Upton-on-line: French Election Special Edition
Upton-on-line - Diaspora Edition
… all you need to know (for now) about the deuxième tour of the French presidential election
Going through the motions
Despite going through the motions of declaring that a dreadful crisis had been averted, Jacques Chirac’s massive 82% to 18% win over Jean-Marie Le Pen had to be one of the least suspenseful election outcomes in electoral history. The outcome was never in doubt. With only 16% in the first round, and no candidate from the entire centre, left, green or extreme left in the field, M Le Pen would have had to organise mass televised hypnosis or engineer breath-taking electoral fraud to get within reach of winning.
But if you had come from Mars and witnessed the mass street protests, soul-searching ruminations by disoriented intellectuals and calls to arms by guilt-stricken militants of the left, you would have thought this was a re-run of Berlin in 1932.
Of course it wasn’t. In the end, Le Pen barely moved the extreme right’s overall total. But there were plenty of people with the motivation to allege a crisis to cover their own disastrous miscalculations. Assorted politicians from the left pinned their hope on the highest possible turn out for Chirac so they could claim credit for his victory – something they started doing almost before the result was announced. They have been quick to portray the result (fairly) as a plebiscite on democracy, not M Chirac (who managed the lowest ever score for a sitting President in the first round).
A quick U-turn
Having set out six months ago pinning their hopes on knocking M Chirac out with Lionel Jospin and then arguing for a parliamentary majority to support him, the left is now inventing all sorts of ingenious reasons why a new cohabitation is just what the doctor ordered. An outgoing socialist minister Pierre Moscovici has argued that “a co-habitation in the next five year term with a president elected in these circumstances is a totally different matter”. Quite how is not clear to upton-on-line but the Green leader Noël Mamère has been commendably frank in arguing that a new cohabitation (for which read another lame duck term for Chirac) is justified so that a referendum can be held on changing the constitution to outlaw future cohabitations. (Somehow, if the electorate votes for a co-habitation it’s really voting not to have one!).
Needless to say, the right won’t have a bar of it. It’s working overtime to creating a Union for a Presidential Majority in the June parliamentary elections. (For anglophones, this new movement creates the rather hippapotomoid acronym, l’UMP). Centrists and market liberals are quickly being told to shape up and co-operate with the core RPR (Chirac’s party) or ship out and face electoral oblivion. The aim is to put up just one candidate for the right in each of the 577 seats. Surprise, surprise, the left is trying to do the same thing (although with about 8 parties to cope with that will be a bit of a challenge). As for Jospin’s gauche plurielle, basically plural is out and left is in (although “better left rather than more left” as nice M Fabius, the out-going finance minister puts it.
What are they all scared of?
In a word, the National Front and vote splitting. Because while it may have lost the presidential race, it sure has a platform from which to stage a recovery on the parliamentary scene (where it hasn’t at present a single seat). The right knows that, having crusaded for democracy, the Republic, liberty, equality and fraternity, it can’t possibly do deals with the a force so repugnant that M Chirac couldn’t even bring himself to appear on the same television debate. So they need as large a vote as is possible. The left knows that if it repeats the orgy of vote splitting pluralism it indulged in the presidential race, it will let the chiraquiens win without forcing them into a deal with Le Pen.
Under the rules of France’s exquisitely nuanced system (designed to give voters as many chances of correcting their mistakes as possible) the parliamentary elections also have two rounds. Any man and his dog can stand in the first round. And if anyone carries 50% plus one, they’re elected. But where that doesn’t occur there’s a second round in which candidates who scored more than 12.5% in the first round are allowed to try again – and this time, the winner is whoever gets the most votes. Calculations show that (on the basis of the presidential first round), Mr Le Pen’s forces are likely to beat the 12.5% threshold in over 300 of the 577 seats.
This would unleash the dreaded virus known as triangulaire in which a party like Mr Le Pen’s can be a spoiler and deny victory to others by splitting the vote. M Chirac lives in mortal fear of it – the left, officially outraged that such people are even allowed to stand for Parliament, secretly hopes for as much of it as possible – as long as vote splitting within its own camp don’t end up skewered on its own triangulation!
The short of it is that the battle has only begun. And Le Pen’s ability to cause further trouble should not be under-estimated. In some of his strongholds (the Mediterranean south in particular) he raked up impressive totals with a whopping 39.48% of the vote in the town of Marignane, not far from Marseilles. He also has a solid base in the communist heartlands of the industrial north. And he is a funny, dynamic campaigner. (His television ads, in upton-on-line’s view, easily outshone Chirac’s – they focussed on a family photo album showing snaps of him from the cradle to national notoriety via all sorts of folksy things like sailing boats and schmoozing with big names).
He is rather grumpy at present (having described the avalanche of spontaneous revulsion for him as akin to a totalitarian regime). But he is surely right when he grimly notes that the alliances of convenience that ganged up to give M Chirac his 82% won’t last. No-one is looking forward more maliciously to the parliamentary elections than M Le Pen.
Finally, the quirkiest theory on Le Pen. Scientists at France’s nuclear sciences institute noticed that electoral maps showing the strongest support for Le Pen (in the north, east and south-east) correlate remarkably with maps showing the distribution of radioactive fallout over France from Chernobyl. The correspondence is quite uncanny. So perhaps it’s all a matter of too many nasty isotopes in the turnips? Who knows? But the French don’t seem to have lost their sense of humour over it all.