risking defeat. A new law has gone into effect this year that bars them from holding dual office. Better to hold onto a relatively safe mayoralty than face the possibility of losing both.

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