France held its departmental elections on the 22nd and 29th of March. The results, an overwhelming victory of the alliance between the centre and the right, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is a new sign of President Hollande’s unpopularity and the very probable defeat of the Socialist Party (PS) in the next presidential elections.
For those of you who might not be aware of it, France is divided in 101 departments, each of which is led by a council of elected officials. These officials were elected in the last two weeks in France, and in each department the party with the highest number of elected officials gets the presidency of the department and thus the right of leading the local policy for the next 5 years. The inner cities of Paris and Lyon do not vote, not being part of any department.
Regarding the results of the elections, the victorious camp is the coalition centre-right. This coalition composed of two centrist parties -MoDem and UDI- and of the right wing Party UMP, claimed victory over 67 departments, when the PS and its allies only hold 34 in their power. This means 26 departments went from left to right between 2010 and 2015, a quarter of France. The FN – extreme right party, to some extent similar to UKIP- did not gain any department, but has now more elected officials than it ever had.
These results can deeply explain and help to understand the political situation of France. Indeed, the historic defeat of the PS and its allies is a new sign that the policies put in place by the socialist government since 2012 are a failure and disapproved by the vast majority of the population. Even more, this is a personal affront to president Hollande, his department of Correze having voted in a wide majority for the UMP. The absence of alliances between the left-wing parties, especially the green party who chose to ally with the far left rather than the PS, and the division inside the PS itself, are also an explanation for this electoral rout. Indeed, the party leaders are divided between support for the government policies, and defiance. This has forced Prime Minister Valls to refuse to put his new reform to a vote in the parliament, knowing his own MPs wouldn’t back it up.
Concerning the right, this victory is just a step towards regaining power in 2017. The coalition has gained its first election, and quite massively. This has strengthened the will of its leaders to work together in the next elections, and for the first time this could also lead to a joint candidature in the presidential elections. In this prospect, UMP’s president Sarkozy can also enjoy the victory. No leader has emerged from this election, and no one seems to be able to resist his return, which is for now quite triumphant. In the optics of 2017, this is for him a first stone to built a coalition around him, to gain the support of enough leaders to make sure he is the candidate of the right.
Where does this election leave the FN then? Well this is hard to say. The fact that the party failed to secure the presidency of a department is certainly a defeat, especially considering they went very closely in the Vaucluse for example. However, the very numerous calls after the first round from defeated candidates to vote anyone but the FN has had an impact on the results and faked part of the election. The failure to win the presidency of a department cannot hide the fact that the FN in itself received a biggest share of the vote than the PS, and is now the second party of France. This is only half a satisfaction for FN’s leader Marine Le Pen, whose party was first in the last European elections.
The question often raised in local elections is of what national impact they have. Local elections, local impact is the argument raised by the government, thus promising not to change a thing in its disastrous policy that led the PS very near to implode. Valls agreed to a change of government if the ecologists, who gathered in total less than 2% of the votes, were to agree to join once again the government they keep on criticising and voting against in the assembly. But to me the fundamental lesson of this election is the following: the FN is here to last, is going to go on wining seats and defeating the PS in elections. The second round of 2017 might not be the usual PS-UMP, but a right-far right dual, that only happened once in history, in 2002. The Two-party system is dead, the PS made sure of it. This surge of the extreme right is worrying, especially considering many right wing voters would rather vote FN than PS after the disastrous last 3 years. My opinion is that the PS is digging its own grave, which will be completed in 2017 when Sarkozy is back in power and the FN has a big share of France’s MPs.