With the crucial second round of voting in France’s local elections just days away, The Local looks ahead, with the help of an expert in French politics, to what will happen. How well will the National Front do? How badly will it get for the left, and who will triumph in Paris?
We enlisted the help of Nonna Mayer, Research Director at the Centre of European Studies at Sciences Po in Paris to look at some of the key questions.
How well can we expect the National Front to do?
All talk after the first round of voting was about the historic gains made by the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen. The FN (Front National) as they are referred to, picked up five percent of the vote despite only putting forward candidates in around 600 of the 36,000 villages, towns and cities.
The far-right party already have one mayor elected in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont and they are hoping to beat their record of four back in the mid-1990s. The FN will compete in around 200 towns and cities in the second round. Le Pen and co’s success in the first round led to the Prime Minister and several others calling for a republican front to stop the FN taking over local councils. But Sciences Po’s Mayer believes those calls will fall flat.
“They can’t be stopped. It’s the first time the National Front have such an electoral dynamic in local elections,” she said. “French voters mobilized against them in 2002 when the National Front made it to the run-off in a presidential election but this is different.
“Voters are so tired of the economic situation and they have the feeling that the left and the right have been unable to find a solution. They will say: ‘After all, we have tried everything. Why don’t we try the National Front?
“They will probably get six cities and some big ones are in there. It’s going to be a very, very good election for the National Front.”
How bad will it be for the Socialists on Sunday?
If the National Front were seen as the big winners in the first round then naturally the losers were President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party, who along with their allies, only picked up 38 percent of the vote. Hollande told his ministers this week to “learn the lessons” from the poor showing in the first round, but the French public, who have long since fallen out of love with the President, might be ready to teach them another one on Sunday.
“Things were already bad. And they are going to be very, very bad in the run-off,” Mayer says. “The Socialists should have acknowledged the ‘punishment vote’ they received in the first round. Mayer blames Hollande’s tax policies and the Responsibility Pact that he signed with business leaders for voters being turned off.
The Socialists are predicted to lose key towns and cities like Strasbourg, Amiens and Caen that they won from the right in 2008. If they were given a bloody nose in the first round, the Socialists look set to get a heftier beating on Sunday.
What will the beating at the polls mean for Hollande’s government?
The question then is how will Hollande respond to an embarrassing defeat. Even before the local elections he was under pressure to reshuffle his government and in particular ditch his beleaguered Prime Minister, Jean Marc Ayrault, who appears to be about as popular as the President himself.
“I think he is going to have a reshuffle, but I don’t know who or how,” Mayer says. “But I can say even his prime minister didn’t have the proper reaction after the defeat. If they [Socialists] want to start again fresh then they need to reshuffle.”
If Ayrault does go, the man most likely to take his place is the current Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has remained popular in the eyes of the public, unlike his party leaders. But while making Valls Prime Minister would appease the public, it is unlikely to go down to well in the cabinet. There have already been rumours that Housing Minister Cecile Duflot will quit if Valls is made PM. No easy solution for Hollande then.