To many people, May 15th 2012 has become a token in the history of the French Left Wing. Close to seventeen years after François Mitterrand handed over the presidency to Jacques Chirac, another socialist was able to claim the head of the State. François Hollande, elected on the sixth of May, was sworn in as president at the Palais de l’Elysée 9 days later.
Twice in fifty-four years of the Fifth Republic, the Presidency fell to a socialist. Despite this success, François Hollande is going to need parliamentary majority in the next legislative elections on the 10th and 17th of June in order to carry out his policies for the next five years. Let us examine what is at stake in those elections.
In theory, the President’s clout is relatively broad: he nominates the Prime Minister (the head of the government), who is charged with putting together a cabinet of ministers, as well as signing decrees, orders, and law enactments. It is also he who accredits ambassadors, arranges referenda on public interest matters, and exercises prerogative of mercy.
Presidential power is nevertheless limited. In fact, the “President de la République” must comply with a government that originates from the result of the legislative elections. Indeed, the Prime Minister stems from the majority party at the “Assemblée Nationale”. The president still has the possibility to dissolve the National Assembly (refer to Jacques Chirac’s unfortunate decision in 1997), which would induce an anticipated legislative vote in order to recompose this chamber. The majority party deducted from the elections dictates the political origin of the Prime Minister to the President. If the former happened to be from an opposition party, this would result in a state of Cohabitation. Such a situation could interfere considerably with the President’s authority, due to a high level of friction between him and his government (Prime Minister and Council of Ministers).
The Presidential elections in 2012 have revealed quite a fragmented political landscape: in the first round, François Hollande’s Parti Socialiste obtained 28.8% of the votes against Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), with 26.1%. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National won 18.5%, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Front de Gauche got 11.7%, and François Bayrou’s MoDem 8.8%. Despite a forecasted 10% before the elections, Marine Le Pen’s success surprised many, which is evidence of an even more segmented public opinion.
According to the last Institut Français d’Opinion Publique (IFOP) forecast from May 25th, the Parti Socialiste would earn a tight win on UMP (31% to 30%), while Le Front National should maintain its presidential result around 18%. Facing such a wall of right votes, the Parti Socialiste could be enticed to concede room to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, in order to strengthen la Gauche at the National Assembly.
However, Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat crystallized tensions within the UMP. Jean-François Copé, who has been ruling the party since November 2010, is being contested by former Prime Minister François Fillon. While the ‘War of the Chiefs’ storms at UMP, other political figures from right-centered tendencies (Jean-Louis Borloo’s Parti Radical and Hervé Morin’s Nouveau Centre) fight as well to claim the UMP’s head.
On the other hand, the Front National does not have interest in allying with UMP. This third party in France could well obtain seats at the National Assembly (for the first time since 1986) if it divides in order to conquer. According to the electoral legislation, it could maintain its position at the second round in every area where it obtains a minimum of 12.5% of the votes in the first round. Unconsciously in French people’s minds, the Front National gradually takes position as a credible opposition party to the Parti Socialiste. “Bleu Marine” is thus likely to be playing the political pivots in the upcoming elections, easing La Gauche’s victory.
These 2012 legislative French elections therefore exhibit crucial stakes for the President Hollande and his government; especially avoiding cohabitation. The majority that will emerge from the vote will set the pace for the next five years to come. If the forecasts are correct, this is to become not only an historical moment for the French Left-Wing but for all of French politics. Indeed, the Parti Socialiste secured numerous electoral victories at the local scale since 2007, until it conquered the other chamber of the Parliament – the Senate – for the first time in history in September 2011. A victory in these legislative would give François Hollande and his party the maximum amount of power available to a President for the many challenges to come.
– Jules Henri-Morel