Following the French presidential elections, which returned centre-left Parti Socialiste candidate Francois Hollande, the French legislative elections will take place on 10-17 June. These elections will elect 577 representatives into the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament.
These elections will decide whether Hollande’s victory over Sarkozy turns into a rout of the UMP. It will also be an important political staging post for the far left to agitate for a socialist alternative to austerity from right or left.
Generally, the party that wins the Presidency gets the majority in the National Assembly straight after. Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party is pulling out all the stops to prevent that from taking place. Leaving behind divisions which arose in the aftermath of defeat in the Presidential election, they are scaremongering about the profligacy of a Hollande presidency and warning that the middle classes will bear the brunt of the financial woes that a move away from strict austerity will bring about.
Also, in an attempt to steal votes from the resurgent far-right Front Nationale, the UMP is warning that Hollande will give immigrants free rein — part of their election pledge is to minimise the political rights of immigrants: to campaign against their having the right to vote in local elections, for example, which the PS has mooted.
The Front Nationale, having received 18% in the Presidential election and (arguably) succeeded in forcing Sarkozy to adopt many of their xenophobic, racist policies on Muslims, halal meat and immigration, is fielding candidates in 350 of the 577 constituencies in an attempt to make a comeback to the Assembly on the back of a programme of right-wing anti-Europe Keynesianism and racism.
With all the left-wing rhetoric of the Presidential campaign, you might expect the PS to be fighting the legislative elections with a robust defence of their most leftwing policy. But in fact they are placing the accent on an orderly handover and the need for the PS to get a majority in the assembly “to allow the President to govern”.
Hollande’s first major engagement will be a meeting of European heads of state on 23 May to discuss the economic crisis — both the beleaguered German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the money markets will put pressure on Hollande to firm up his public commitment to austerity and eliminating the fiscal deficit. It is unlikely that Hollande, keen to present an image of continuity and stability to the world markets, will resist this pressure.
The far left — Lutte Ouvrière and the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) — is standing in these elections mainly to make propaganda against the right and also to lay down a political marker against Hollande’s likely course of implementing a “leftwing” version of austerity, starting with pension reform in the Autumn, and likely job cuts in the public sector.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-reformist Left Front, mainly composed of Communist Party activists but also leftwing PS members who split in 2009, is tipped to get 10% of the vote, and enter the Assembly with around 19 deputies (of whom 16 are likely to the Communist Party members). Some of the left have responded to the relative success of Mélenchon and the Left Front with euphoria. While it will be good, by and large, for more-leftwing views to be represented in the Assembly, the character of those leftwing views matters — and the limited politics of the Left Front reduce the good their deputies will do to French politics.
And in place of triumphalism, it would be useful to reflect on 1981, when the PS allowed Communist Party deputies to form a joint government with them under Mitterrand. Far from allowing far-left ideas into the mainstream, the result of that collaboration was a breakdown in support for the Communist Party and Mitterrand’s PS soon turning to “austerity”.