Monthly Archives: June 2012

Election Preview: Mexico 2012 – There’s more to Mexico than sunny beaches

Federal general elections will be held in Mexico on July 1, 2012. Alongside the President of Mexico, the entirety of both houses of the General Congress will be up for election. Seven states will hold gubernatorial and local legislative elections simultaneously; another six states will be holding municipal and local legislative on the same day.

Quirks of Mexico’s Political System

The President of Mexico is elected by popular vote to a six-year term. The Mexican constitution of 1917 is largely modeled on the American constitution, thus the Mexican President has powers comparable to that of the American President. This has been the case since 1997 or 2000, when political reforms and a sea-change in the nature of Mexican politics rendered the President less hegemonic vis-à-vis Congress and other federal and state institutions.

One of the main principles of Mexican politics, inherited from the Mexican Revolution and enshrined in the 1917 constitution, is that of no reelection (no reelección), which prevents the President of Mexico from succeeding himself. The President may not even serve non-consecutive terms. There have been some major proposals to allow for presidential reelection, but by and large, the Mexican political class holds this principle as a sacrosanct one.

The second peculiarity of the Mexican presidency is that the president is elected by first-past-the-post, with no runoffs. In the 2006 election, the winning candidate won with only 35% of the vote, and the contested and feeble nature of this mandate has led to numerous proposals to switch to a system of runoff voting, though bills to change the electoral system in this regard have not been successful to date.

The General Congress of Mexico is composed of two houses: the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Senate (Senado). Both houses, which are directly elected, are equal in their legislative capacities. The principle of no reelection does not only apply to the President in Mexico: deputies and Senators may not seek immediate reelection, meaning that every legislature is entirely renewed compared to the last.

The Chamber of Deputies has 500 members elected for a three-year term. 300 of these members are ‘majority representatives’ elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies. The other 200 members are elected by party-list proportional representation in five super-constituencies which elect 40 members each. Since 1996, there is a rule which places a limit on the size of the majority a party can win: a party cannot get more seats than 8% above its popular vote (hence, a party can win an absolute majority with 42% of the vote) and it can win no more than 300 seats in the Chamber even if it has won over 52% of the vote. One of the Chamber’s main exclusive prerogatives is examining, reviewing and approving the federal revenue and budget.

The Senate has 128 members elected for a six-year term. 96 Senators are elected to represent Mexico’s 31 states and theFederal District, with each state and the DF returning three senators each. 64 of these senators – or two of the three seats in each state – are awarded to the party or coalition which has won the most votes in the state. The remaining 32 seats – the last seat out of the three seats in each state – are given to the party which has placed second in the state. An additional 32 Senators are elected by proportional representation. The Senate has some exclusive powers over foreign policy and diplomacy, and it also has a special responsibility as an agent of oversight on the executive.

Mexican Political History

The dominance of a single party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), for 71 years between 1929 and 2000 has left a profound mark on Mexican politics and has contributed, in large part, to shaping the Mexican party system and forming Mexican political traditions.

Mexico stands out in the post-Revolution era from other Latin American countries for its remarkable political or at least institutional stability in the hands of a single party. Unlike in other Latin American countries whose political history in the past hundred years have been marked by a succession of military coups, authoritarian military regimes, unstable democratic experiments and the general absence of a solid and stable party system, Mexico’s political history since the Revolution has been marked by a remarkable  balance of power between civilians and the military, an absence of military coups against the established political order and the general lack of strong personalist leaders.

The PRI was founded in 1929 by President Plutarco Elías Calles (as the PRN, it became the PRM in 1938 and took its present name in 1946) as a means of entrenching the political power and dominance of the revolutionary elites and ‘institutionalizing’ the goals of the Revolution. What these revolutionary goals were in practice is another matter, given the complex web of factions which fought in the Revolution and the different interpretations of the Revolution’s actual goal. However, the Revolution’s general goal could be described as nationalist, anti-clerical and vaguely leftist (in a non-Marxist and probably non-socialist way). But assigning an ideology to the PRI, at any time in its history, is almost certainly a terrible idea. The PRI was born and remains a party of power, following an eclectic, opportunistic and pragmatic approach to governance and politics. The PRI has tended more to the left than to the right, and it is a member of the Socialist International, but the descriptors left or right do not do justice for a party of power such as the PRI.

The PRI must be understood first and foremost as a hegemonic all-encompassing political machine which, between 1929 and 2000, was interchangeable with the state. The PRI entrenched its political dominance of the country by playing the carrot and the stick, shrewdly balancing repression with concessions and enticements of various sorts to potential rivals and opponents. It built up its remarkable dominance through a corporatist alliance composed largely of the industrial working-class and the rural peasantry. But to cement its dominance, the PRI knew how to placate both sectors without conceding too much but also how to play both of them against one another, preventing an alliance between the urban worker and the rural peasant which, in Latin America, usually threatened the established ruling order. From this system, Mexico has retained a corporatist union structure, with unions historically tied to the PRI and historically dependent on it.

Politically, the PRI was a state-party like few if any other political parties in Latin America. Most parties in Latin Americahave tended to be the personal vehicles of a caudillo-politician or at best a small group of powerful personalities, which are shaped and driven by with their leaders and usually live and die with them. The PRI as an all-encompassing, hegemonic but non-personalist political party is thus quite unique inLatin America. The PRI has certainly had its powerful personalities, but the PRI cannot be said to have been shaped and driven by a particular one of these personalities.

Between 1929 and 1988, Mexico was practically a single-party state. But not quite: the PRI allowed for a semblance of democracy and electoral competition and did not ban outright all opposition parties. In practice, however, with its control of the state apparatus at all levels and through use of vote rigging, the PRI was the only relevant political force. It invariably controlled the presidency, held almost all seats in Congress, controlled all state governorships and governed almost all municipalities. The PRI paid lip service to democracy and turned federalism into a farce.

One of the things which set the PRI apart from all other political parties in Latin Americawas how it tended, as a party, to be above the change of leadership in the presidential palace. The President served his six-year term, and during this term he could count on the subservience and absolute loyalty of the entire PRI and its cohorts of elected officials. At the end of his term, the President, in conjunction with PRI bosses, handpicked his chosen successor (a process known as the dedazo) who went on to win the for-show-only election easily. It was then expected that the ex-President would bow out of politics and remain silent. Thus, the PRI proved above individuals who succeeded one another in power.

The PRI taken as a whole hardly had (or has) a solid, consistent ideology to speak of, but individual PRI presidents have shifted the pendulum from left to right and back again. In 1934, Calles placed a local governor, Lázaro Cárdenas, on the throne with the hopes of using him as his tool. Instead, Cárdenas turned out to become one of Mexico’s most well-known and popular leaders, in addition to being one of Mexico’s most left-wing rulers in its history. Cárdenas’ landmark measures – a major agrarian reform which distributed land to cooperative settlements and landless peasants, the nationalization of Mexican oil reserves and the creation of a public oil monopoly (Pemex) – turned him overnight into a nationalist and left-wing hero in Mexico.

But Cárdenas proved to be the exception rather than the rule for the PRI. His successors could be aptly described as conservative (if not reactionary) statist kleptocrats. The 1950s and 1960s were the PRI’s heyday. In these years, the import-substitution model allowed for the development of a strong domestic market, a growing economy, industrialization and social stability in the context of the all-encompassing priista leviathan. However, the first dents in the PRI’s machine were dealt in 1968, under the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. With the summer Olympics as a backdrop, the government faced major student protests, which it bloodily put down in the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.

The 1968 massacre could be considered as the first crack in a long and painful series of cracks which finally led to the crumbling of the PRI machine. His two successors – Luis Echevarría (the man behind Tlatelolco) and José López Portillo – could be considered as more or less left-leaning presidents, but in large part they continued the priista tradition of corruption, graft, patronage, wasteful binge spending and clumsy statist economic policies (fixed exchange rate, subsidies on food, state-owned monopolies, inflationary fiscal policies). All this meant that the Mexican economy would be quickly beset by a series of problems: rising inflation, ballooning deficits, a balance of payments deficit, shortfalls in the output of basic foodstuffs, an overvalued exchange rate (which the government was forced to devalue in 1976) and an economic dependence on oil. A mini-oil boom under López Portillo allowed for an artificial survival until 1982, when the economy collapsed under the weight of rising inflation, falling oil prices and high interests.

1982 marked a turning point for the PRI, which started turning away from its statist traditions and embraced economic liberalism (of sorts). In 1982, López Portillo was succeeded by an Harvard-trained technocrat, Miguel de la Madrid, who immediately implemented austerity measures (strings attached to an IMF bailout) and a program of economic liberalization (privatizations, knocking down old tariff walls). These policies did not succeed in getting Mexico out of the ditch; in fact they created a deep recession and burgeoning social discontent (albeit not on a mass scale).

In their use of the dedazo, successive PRI presidents had usually been careful in allowing the balance to swing back and forth between the PRI’s left and right, as to not alienate any particular constituency. However, in 1988, de la Madrid’s pick of Carlos Salinas, another unpopular right-wing technocrat, led to the first major crack in the PRI coalition and signaled the beginning of the end for the priista machine.

In the past, the PRI’s main also-ran partisan rival had been the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), a small right-wing and fairly clerical party which had been kicking since 1939, obviously without success. In the 1988 election, the PRI now faced serious competition to its left, in the person of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of Lázaro Cárdenas and the leader of the PRI’s left. Cárdenas ran an exceptionally strong campaign to the PRI’s left, posing the first real threat to the PRI’s hegemony over Mexican politics.

Ultimately, Salinaswon the 1988 election, though perhaps only because the government’s computer system used to count the votes mysteriously broke down (se cayó el sistema) and shockingly proclaimed the PRI candidate as the winner when it reopened.Salinas continued his predecessor’s policy of liberalization, with an aggressive privatization policy which lined the pockets of his friends, but most notably with Mexico’s integration into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992.

Salinaswas succeeded by Ernesto Zedillo, a more centrist figure, in 1994. Zedillo immediately faced a major economic collapse as investors fled the country, fearful of an overvalued peso. The new government was forced to devalue the peso and seek the United States’ financial assistance. At the same time, the country faced growing unrest. In January 1994, an uprising in the poor southern state of Chiapasled by Zapatistas shook the country’s stability (though the EZLN never threatened the government’s stability) and drug cartel violence in the north of the country became more preeminent.

Zedillo sped up and completed the slow democratization of the country. He created an electoral commission and electoral tribunal independent from the state (PRI) apparatus, a ground-breaking move which led to the PRI’s slow demise. In the 1997 midterm elections, the PRI lost its absolute majority in Congress. Ahead of the 2000 presidential election, Zedillo and the PRI did away with the dedazo and created an open primary contest between four candidates.

The 2000 election ushered in one of the most important political realignments in Mexican history. For the first time since its creation, the PRI lost the presidency to another party. The victor was Vicente Fox of the right-wing PAN. Fox’ election was accompanied by a wave of enthusiasm and optimism at home and abroad, hoping that the political sea change would lead to major changes and reforms in Mexico and finally assert Mexico as a twenty-first century liberal democracy.

Fox proved to be a fairly popular and mildly successful president, but his sexenio was not the success that he and others had hoped it would be. Economic growth during his six-year term was fairly slow, worn down by Chinese competition after Mexico joined the WTO. Mexicans faced the tough realities of democratic pluralism. The PAN’s efforts at reforms were held back, in part, by a divided Congress (the PAN, unlike the PRI between 1929 and 1997, lacked an absolute majority) and more powerful state governors who affirmed their power and influence.

In 2006, political cards were shifted around one more time. In the PAN primaries, it was an ‘old-timer’ (historic members of the party, as opposed to people like Fox who are more recent members), Felipe Calderón, who came out on top over Fox’s protégé, Santiago Creel. The PRI chose the worst candidate it possibly could: the unpopular party boss, Roberto Madrazo, who was despised by half the party (most significantly the very powerful boss of the teachers’ union) and a lot of voters. Madrazo’s campaign, never strong to begin with, collapsed into a distant third place as a lot of regional PRI bosses, most of whom loathed Madrazo, supported one of the other candidates: the PAN’s Calderón or the candidate of the left-wing PRD, Mexico Citymayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

The 2006 election was extremely polarized between clear ideological opposites, left and right. AMLO led a rabble-rousing populist, nationalist and staunchly left-wing campaign which won him comparisons toBolivia’s Evo Morales andVenezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Some of his proposals worried Mexican middle-classes, but AMLO, a remarkable ‘messianic’ politician, carried a strong appeal to a lot of poorer, downtrodden voters in southern and central Mexico.

The result was extremely narrow: Calderón won with 35.9% in the end, but AMLO trailed him by a very tight margin, with 35.3% (Madrazo won 22.3%). AMLO subsequently refused to endorse the legitimacy of the election and took to calling himself the ‘legitimate’ president and blocked a major artery in Mexico Citywith humongous protests after the election. AMLO’s attitude after the election proved quite controversial and ended up being a political liability for him. His refusal to recognize what was deemed by all to be a fair election and the legitimacy of institutions scared off a lot of more middle-class voters, and his shenanigans eventually cost him a lot of public support and seriously weakened him.

Calderón’s sexenio will most likely be remembered for the war against the drug cartels, which has claimed upwards of 55,000 lives in 6 years and given Mexico (somewhat unfairly) a bad rap as a lawless war zone. Drug cartels are nothing new in Mexico, and lawlessness in certain parts of the country is not a recent development either. What is new is the dramatic increase in the murder rate in Mexico, which has nearly doubled under Calderón’s presidency; and the use of kidnappings, hangings, beheadings and mutilations of bodies by drug lords. Calderón, in part as a political ploy to give his presidency legitimacy after the 2006 election, deployed the army and declared all-out war on drug lords, the drug cartels and the drug trafficking empire in general. Crowned by some successes at first, Calderón’s war on drugs has grown increasingly unpopular. Voters are wary of bloodshed, they distrust the army and police (both institutions are somewhat corrupt and in parts infiltrated by the cartels, but the idea that the army and police are in cahoots with the cartels is a foreign fantasy) while the drug lords do not fear the army. Calderón’s efforts are, arguably, laudable and courageous, but he was attacking a problem which is way above the state’s head with limited means. The drug trafficking and the drug trade cannot, realistically, be eliminated. The drug cartels and the turf wars between cartels, similarly, are probably too big for the government to eliminate completely.

It must also be pointed out that there are wide regional disparities in the impact of the drug war in Mexico. The situation in the country as a whole is not quite as dramatic as foreign media would have us think: the country as a whole is not a huge war zone, and Mexico’s homicide rate is not (by any stretch) the highest in the world (Brazil and South Africahave higher homicide rates). The northern states, specifically Chihuahua and the border town of Ciudad Juárez, are lawless war zones with some of the highest homicide rates in the world. On the other hand, Mexico City and most of the south of the country and the Yucatan have been spared the worst of the violence and criminality.

Mexico’s economic outlook is not that bad when compared to some Eurozone countries, but there is frustration about the slow pace of economic growth since the 2009 recession and high levels of unemployment. Mexico’s economic growth recently slowed down to about 3.5% or so, and predictions portend similarly slow growth in the next few years.

Mexico faces a great many challenges, besides the drug cartel crisis and the international issues of economic growth and jobs. One of the key issues concerns the future of energy and the oil industry in Mexico, which remains in the hands of Pemex, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly.  Pemex, through the royalties and taxes it pays to the federal government, is a major source of revenue for the government. However, these outflows of revenue have left Pemex saddled in heaps and heaps of debt, hence making it unable to invest in new technologies and further exploration (to speak nothing of the corruption in Pemex). Added to Pemex’s woes is the fact that Mexican oil production has declined quite dramatically in recent years, which in the long run could threaten to turn Mexico into an energy importer.

Pemex remains something of a sacred cow in Mexican politics, with a lot of constituencies in the PRD and PRI holding out attachment to Pemex as a public monopoly. However, the question of private investment in Pemex has become a major and pressing political issue. Calderón and Fox both tried and failed to make significant reforms in Pemex, blocked by the PRD and/or the PRI’s congressional opposition. Calderón was able to push through a mini-reform, which allows Pemex to hire private and foreign firms to explore and produce, but private investment remains forbidden.

Education is another key question in Mexican politics. The public education system in Mexico is largely acknowledged to be a complete and utter mess, in large part because of the muscle and influence of the main teachers’ union, the SNTE, a corrupt but extremely powerful union led by La Maestra – Elba Esther Gordillo. Most of the state spending on education goes towards paying teacher salaries – a lot of those salaries are paid, in reality, to union officials and their friends who aren’t teachers but still receive a teachers’ salary without working. Successive governments, most recently Calderón, have tried to put in place some quality measurements for teachers to help fix the problem, but in almost all cases they have found their efforts frustrated by the SNTE and forced to maintain a status-quo viciously defended by the SNTE and La Maestra.

The SNTE, formerly one of the unions allied to the PRI in the old corporatist structure, has deep political influence. It now controls a little political party and a wider caucus of congressmen are close to La Maestra. Politicians and presidents know better than to cross La Maestra (who holds grudges), preferring instead to keep her on their side and prevent a confrontation. The SNTE thus has the power to block almost all major attempts at education reform in Mexico.

The Mexican party system

The PAN is pretty clearly a right-wing, conservative party, especially in the Mexican context. The PAN is not really a clerical or religious party, though it has a clerical history and that tradition probably informs, in part, the PAN’s staunch social conservatism. In economic terms, while the PAN does have certain liberal leanings, certainly more than the two other parties, true-blue economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) is hard to find in Mexican politics. The PAN still has some Christian left influences which leads the party to have some sympathies towards more interventionist economic policies. In a way, the PAN could be described as being slightly Gaullist or Peronist in its attitude towards economic interventionism.

The PRI, now as in the past, cannot really be placed consistently at any point along the ideological spectrum. It is particularly amusing to see the foreign media’s attempts at assigning ideological labels to the PRI: some have described it as centre-right, others as centre-left, some as ‘pro-business’ and others as left-wing. The PRI’s political orientation, deep down, has not really changed since 2000. Its first goal remains political power, and to win it, the PRI is a master at pragmatism, opportunism, equivocation and speaking in platitudes. One could say that the PRI’s right-wing neoliberal phase of the 1980s and 1990s is definitely history, because the ‘technocrats’ and business have (in part) decamped to the PAN (as some had started doing by the 1970s), but the PRI still remains a fairly pro-business party (and its relations with business leaders are still quite good). If one insists on a label, I guess ‘centre-left’ might be the least worst guess, but assigning an ideology to the PRI is a foolish idea.

Mexico’s ‘third’ major party is the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD). The PRD was founded in 1989 by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (and others), the left-wing candidate in the 1988 presidential election. As a party, the PRD was an alliance of two factions. On the one hand, the priista left, whose ranks included Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas but also Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO); and the other hand a handful of small old left-wing parties (including the Communist Party) which sacrificed their electoral registration to the PRD. Between 1988 and 2006, the main figure of the PRD remained Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1994 and 2000 (winning 16.5% both years, placing third).

Internal divisions and power squabbles heightened after the 2006 election, with a fair number of the PRD’s cadres eventually disapproving of AMLO’s antics. The PRD was increasingly divided between pro and anti-lopezobradorista factions. The latter faction, led by Jesús Ortega, eventually won a very bloody and acrimonious internal contest in 2008. More recently, the most important schism of sorts within the PRD has been between AMLO and Marcelo Ebrard, the outgoing mayor of Mexico City who succeeded AMLO as mayor in 2006. Ebrard was fairly neutral or pro-AMLO in the 2008 battle, but, benefiting from his popularity in Mexico City, he has emerged as a major rival to AMLO’s leadership of the PRD. The two men represent two different visions of the PRD. AMLO remains an old style Latin American leftist, with nationalist and left-populist close to that of Morales or Chávez. Ebrard, on the other hand, certainly gives the image of a more ‘modern’ left-wing leader, more social democratic or at least closer to the ‘moderate’ leftists ofSouth America: Dilma, Lula or Cristina Kirchner. On social issues such as gay marriage or abortion, AMLO remains closer to the traditional social conservatism of Mexican politics on those issues while Ebrard is socially liberal – he legalized gay marriage in the DF as mayor.

There are four other registered political parties – three of which are basically affiliated with larger parties. Parties must win over 2% of the vote in an election to maintain their registration or else they lose all their registration (but they may reregister) and the financial advantages that come with it. Therefore, while small parties are useful commodities, they are tough to maintain so there is a very big incentive for the small parties to ally quasi-eternally with one of the big three in order to be kept on life support, vitam aeternam.

The only fairly independent minor party is the New Alliance (Nueva Alianza, PANAL), founded in 2005. PANAL is hard to define or pin down ideologically. On the one hand, it certainly does give the impression (superficially?) of being a centre-right liberal party, which is both liberal on social/moral issues (abortion, gay rights, drug legalization – which are all quite out of sync with the overwhelming social conservatism of Mexican politics) and on economic issues (favouring private investment in Pemex and energy). But on the other hand, the party was basically created in 2005 by La Maestra herself after her very public break with Madrazo and the PRI, and in the 2006 election she used PANAL as a front for her campaign of destruction against Madrazo. PANAL appears to have a liberal front, but in the shadows it seems like it is nothing more than a personal vehicle for La Maestra and the SNTE’s various vendettas against the politicians who have dared cross La Maestra.

The Mexican Greens (Partido Verde Ecologista de México, PVEM) are a bit of an oddball party. At the crux of it all, the PVEM is not a green party – it is a family business. The PVEM was founded in 1986 by Jorge González Torres, a former priista and a wealthy businessman. In 2001, he was succeeded by his son, Jorge Emilio González Martínez (el niño verde). The PVEM doesn’t seem to actually care about the environment or such matters, an attitude which, combined with its conservatism (it supports the death penalty), has won it the enmity of international green organizations (the Global Greens). The PVEM has also gotten mixed up in a few corruption scandals. Most significantly, el niño verde was shown being bribed by a developer in Cancún (a major tourist resort on the Riviera Maya). In 2000, the PVEM allied with the PAN, but it broke this alliance in 2003 and since then it has been a fairly loyal ally of the PRI (to the point where, 9 years later, the PVEM is indistinguishable from the PRI).

The two other small parties – the Labour Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT) and the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC) – are similarly so closely connected to the PRD that they are, in everyday practice, basically indistinguishable from the PRD. I don’t know much about both parties in detail. The PT appears to be a fairly far-left party, probably to the PRD’s left, while the MC – the old Convergencia – appears to be more social democratic. In almost all cases, the PT and MC are fairly solid allies of the PRD. In the 2008-2009 PRD civil war, both the PT and Convergencia were solidly lopezobradorista and AMLO backed PT and Convergencia candidates in the 2009 midterm elections.

The 2012 Election

The 2012 presidential contest is, after all, not that interesting. Unlike the very closely disputed and polarized 2006 election and the protracted mess which ensued, this year’s presidential election is almost won in advance.

Ken Barbie or Mexico’s JFK? (source: Zimbio)

The frontrunner, who has led in basically every poll for over a year, is the priista candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. After the priista rout in the 2006 election, Peña Nieto, the young and handsome governor of the state of México (Edomex, the most populated state in the country after the DF) between 2005 and 2011, became the figure of the PRI’s reconstruction. Peña Nieto is a wealthy career politician, whose father was a PRI stalwart for years and whose uncle was his predecessor as governor (Arturo Montiel, the leader of the anti-Madrazo faction in 2006). He does not appear to be a particularly talented politician and he has often been dismissed as an intellectual lightweight (but Mexican politicians have rarely been the sharpest knives), but he has proven to be a very successful campaigner and something of a Teflon politician.

Some people have compared him to Ken Barbie. In a way, I find that this is a fitting portrayal of Peña Nieto. In terms of personality, Peña Nieto is a fairly young, handsome and charismatic man with a womanizer macho style which isn’t entirely a disadvantage in Mexico. His first wife died in 2007 – he had already been cheating on her and fathered two children out of wedlock – but he married Angélica Rivera, a popular soap opera star in a flashy prince-and-princess Disney wedding in 2010. Mexico doesn’t have royalty, but its politicians often act as pop royalty. In this way, Peña Nieto has been something of a pop star since 2005 and the political impact of his good looks should not be laughed off.

His whole political career, including his tenure as Governor of Edomex, has been carefully staged and managed. In fact, nobody really knows who he is as a politician or statesman. His record in Edomex seems to be mixed, neither a disaster nor a great success; and how successful his tenure was is clouded by the fact that he has the media behemoth Televisa in his pocket and shockingly receives rave reviews and heaps of praise in Televisa’s political reporting. A good part of his governorship was spent performing staged photo-ops and fulfilling micro-promises (building a road here, doing something else there). At any rate, his chosen successor as governor in Edomex won a landslide in the state elections last year.

Peña Nieto faces three other rivals. The PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, is the first woman candidate for a major party in Mexico. She is not very well known when compared to her two major opponents. A PAN parliamentarian, she served as Secretary of Education between 2006 and 2009 under Calderón. Her confrontation with La Maestra and the SNTE probably cost her that job. Vázquez Mota won the PAN primary on February 5, taking 53% of the vote against 39% for Ernesto Cordero, the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit, backed by President Calderón and only 6% for Santiago Creel.

A retread from 2006, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – AMLO – is running for a second time for the PRD. The PRD’s nomination – which was decided by a series of opinion polls commissioned by the party – was closely disputed between Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City and the unofficial leader of the PRD’s more social democratic/social liberal factions, and AMLO. In the end, AMLO came out ahead of Ebrard, who graciously accepted his defeat. It may be that Ebrard is looking ahead to the next elections, in 2018, and understood that AMLO would probably have run any way (with the PT and MC) if he didn’t get the PRD’s nomination.

AMLO has expressed regrets for his post-electoral shenanigans six years ago, and has attempted to reinvent himself as a more moderate, centrist and consensual figure (he has said that he would not raise taxes or scrap existing private oil contracts). But despite attempts at rebranding himself, AMLO remains a controversial and polarizing love-or-hate figure. Critics contend that AMLO and his version of the Mexican left remain far too mired in the old nationalism and statism of the 1970s and have been unable to present themselves as an acceptable option for middle-class voters.

The fourth candidate is Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, an economist and environmentalist who was drafted by PANAL after the party broke off a short-lived alliance with the PRI. Quadri is running a right-wing campaign (by Mexican standards), proposing to privatize 49% of Pemex and favouring a trade deal withChina. On social issues – drugs, gay rights, abortion – he is very liberal (and left-wing) by Mexican standards, but economic matters usually trump moral questions in Mexican politics. I’m not sure what La Maestra is doing with him, or what she has planned, but it is quite possible that she, as always, is using Quadri’s liberal image as a vote-winning front to allow PANAL to keep its registration.

Peña Nieto might be an intellectual lightweight and a mediocre politician, but the reality is that he will likely win on July 1 by a comfortable margin. In part, the PRI’s resurgence after the 2006 rout speaks volumes about the weakness of the PAN and the PRD.

Vázquez Mota is a weak candidate and she ran a very poor campaign, hesitating between emphasizing the incumbent government’s successes or attempting to define herself as somehow different from her own party. She has chosen to emphasize herself as ‘different’ – in fact she made that word her campaign slogan – but it has not really worked. She is a fairly low-caliber candidate, and she doesn’t really stack up to charismatic giants like AMLO and Peña Nieto. The incumbent government and President Calderón are not extremely unpopular, but there is a general fatigue with the PAN after twelve years of rather uninspiring governance which failed to live up to the great hopes which accompanied the PAN’s original victory in 2000. The drug cartel war has claimed lots of lives and Mexicans are tired of so much bloodshed. Jobs are hard to come by and the economy remains fairly weak. There has not been a lot of progress in rooting out corruption since 2000. A lot of voters think the country is on the wrong track, and they are tired with PAN.

Vázquez Mota being forced to define herself as ‘different’ than her predecessors highlights the nature of the climate which the PAN faces this year. She has attempted to run as something of an anti-PRI candidate, both against Peña Nieto but also AMLO who is a former priista himself.

On the other hand, AMLO’s problem is not that he is a low caliber candidate or anything of that kind. He is a very strong campaigner and a charismatic – a lot have described him as messianic – rabble-rouser. His problem is that, despite a very strong base of support, he remains a controversial and polarizing figure with high negative ratings. His supporters would argue that AMLO is a forceful spokesperson for Mexico’s marginalized impoverished masses and a powerful opponent of the ‘neoliberal order’. His opponents would argue that AMLO is a dangerous radical, a sore loser who has little respect for democratic institutions and probably a grubby power-hungry leader. AMLO is a former priista and he is certainly not immune from using the PRI’s old tactics and for a lot of his critics, his real goal is the recreation of the PRI’s old semi-authoritarian political machine. After all, one of AMLO’s main allies and a PRD candidate for Senate this year is Manuel Bartlett, the former priista interior secretary who was behind the famous se cayó el sistema in the 1988 election.

AMLO is a love-hate figure, regardless of his slightly goofy attempts at a ‘peace ‘n love’ rebranding this year. Even though AMLO ran a strong campaign and his likely second-place finish will show how he has been able to lift the PRD back out of the abyss it was in back in 2009, I would contend that AMLO is probably unelectable in the wider realm of things. Even faced with the potential return of the priista dinosaurs, a lot of panistas will never vote for AMLO even as a devil you know or least worst option.

Faced with a PRI resurgence in a lot of state elections in 2009, 2010 and 2011; the PAN and PRD – ideological opposites – allied against the PRI in a lot of state elections and, in a few places, its alliances were pretty successful. Such an alliance at the top level would have been much more difficult, but it would have been the only way to stop the PRI. Marcelo Ebrard, despite a social liberalism which could cause the PAN’s Catholics to run away, would probably have been able to give Peña Nieto a race for his money. Ebrard is viewed by PAN voters as an acceptable anti-priista option, and if he had been nominated over AMLO, it is quite possible that a lot of panistas would have voted strategically for him to stop the PRI, even in the absence of a formal PAN-PRD deal.

But it would unfair to style the PRI’s likely victory as a win-by-default. Peña Nieto must certainly have done something correctly. As mentioned above, his image and personality works in his favour. He has good looks, a pop star wife and he is charismatic. His image has been carefully groomed and managed, and he has – with two exceptions – avoided major faux-pas. He ran into trouble only back in December at a book fair in Guadalajara (where he could not cite three books which had had the biggest influence on him), a PR disaster worsened by a tweet from his 15-year old daughter who branded those who criticized her father as jealous proletarian idiots; and more recently in May at a university in Mexico City when he was heckled by anti-PRI student (whom he branded as lopezobradorista left-wing stooges). Otherwise, he has been a great Ken Barbie candidate – image perfect, clean and brushed up.

His campaign has certainly not been big on the details of what he would do as President, meaning that we’re probably no closer to knowing what a Peña Nieto presidency would be like than we were six months ago. He has run on platitudes, vague catch phrases and open-ended promises. His main creed is an “efficient state”, which can mean just about anything. He has proposed a few things like a tax reform, mini political reforms to increase presidential powers, or universal social security. He would not do a full 360 from Calderón’s drug policy, but he would likely soften it a bit and shift gears to focus on reducing violence and kidnappings while being more lenient on drug cartel civil wars and the drug trade. He has, however, shown himself surprisingly keen on a major energy reform which would open Pemex to competition and partial private investment (in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals).

The very high chance of a priista return to Los Pinos 12 years after its 71-year stranglehold on power ended has sparked major concerns and fears about the vitality of Mexican democracy in the future. A lot see Peña Nieto – the Ken Barbie candidate – as a little Barbie doll for the PRI’s infamous dinosaurs (old corrupt political bosses), who would return to power with a President Peña Nieto. Many fear that the old priista dinosaurs would come back, neuter democracy, and stifle the free press. I’m not sure, but fears of a major regression or anti-democratic reaction seem overblown. Mexico has changed a lot since the PRI lost power in 2000. Even though the PRI could very well hold a majority in Congress – it is likely to win one in the Senate and probably could win a majority in the Chamber too – and still controls the vast majority of Mexico’s 32 states, the political atmosphere is much more democratic. There is a very strong base of anti-priista sentiment in Mexico, which, even if it won’t prevail on July 1, is quite vocal. The #YoSoy132 student-led protests against the PRI and its cozy relations with Televisa are a good example of this. The judiciary is fairly powerful and certainly independent. Despite the allegations that Televisa and the PRI are in cahoots, the media is not entirely rigged in the PRI’s favour.

Peña Nieto’s links with Televisa and old priista dinosaurs, including his predecessor in Edomex, Arturo Montiel (the guy who owned an unexplained property empire abroad) worry. But Peña Nieto, for all his faults, still seems closer to the new(er) brand of priista politicos groomed to operate in a democratic political setting. Being surrounded by American-educated technocrats, Peña Nieto is similar to the last PRI president, Ernesto Zedillo, a centrist technocrat who reformed the system and opened Mexico to real democracy. Furthermore, even if the PRI does win an absolute majority, a lot of the major reforms which the PRI will/could want to pass would be constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds majority – hence it will still need the support of other parties, probably the PAN which could have some political interest in working with the PRI.

In terms of polling, the last polls before the ‘reflection’ period which bans polls, gave Peña Nieto about 44-46% of the vote against 26-28% for AMLO and 22-25% for a hapless Vázquez Mota. Quadri performed well in the first televised debate, which boosted his numbers from irrelevance into 3-6% territory but he now polls 2-4%. The campaign was remarkably static. Peña Nieto maintained fairly large leads throughout, and despite a very slow downwards trend in the past few months, has always kept high polling numbers. AMLO moved ahead of Vázquez Mota, and the real fight here is probably for second place.

Gubernatorial elections will be held in Chiapas (PRD), Guanajuato (PAN), Jalisco (PAN), Morelos (PAN), Tabasco (PRI) and Yucatan (PRI). The Federal District will also renew its head of government (mayor) and its legislative assembly. The PRI will certainly hold Yucatanvery easily and will probably fend off a tough PRD challenge in Tabasco, which has yet to elect a non-PRI governor. It also likely to pick up Jalisco, a state which the PAN has governed since 1995 (Vicente Fox was the first PAN Governor there). The PRI candidate in Jalisco is Aristóteles Sandoval, the young priista mayor of Guadalajara and a Peña Nieto look-alike. While the PAN should hold on in Guanajuato, which it has governed since 1991, it will almost certainly lose Morelos, which it has governed since 2000. The PRI and the PRD are fighting for the win. In Chiapas, however, the PRD will probably lose this state which was first won by a PAN-PRD alliance in 2000 and held by the PRD in 2006. The incumbent governor is, in reality, a peredista in name only – he’s a former priista and in this election he is backing Manuel Velasco, a PVEM senator (backed by the PRI) and son of a former PRI governor. Velasco is probably the favourite.

In the DF, however, things are shaping up for a PRD landslide of epic proportions. The PRD has held the DF’s directly-elected head of government position since it was created in 1997 (Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas won in 1997, then AMLO in 2000 and Ebrard since 2006) but in 2006, Ebrard won with ‘only’ 46.4% of the vote. This year, the PRD’s candidate, Miguel Mancera, is polling nearly 60% in opinion polls. He will easily destroy Beatriz Paredes, the former secretary-general of the PRI who had placed third (21.6%) in the 2006 election in the DF.

There has always been a wide political gulf between the fairly well-off, cosmopolitan and left-liberal metropolis of Mexico Cityand the rest of the country, but this year the gulf could become an ocean. While the rest of Mexico ‘moves backwards’ with a PRI president, the DF will elect a PRD mayor with a phenomenal margin. What this could mean in political terms for a President Peña Nieto and the PRI, I’m not too sure, but it will be a fairly significant event.

These elections may not prove to be the most exciting elections in Mexican history, far from it, but they remain fairly significant elections in an important country. Their results may not surprise, but I feel as if this election will end up, when history is being written, as being fairly significant. Could these elections be the second alternance in a democratic Mexico since the PAN’s historic victory in 2000, or will they be the elections which set back the clock for Mexico?

France 2012 (Legislative): Runoff

The second round of legislative elections were held in France on June 17, 2012. 526 out of 577 seats in the French National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), the lower house of France’s Parliament, were still up for grabs. 36 seats were filled by the first round, while another 15 runoffs were walkovers for one candidate after their sole opponent in the runoff dropped out of the race.

In the first round, which I covered in some detail here, the left came out well on its way to winning a very large and comfortable majority in the National Assembly, having won about 47% of the votes (and nearly 40% for the presidential majority alone). The right, which was defeated in the presidential elections on May 6, long resigned itself to such a conclusion. The re-emergence of the far-right FN as a potent force in these elections posed another, more long-term, problem to the right. The FN won 13.6% of the vote, lower than what its leader Marine Le Pen had won in the presidential ballot (17.9%) and won enough votes to maintain its candidates in 62 constituencies – although two of those 62 candidates pulled out, one of them against Marine’s wishes.

The runoff campaign did focus somewhat on the FN’s presence in 60 races, 28 of which were triangulaires against both the left and right, and of which at most four were winnable for the FN. However, almost all of the week-long runoff campaign focused on a safe left-wing seat with normally dull politics – Charente-Maritime-1.

The runoff in Charente-Maritime-1 opposed two left-wing candidates, so the left’s victory was ensured with the UMP having been eliminated in that constituency by the first round. The PS candidate in that race was Ségolène Royal, the party’s unsuccessful 2007 presidential candidate, who sought to return to the National Assembly with the stated aim of winning the presidency of the National Assembly. Royal’s candidacy in La Rochelle was contested locally because it gave the appearance of carpetbagging, endorsed by the national leadership of the PS. In the first round, she won 32% against 29% for Olivier Falorni, a local Socialist municipal councillor who ran as a dissident against Royal, basing a lot of his campaign on his local roots and his image as a guy who would represent his city rather than use the seat as a trampoline to higher political office. Falorni defiantly refused to drop out and allow Royal to win the runoff uncontested, which is somewhat of a break with unwritten left-wing tradition that the left-wing candidate who did not place first drops out in favour of the top left-wing candidate.

The runoff in this constituency thus became a national newsmaker and you would think it was the only race worth watching out of all 529 races. The race became slightly bizarre when the PS started going after Falorni as if he was some pariah, accusing him of destroying the local party and aiming to win thanks to the votes of the right and far-right. Indeed, the UMP and FN’s votes would play a large role in arbitrating the Royal-Falorni civil war, and while Falorni clearly won some right-wing voters by the first round, claiming that he would win solely on the back of UMP and FN voters is dishonest beyond words. You cannot win in this constituency solely on a base on right-wing voters. If Falorni got to where he got in the first place, a not insignificant proportion of PS or left-wing voters must have backed him.

The race got excessively bizarre on Tuesday, when the whole French political world was shaken by a tweet – yes, a tweet. A tweet by none other than Valérie Trierweiler, the First Lady (though unmarried), who tweeted a message of support to Falorni (Courage à Olivier Falorni qui n’a pas démérité, qui se bat aux côtés des rochelais depuis tant d’années dans un engagement désintéressé.) One must remember, in this crazy left-wing personality contest, that Royal is the former partner of President François Hollande, and that their official breakup in 2007 came after Hollande began dating Trierweiler in 2006. It is clear that Trierweiler, the current ‘gf’, despites or is jealous of the ‘ex’, while Hollande is likely compelled to back Royal. The tweet put Hollande and the PS in an awkwardly uncomfortable situation. The President traditionally keeps away from legislative elections, and Hollande has not featured personally in this campaign. Therefore, the PS was forced to dispatch the party leader – Martine Aubry – who is still peeved at Hollande for not being named Prime Minister and whose strong enmity (to say the least) towards Royal is no secret – to do damage control and campaign for her long-time arch-rival. One could ask, however, whether Aubry was perhaps not all that unwilling to back Royal, realizing that she could hope to use Royal (as president of the National Assembly) as a source of constant nuisance (and another counter-power to Hollande within the factionalized PS) for the Élysée Palace.

Excessive attention was thus paid to the runoff in this specific constituency and no less than two polls came out in this constituency (only two other constituencies were polled). It was as if the rest didn’t matter. While the left was ensured of winning an absolute majority, there were up to 100 other constituencies where the runoff was going to be closely fought and plenty of other high-ranking personalities in tough runoffs.

Otherwise, the runoff was also marked by the various desperate shenanigans of the UMP towards the FN. The UMP, officially taking a ‘ni-ni’ approach to the FN question (no alliances with the FN, no alliances with the left), showed clear signs of division on the issue. Some members of the UMP’s right-wing – the Droite pop most notably – went all out to attract FN voters. Nadine Morano got trapped by a comedian who impersonated Louis Aliot, Marine Le Pen’s partner and prominent FN leader, to whom she indicated agreement with the FN on a great number of issues, and fear towards the left’s proposal to give resident foreigners the right to vote in local elections. More controversially, one UMP candidate in the Bouches-du-Rhône dropped out of the contest in order to “defeat the left” and basically endorsed the FN. On the other hand, UMP moderates showed clear disagreements and annoyance with their colleagues who were flirting with the FN. The FN has succeeded in one thing: throwing the right back to where it was in 1984-1988 and 1998 – deep divisions over the touchy FN issue.

Results: Stats and Numbers

Turnout was 55.4%, a new record low for turnout in a French legislative election after the first round had already set a low at 57.2% turnout. Since 2002, turnout has always been lower in the second round of voting in legislative elections. Part of this low turnout comes from the extremely low turnout in the eleven new seats for French citizens abroad, but also in the 15 constituencies where the runoff had only a single candidate still on the ballot. Turnout was also lower in runoffs where the right or left was eliminated from contention altogether by the first round, resulting in a runoff with the FN or a fraternal runoff between right and right or left and left. But these are only explanatory points to explain the lower turnout in the second round. The root causes of the low turnout in these elections taken as a whole remain unchanged. Electoral overload is a major factor, given that these elections were the fourth time that (most) voters returned to the polls in less than three months. The concern over increasingly low turnout in these legislative elections, a constant trend since 2002, has placed the issue of the timing of the legislative elections on the table, with a novel idea to hold presidential and legislative elections together, in the “American” style.

The results of the second, using the labels of the Ministry of the Interior, were as follows:

PS 40.91% winning 280 seats overall
UMP 37.95% winning 194 seats overall
FN 3.66% winning 2 seats overall
EELV 3.6% winning 17 seats overall
DVG 3.08% winning 22 seats overall
NC 2.47% winning 12 seats overall
PRG 2.34% winning 12 seats overall
DVD 1.81% winning 15 seats overall
PRV 1.35% winning 6 seats overall
FG 1.08% winning 10 seats overall
Regionalists 0.59% winning 2 seats overall
AC 0.53% winning 2 seats overall
MoDem 0.49% winning 2 seats overall
Far-right 0.13% winning 1 seat overall

Parliamentary Left (PS+DVG+PRG+EELV+FG) 51.01% (+11.22%) winning 341 seats
incl. Presidential Majority (PS+DVG+PRG+EELV) 49.93% (+8.6%) winning 331 seats
Parliamentary Right (UMP+DVD+NC+PRV+AC) 44.11% (-10.91%) winning 229 seats

However, the labels used by the Ministry of the Interior are ambiguous, misleading or patchy. Given thatFranceremains unable to produce official numbers by party instead of arbitrary partisan labels, we are forced to do the gritty handwork by ourselves. Other brave souls have done this perilous exercise of breaking down each elected member by his or her actual partisan affiliation, if possible. I have done it as well and I have come up with the following numbers, by party, which will sadly end up being useless as various individuals from one party end up joining a different parliamentary group.

Non-governmental left ‘Independent’ governmental left Presidential Majority/centre-left Centre Opposition centre-right Opposition right Far-right
FG 10 seats (including 7 PCF, 2 FASE and 1 PG) Regionalists 3 seats (including 2 MIM and 1 UDB backed by EELV-PS)MRC 3 seats

Other left-wing parties (DVG) 6 (5 local overseas parties and 1 from the MUP, Robert Hue’s party, allied to the PS)

EELV 17 seats

PS 277 seatsPS dissidents 11 seats (including Sylvie Andrieux)

Independent left-wing (DVG) 4 seats (including René Dosière)

PRG 12 seats

MoDem 2 seats AC 2 seatsNC 12 seats (including 5 URCID quasi-dissidents)

PRV 13 seats (6 elected under PRV etiquette, 10 claimed by the PRV website, 3 UMP-Radicals)

Calédonie ensemble 2 seats (anti-independence centre-right Caledonian autonomists)

Taho’era’a Huira’atira 3 seats (anti-independence centre-right Polynesian autonomists)

UMP 183 seats (including Damien Abad, ex-NC)Independent right-wing (DVD) 8 seats (including UMP dissidents)

PCD 2 seats

MPF 1 seat (plus one ex-MPF, counted as independent DVD)

CNIP 1 seat

DLR 2 seats

FN 2 seatsLigue du Sud 1 seat

Comments and Analysis

As expected and predicted, the PS and its most intimate allies (the PRG and most DVG) won an absolute majority (289 seats) in the National Assembly on their own, which had always been the ultimate goal of the presidential majority.

The runoff generally confirmed the first round, which had given the first indications of a comfortable left-wing quasi-landslide, with the very high likelihood of a PS-PRG majority without EELV or the FG. In 2007, the results of the first round had not been confirmed in the second round, which had seen a significant “corrective” resulting in a much stronger performance by the left after a first round which had indicated a large right-wing ‘blue wave’. Many Socialists feared that they would receive their own ‘bad surprise’ in the runoff, like the UMP had in 2007. On the left, the fear of a reverse “corrective” to that of 2007 was very potent. Such a corrective would have seen the right would remobilize in the runoff and resist better than the first round results could have indicated.

However, fairly unsurprisingly I might add, there was no such reverse “corrective”. As I previously noted, the factors which contributed to the 2007 corrective (the ‘bad surprise’ of the UMP in 2007, which the PS did not want to receive in 2012) were certainly not aligned in 2012. In the always bizarre week which separates the two rounds of voting, the media narrative in 2007 was almost exclusively about the right’s massive landslide in the first round and the outside risk that the PS could win less than 100 seats. Added to this narrative was an imprudent cabinet minister (Jean-Louis Borloo) who did not understand that campaigns are certainly not the time to talk about actual policy – especially when that involves talking about a new tax you’re going to implement. The cards were aligned for the left to remobilize to prevent a right-wing majority, while right-wing voters trended towards demobilization, with no motivation to vote in a runoff which seemed promised to them. This year, the media narrative in the week between the two Sundays was not really about a massive left-wing landslide but rather about the Royal-Falorni nuclear war and the UMP’s waltzes and belly dances around the FN electorate. To be sure, the government also kept quiet, knowing that any major intervention by the government could open a Pandora’s Box of electoral surprises. None of these factors greatly mobilized right-wing voters. The Tweeterweiler incident had no impact on any significant segment of the national electorate; the UMP’s belly dances around the FN didn’t achieve its desired result (as always…); other incidents and events were too political or too small to have a significant impact. As in the first round, both mainstream left and right suffered from demobilization compared to May 6, with the mainstream right marginally more demobilized.

There was no right-wing remobilization, no left-wing demobilization and no particularly significant FN mobilization against the left. Hence, there was no corrective. My predictions, seat by seat, were 93% corrected. I slightly overestimated the left, so one could be led to believe that there was at least a mini-remobilization on the right or a mini-demobilization on the left. But most of my incorrect calls were in races which I had seen as tossups anyway, and the overall image is not that clear, so I would not give too much weight to this idea of right-wing remobilization. There was quite possibly one, but only in disconnected patches.

In terms of size, the left’s victory is greater than its previous win in 1997 (when the PS had not won an absolute majority) but smaller than the 1981 mega-landslide. This is, unarguably, a very comfortable and clear victory for the left, specifically the PS. These elections, like 2002 and 2007, turned out to be a predictable confirmation of the results of the presidential election. For those 55-57% of voters who bothered to turn out, Held only a month after President Hollande and his government took office, the government hasn’t had the time to become unpopular, and, of course, it did nothing too dangerous which could hurt its popularity.

This predictable election confirmed the results of the presidential election. Like in 2002 and 2007, but the other way around, voters opted – logically – to give the new executive the means to carry out the platform on which it was elected. This was the expectation of the politicians who changed the electoral calendar around in 2000, and since then they have been proven right three out of three times. The legislative elections under this new ‘system’ usually amplify or at least replicate the result of the presidential election, regardless of the nature of the presidential election’s end result. In 2002, Chirac’s reelection was in good part a stroke of excellent luck given how weak of an incumbent candidate he was. This year, Hollande’s defeat of Sarkozy was fairly narrow and could have opened the door to a ‘hung Parliament’, to use British parlance.

Rather, in 2002, the new UMP won a phenomenal landslide, and the PS came close to matching that 2002 majority (but the other way around, naturally) in 2012 (though ultimately the 2012 result is more 2007 in reverse, amplified in the left’s favour). A month after the President’s election, there simply is no rationale, on the whole, to elect a legislative majority of the opposite political colour. Firstly, the general mood is to give the new executive to means to its desired ends. Secondly, in a month, the government – provided it is not mindlessly dense – has no time to screw up (and it certainly does its utmost not to!). Indeed, the Ayrault I cabinet, like Fillon I, was more of an electoral cabinet than a political cabinet (or at least a little teaser for the next one) and its policy proposals were far more electoral than political. That is, if you can even consider little goodies like salary cuts for the president and cabinet, creating jobs for young people, capping the earnings of big corporate bosses, vowing to save God knows what and parading around with the likes of Obama to be even remotely aimed at actual governance in the long term. The (sad?) truth is that you don’t talk about raw policy in an electoral campaign, especially a ‘special’ campaign like this one. Or if you do talk about policy, you style it in ways which nobody can disagree with (who can disagree about the idea of creating jobs?). This government understood it, and Ayrault being a competent technocrat, prevented any unfortunate gaffes from anybody (besides the little ruffles which are to be expected from the likes of Taubira, Peillon and Duflot).

There is also the matter that the right never really put much of an effort into actually winning this election. It put all its efforts into defense and its future reconstruction, and seemed to be at a loss when pressed about present conditions, thus resorting to blatantly false inanities like saying that a left-wing victory would mean the legalization of marijuana (which is a position advocated by Duflot and EELV at a personal and partisan level, but which is not government policy). The UMP spent the bulk of the week between the two rounds attempting to grasp with the new problem of the FN, and acting like a bunch of rag-tag amateurs in the process. That horrible week for the UMP revealed some major internal divisions on the best approach to the FN, with the party’s official ni-ni (no alliance with the FN, no alliance with the left) creed being contested both by the right which either openly favoured the FN (one UMP candidate in the Bouches-du-Rhône dropped out of the race in which he placed third to basically endorse the FN, another in the Gard came close to doing so; the self-parody Nadine Morano spent her week either belly dancing to the FN or falling like a naïve fool to a prank call) and by the moderates who continued to show their coolness towards either the ni-ni approach or at least the attitude of some of their more right-wing colleagues.

The natural result of this weird campaign – made all the more bizarre by the soap opera inLa Rochelle– was a comfortable left-wing victory.

With its absolute majority, Hollande-Ayrault have been given free rein to implement their policy proposals as they see fit. They will have a real blank cheque, truly unprecedented for the PS. They control theÉlyséePalace, in the National Assembly they have a majority without even the semi-independent Greens. But, a first for the French left, the new presidential majority also controls the Senate (but it does not have three-fifths majority in both houses combined required for constitutional amendments). At a territorial level, the PS dominance is completed by its hegemony in regional government (all but one region in metroFrance), the departments (controlling over 60% of general councils) and inFrance’s largest cities (only a few very large cities such as Marseille, Nice orBordeauxescape the left’s control). This dominance is unprecedented for the PS, and even the right has had, since 1981, very few experiences with such universal hegemony (1995-1997, 2002-2004 – you will note that both ended in trainwrecks…).

I guess you could say that the left has no excuse for failure, but that’s obviously not true given how so many things in this day and age are really outside any government’s direct control. Anyhow, the new left-wing majority has a very tough situation to deal with. Domestically,France’s economy is in fairly poor shape. Though not yet at Greek levels,France’s national debt and its government deficit are alarmingly high and these are pressing issues for the new government, which is already showing indications of a more austere economic and fiscal direction for the years to come (compensated, temporarily, by maintaining goodies like hiring teachers or tax hikes for rich people). Economic growth is tepid and the unemployment rate is high. Other issues such as the social security deficit, the taxation system, education (at all levels), pensions and immigration will continue to be major issues which the government will be forced to deal with. The expectations for the new government are fairly low, and the left’s win on June 17 was much like its first win on May 6: little fanfare, limited popular enthusiasm. Voters seem prepared or resigned to a few years of economic austerity, which will certainly displease a large number of voters including interest groups, core constituencies and trade unions traditionally close to the PS. In an interconnected world, foreign events will certainly have a major influence on the direction of government policy inFrance, with events such as the Greek/European debt crisis certain to have a certain impact on the direction of French public policy in the coming months and years.

In partisan terms, the PS was the sole ‘real’ beneficiary of the pink wave, benefiting from a strong ‘legitimist’ reflex which saw voters favour the party of the President and the party of government over other parties of the left, most significantly the FG. The results of both the first and second round showed a polarization on left and right in favour of the main political forces of both these families: the PS and the UMP. There was a clear benefit in having the PS endorsement, with a fair number of weaker candidates backed by either the PS or UMP defeating, surprisingly, some stronger dissident candidates who did not have their party’s official backing. Inadvertently, the Greens (and PRG) benefited from this legitimist reflex when their candidates were backed the PS. In a surprisingly large number of cases, PS dissidents against EELV candidates backed by the PS did not do all that well. However, the clearest sign of this polarization in both political families is the FG’s fate. The FG, which had hoped to win a large caucus (20-30 seats) and provide some sort of strong parliamentary left-wing ‘critical opposition’ to the new government, was marginalized – almost crushed – by the PS by the first round.

The FG won only 10 seats, which is the most they could hope to win after the loss of seven seats by the first round. With 10 seats, seven of which are held by the PCF (and only one by the PG, Mélenchon’s party), the FG/PCF has won its worst result since the party’s 1958 rout (in a context of political isolation of the PCF, the party won 19% of the vote but only 10 seats in the second round). We had all assumed that the Mélenchon dynamic of the presidential election would provide the FG (and, in practice, the PCF) with a new opportunity to hold its head higher than in 2007. In reality, while FG candidates did better than PCF candidates had done in 2007, the FG suffered from Socialist competition in its historic strongholds.

Where does this result leave the FG? In parliamentary and institutional terms, the FG is extremely marginalized. While the FG will likely salvage a parliamentary group with the bare 15 members required, it will not weigh much against a PS absolute majority and its votes will not be needed by the government in all but exceptional circumstances. The FG alliance in itself could be threatened in the long run by differences between Mélenchon and the PCF, but for now, it appears as if the PCF will continue playing along with the FG experience and Mélenchon. After all, despite the FG’s terrible performance in these elections, by having received more votes than the PCF in 2007, the FG will be getting more public financing than the PCF received between 2007 and 2012 based on its 2007 results. Money matters a lot, ironically, for the PCF these days.

The FG apparently aims at refocusing its political action in a mix of social and political action, perhaps seeking to cultivate any potential social discontent on the left with future government policy. This could be a promising path for the FG, given that the government will be forced into making unpopular policy decisions soon enough which would open the road for a left-wing alternative to the PS. Is this a viable course of action? Only time will tell.

EELV comes out of this election in a bizarre situation. In terms of seats, it has won the most seats in its history and will be able to form its own independent parliamentary group in the National Assembly after forming its own group in the Senate last year. On the other hand, these institutional milestones have come only thanks to the good graces and generosity of the PS. Without the November 2011 deal with the PS, the Greens would not have won more than 5 seats at most. Besides the reelection of its two incumbents, who would likely have been able to win reelection with PS opposition, almost all of its other new members would not have won if they had not been endorsed by the PS. The ‘green days’ of 2009, 2010 and even early 2011 are long gone. The Greens come out of 2012 with historic institutional presence, but they are sent back to their traditional state of dependence on the Socialist hegemon. Daniel Cohn-Bendit hit the nail on the head a few days ago when he said that the Greens now exist in Parliament “but not in society”. Their institutional successes are artificial in that they are built on the PS’ (foolish?) generosity towards its allies. Can the Greens realistically afford to play the role of an assertive and independent ally of the PS, a thorn in the side at times, when they are, deep down, quite dependent on the PS?

The good news for the PS is that it doesn’t really need EELV’s votes in the National Assembly. The good news for EELV is that the PS still won an absolute majority even with the generous deal with EELV in 2011, so that the PS will probably not regret the 2011 deal too much.

Of course, the PRG have existed in a state of amorphous subservience and utter dependence on the PS since day one, but they have long understood that they are nothing with the PS and have almost always been good little brothers to the Socialist big brother, at times undistinguishable from the PS. This year, the PRG benefited from the leftslide, winning 12 seats and with a strong chance at forming its own independent parliamentary group. But the PRG can be expected to remain a loyal ally of the PS, only speaking out when it wants to get more cabinet positions (and the PS is often nice enough to listen to their “demands”).

The centrist constellation came out of these elections with a little different makeup, but with little hope at rapid centrist reunification. The MoDem won two seats, but these elections will have been a disaster for the MoDem and its entire third-way strategy, given that the one seat it lost was held by none other than François Bayrou, the lider maximo of the MoDem. The MoDem will dwindle even further into irrelevance, and Bayrou will struggle to regain political credibility in the near future. Furthermore, Bayrou’s defeat could make things easier for the other parties of the centrist constellation, given that Bayrou and his party were a source of perpetual  frustration for other centrist (read: centre-right) parties. On paper, the Radicals (PRV) and NC came out of this election weakened but with a not insignificant bench. Reality is another matter. The PRV is fairly divided, with a faction led by former cabinet minister Jean Leonetti who is openly resistant to a strategy of centrist independence and unity, publicly opposing the PRV’s leader, Jean-Louis Borloo. However, the divisions of the PRV are insignificant compared to the NC.

A split in the NC, tiny enough as it is, seems imminent, given the open nuclear warfare between the party’s leader, Hervé Morin, whose aborted presidential campaign was as successful as the Titanic’s maiden voyage; and a dissident faction led by Jean-Christophe Lagarde, officially the deputy leader of the NC and in practice Morin’s deadly rival. Morin and Lagarde hate each other, and Lagarde’s spectacular reelection in a very left-leaning constituency has only reopened the bitter conflict between both men, which erupted around the time of Morin’s aborted candidacy earlier this year. Lagarde is ambitious and talented, and he is the centre-right’s last remaining ambitious leader capable of reunifying the centrist constellation after Borloo killed the ARES experiment. Lagarde is aware of the high likelihood of an imminent split in the NC, and, with other NC incumbents, affiliated themselves to an entity known as the URCID (a creation of Borloo and his ally Laurent Hénart) for public financing purposes and has apparently prepared a new political party (the ‘FED’) which would receive its share of the URCID’s public financing.

The post-election buzz on the centre is the rapid creation of a new centrist parliamentary group by Jean-Louis Borloo and some lagardiste NC deputies, the UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents). The creation of the UDI short-circuited the moriniste attempts to create a more exclusively NC grouping in the National Assembly and compelled Morin and his allies to reluctantly join Borloo-Lagarde’s new UDI. Borloo, the PRV and the Lagarde faction might be hoping to use the UDI as the bases of a future political coalition or party, though thus far the UDI gives the appearance of a rag-tag group of various right-wingers who don’t like the UMP rather than an ARES-like structure of Radicals, centrists and the like. While the UDI has apparently succeeded in attracting almost all Radicals (besides, most significantly, Leonetti) and a few independent right-wingers (notably the two new centre-right members from New Caledonia and Jean-Christophe Fromantin from Neuilly), the presence of Gilles Bourdouleix – the leader of the very conservative CNIP – and François-Xavier Villain, the eurosceptic right-wing mayor of Cambrai (and a member of NDA’s party, but in this move, FXV seems to be breaking from NDA) in the new group does not really cry out “centrism”. It remains to be seen if the UDI is indeed the first brick in a new independent centrist coalition or party or if it is only an attempt by non-UMP right-wingers to maintain a semblance of independence from the UMP. Lagarde likely remains the only prominent centrist leader who could be capable of creating a new, more unified centre worthy of its name.

The UMP’s bad spell (electorally) is over for now. The UMP’s defeat is not crippling but it is a significant defeat, but there is no need to return on the UMP’s results and its defeat at this point. The UMP is very much looking to the future, which will be the first time since the party’s creation in 2002 that it will not be in power. For quite some time, the constraints and attractions of power held what has always been a fairly diverse party united – at the surface. With the defeat, major cracks are appearing, though they do not seem – for now – fatal for the UMP. The UMP will be choosing itself a new leader this fall, in a contest which promises to be bloody and bitter. The announced showdown features the incumbent party leader, Jean-François Copé and former Prime Minister François Fillon, the former having the advantage of controlling the party machinery and being a Machiavellian politician while the latter benefits from a good image in public opinion and a strong base of popularity within his own party.

This UMP conflict will break down primarily along personal and factional lines, but the issue of the UMP’s relations and attitudes with the FN will be one of the major in this campaign. The UMP was confronted head on to the issue between the two rounds, as was explained above, and the issue will certainly reappear during the campaign. Copé benefits from the backing of most of the members of the Droite populaire, the UMP’s right-wing faction (which is close to the FN on some policy issues), but the Droite pop took a beating at the polls. Fillon, albeit not backed by some of the UMP’s centrist “humanists” (Raffarin, Leonetti, Laffineur), generally represents a moderate wing of the UMP which is more traditionally hostile towards the FN. When push comes to shove, the question posed will be whether or not the UMP engages its conquest of power from the centre-right or from a more right-wing position closer to the FN, like Sarkozy in 2007.

The second round was a success for the FN. For the first time since 1997, the FN will be represented in the National Assembly. Two FN candidates won: Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the 22-year old granddaughter of the old patriarch who won in the Vaucluse; and Gilbert Collard, a well-known media savvy lawyer and maverick figure, who won in the Gard. But while Marine Le Pen herself lost in her constituency by a tiny margin to the PS, the FN also raked in impressive performances in other one-on-one contests, either against the left or the right. Like in 1997, the FN’s performance in the second round in the triangulaires tended to be lower than what it won in the first round, a sign of some strategic voting in the runoff from first round FN voters. However, in left-FN runoffs and right-FN runoffs (to a smaller extent), the FN’s gains between the two rounds were quite impressive, including two constituencies where the FN jumped from about 18% to a bit over 40% in the runoff against the left. I have not calculated the numbers, but from a quick glance, it appears as if the FN’s vote share in left-FN runoffs increased by about 15-20% on average between the two rounds. In the rarer right-FN runoffs, the FN’s vote increased by perhaps 12-18% on average. These are historic gains for the FN, which is clearly gaining a much higher potential vote in direct runoffs against either the left or the right. This is to say nothing of the increasingly large number of constituencies where the FN would fare better than the traditional right in direct runoffs against the left. These results confirm the observations of a destigmatization of the FN vote, which is more and more ‘acceptable’ in the wider society and less repulsive than in the past. This is excellent news for the FN, but these elections also confirm that the FN, in this electoral system, has little chance of winning a large number of seats unless it allies with the right.

Will the FN ally with the right (and vice-versa)? Anybody who thinks they can answer that question with any level of certainty is probably a fool. On the one hand, the new leadership of the FN with Marine Le Pen and her new lieutenants are more power-hungry than her father’s old guard. On the other hand, Marine is still very much loyal to her father and Samuel Maréchal’s old creed of neither left nor right, and Marine’s clear goal for the FN is to replace the UMP as the dominant right-wing party. She has shown no significant affection for the talk of any formal alliance with the right. If the government does change the electoral system to include limited PR, like it promises on an on-and-off basis, the FN will probably have even less reasons to ally with the right (unless it is desperate for power). After all, like any far-right party, the FN might prefer permanent access to the luxuries of perennial opposition and protest than sharing in on the responsibilities and difficulties of political power, which could significantly weaken the FN if it ever achieved any kind of national power. For the UMP, the question of an alliance with the FN is not new, which is something which everybody has conveniently forgotten. There were alliances in the early and mid 1980s, there were some local deals in the 1988 legislative election between the RPR-UDF and the FN in PACA, and there were informal but very controversial deals in some regions after the 1992 and 1998 regional elections. Anyhow, any formal alliance with the FN would be more difficult than simple math would assume. A formal alliance of this kind would certainly break a lot of links between the UMP and the centre/centre-right, and the UMP would not gain – far from it – the votes of all FN voters (at least certainly not like the PS gets the votes of first round FG voters). The question is certainly a good one which will need to be answered sometime in the future, but there is no real answer to it at this point.

Constituency Results and Analysis

I do not usually like to make some general, macro-level comments about the patterns and results of legislative elections, because these are really best described as 577 local elections held on one day. Each constituency in these legislative elections has its own specificity, its own candidacies and local alliances, its own local parties and local issues and historical traditions. However, with urbanization and technological change over the years, legislative elections are still much more nationalized today than they were in 1958. It is thus possible to make some quick comments on the general results, based on the map posted above.

Like in the presidential election, the PS’ dominance rests heavily on the alliance of its old strongholds in the Southwest, Aquitaine, Limousin and some old proletarian bases in the north and east with its new ‘growing’ strongholds in Brittany, urban areas and even the inner west and parts of Normandy. Socialists gains in western France and in urban areas proved very important in this year’s double-victories.

In contrast, these results reveal that the UMP has a real urban problem, with both urban and inner suburban middle-class white collar professionals. Val-d’Oise, Essonne and the Val-de-Marne were horrible for the right. It is weakened in the Hauts-de-Seine, while in Paris the right is confined to its impregnable bourgeois strongholds in the west of the capital. Outside the Parisian basin, the loss of all seats in traditionally or historically right-wing cities such as Bordeaux and Nancy are symbolic and very telling. In Lyon, whose political history has usually leaned to the right, the UMP is confined to only a single seat this year. Is an alliance, even informal, with the FN the best strategy to reconquer these loses? I’m not so sure.

The inner west is similarly difficult for the right. Calvados, Manche, Orne, Morbihan, Finistère, Maine-et-Loire, Sarthe, Loire-Atlantique and even Vendée were unmitigated disasters for the right, in all senses of the term. In Brittany, the resistance of the right in the Ille-et-Vilaine is due to gerrymandering and in the Côtes-d’Armor to a personal vote for a popular UMP incumbent (Marc Le Fur). In the Vendée, the symbolic stronghold of reaction and conservatism, not only did the PS manage to win an historic two seats, but the UMP lost its coastal stronghold to a young local right-winger, a former member of the local MPF. In some cases, especially in the Morbihan, the left prevailed in seats which it had never won since the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

On the other hand, the UMP can take solace in the fact that it resisted particularly well in eastern and southeastern France, especially rural and exurban regions of the east where the UMP benefited a lot from a FN vote which is not as populaire and “sociologically” left-wing as the FN vote in other regions. Oise and Drôme were surprisingly good for the right all over, while the general results in departments such as the Loire, Ain, northern Isère, Marne and Somme were also fairly (surprisingly) good for the UMP. From this geographic examination of the UMP’s defeat, we have a contrasted image. On the one hand, the UMP owes a lot of its resistance – which was strongest east of the “new” Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis – to good vote transfers between the two rounds by FN voters. However, the UMP suffered a lot of important and damaging loses in urban areas and western France where a move to the right, let alone even an informal alliance with the FN, would be very damaging for the right. Unfortunately for the UMP’s internal problems, the results can thus be interpreted in two different ways which give us two diametrically opposed answers on the ‘question’ of the FN.

For now, let us wrap up this results analysis by a look at some of the main constituency results:

PS and PRG

No cabinet ministers ended up losing in their respective constituencies. In almost every single individual case, cabinet ministers usually benefited from a “ministers’ boost”, which won them some surprisingly strong numbers. The most telling example would certainly be Stéphane Le Foll, the agriculture minister, who won no less than 59.5% in Sarthe-4, Fillon’s old seat. But other cabinet ministers won other fairly spectacular results: 60.2% for Marisol Touraine in Indre-et-Loire-3 (she won it by a hair in 2007), 59% for Aurélie Filippetti in Moselle-1 and 61.5% for Jérôme Cahuzac in Lot-et-Garonne-3 (he also won by a very tight margin in 2007). In more solidly left-wing seats; Manuel Valls, Geneviève Fioraso, Marylise Lebranchu, Valérie Fourneyron, George Pau-Langevin, Alain Vidalies, François Lam, Michèle Delaunay and Kader Arif won easily. Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, won 49.3% in a triangulaire with the UMP and the FN in Doubs-4. Benoît Hamon defeated a UMP incumbent in what is usually a left-wing constituency with 55.4%. Sylvia Pinel, a young PRG cabinet minister, surprised me with her comparatively anemic performance in the runoff in Tarn-et-Garonne-2, winning “only” 59% against the FN, which gained about 21 percentage points between the two rounds!

The only cabinet minister locked in a close race was Marie-Arlette Carlotti, a junior minister for handicapped persons, who was running against a high-profile UMP incumbent (Renaud Muselier) in Marseille (5th constituency). She narrowly pipped Muselier for first place on June 10, and she defeated him with 51.8% on June 17. In the local political setting, Carlotti’s victory is fairly significant because it really shifts the cards in the left-wing and right-wing battles for the city hall in 2014. The national PS will certainly use Carlotti and another new PS deputy in the city, Patrick Mennucci, as their tools in the fight against the local Socialist clique of Jean-Noël Guérini, the corrupt local party boss. On the right, Muselier’s defeat could sideline him ahead of 2014, which could mark the retirement of Jean-Claude Gaudin, the incumbent UMP mayor of Marseille since 1995.

However, beyond all of this, the most important race (or so the media said) was clearly in Charente-Maritime-1, with the aforementioned epic showdown/nuclear war between PS candidate Ségolène Royal and PS dissident Olivier Falorni. Royal won 32% against 29% for Falorni in the first round, but the first round defeat of the UMP candidate (who took 19.5%) made the right, more or less, the main kingmaker in this race. Everybody and their grandmother had their eyes set on this race, which was rendered ever crazier by the Tweeterweiler incident. To end this all in style, Royal and her ally – the retiring deputy and incumbent mayor of La Rochelle (Maxime Bono) basically announced, on national television, her defeat before 8pm, which means that she (and the national media) technically broke the law by ‘leaking’ these results before 8pm. It must have been because Royal could restrain her anger, rage and utter frustration no longer. Indeed, she was clearly out of her spirits, branding Falorni a “traitor” and going on a weird tangent about Victor Hugo and traitors and other weird stuff. In the end, Falorni won with no less than 63% of the vote against Royal’s 37%.

The PS, notably by the voice of Martine Aubry, took the act way too far and transformed into a pathetic self-parody when they continued viciously lashing out at Falorni. The talking point, which is intellectually dishonest, is that Falorni is akin to a ‘right-winger’ because he ‘accepted’ to win with support of the right and the far-right. You cannot deny that Falorni won something like 80% of right-wing voters: he won over 70% on L’Ile-de-Ré, the UMP stronghold in the constituency, and had already won a lot of right-wing voters in the first round. It is possible, of course, that Falorni would have lost had no right-wingers voted for him. But you cannot win by such a clear margin in this constituency without at least winning a sizable minority of left-wing voters. Falorni won by solid or huge margins in all towns in the constituency, including over 58% in La Rochelle proper. Beyond all of this, anyhow, branding Falorni a ‘right-winger’ only because UMP and FN voters voted for him is terribly dishonest. To take the strawman further, given how Chirac won in 2002 with the support of left-wing voters, would this not make Chirac a left-winger?

Royal did not necessarily have to finish this way. In the end, the person who is most responsible for this defeat is herself. Her ‘carpetbagging’ was not particularly atrocious or reproachable because La Rochelle is within her region, and not all ‘carpetbaggers’ finish in defeat. It is just that she (and the PS which backed her, to an extent) did everything the wrong way. She basically announced her candidacy for the presidency of the National Assembly before even ‘finding’ a constituency, giving a clear impression that she didn’t care about the constituency and was only using it as a trampoline to the presidency of the National Assembly. The PS leadership cancelled an internal nominating contest and crowned Royal as the nominee without ever asking the local activists for their opinion on the matter. Locals clearly resented her haughty arrogance in her entire candidacy, while the various inanities sprouted by the PS as talking points during the runoff campaign were likely poorly received, to say the least, locally.

In the backrooms, the PS must be somewhat relieved by the Royal defeat. Royal is a bizarre, erratic and very independent and ‘mavericky’ personality, who is a loose cannon thorn in the side of practically every PS leader. If she had won and had become president of the National Assembly, she could have seen herself as a sort of counter-power to her ex, Hollande. The presidency will be given to Claude Bartolone, a fabiuso-aubryste longtimer from the Seine-Saint-Denis, who will be a much more reliable ally.

In the Vosges-2, Jack Lang, a former PS cabinet minister who was running in the Vosges after abandoning his old seat in the Pas-de-Calais, was defeated by the UMP incumbent, Gérard Cherpion. Cherpion won 50.9% in the runoff against Lang, doing better than I expected with FN voters (17% in the first round). Perhaps Marine Le Pen’s call to defeat Lang in the runoff had an impact on FN voters locally? On the other hand, a former PS incumbent won back his old seats in the Vosges-4.

Some other major results for the PS and the PRG:

Olivier Ferrand, the controversial president of the centre-left Terra Nova think-tank, won a triangulaire in the Bouches-du-Rhône-8 with 40.5% against 39.9% for the UMP incumbent. In another triangulaire, in Bouches-du-Rhône-12, a former PS deputy and incumbent mayor of Vitrolles Vincent Burroni won 37.3% against 36.6% for the UMP incumbent, Eric Diard.

What could have been a triangulaire in Bouches-du-Rhône-16 turned out to be a one-on-one contest between the PS incumbent, regional president Michel Vauzelle, and the FN. The UMP candidate Roland Chassain, who placed third in the first round, dropped out of the race and basically endorsed the FN candidate to defeat Vauzelle. The PS ultimately held this seat, but narrowly: Vauzelle won with only 51.3% against 48.7% for the FN. In the Bouches-du-Rhône-3 (northern Marseille), the runoff opposed a corrupt PS incumbent disavowed by her party, Sylvie Andrieux and the local leader of the FN, Stéphane Ravier. Andrieux won this contest by the skin of her teeth, with 51% against 49% for Ravier.

The PRG won 12 seats, a little increase on the 9 seats it held before the election. Most notably, two former PRG deputies won their old seats: Alain Tourret (Calvados) and Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg (Val-de-Marne), defeated by the UMP in 2002 and 2007 respectively. The PRG also picked up Aisne-5, Pas-de-Calais-9 and Rhône-1. However, in Haute-Corse-1, Jean Zuccarelli, the son of former PRG deputy Emile Zuccarelli failed to win back his father’s old seat, which he had lost in 2007. He placed third in a triangulaire against the UMP incumbent and regionalist leader Gilles Simeoni, taking 30.7% of the vote.

The PRG’s 12 seats, with the addition of a few members from the overseas (one of the winners in Guyane was endorsed by the PRG and one seat in Guadeloupe is held by a social democratic party which could ally with the PRG) but perhaps also some PS dissidents (Falorni? The PS has been unclear on this since his victory, but they used to say that he would not be able to join their group) should allow the PRG to form an independent parliamentary group.

The UMP, NC and centre-right

The leader of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, won easily in Seine-et-Marne-6 with 59.5% against a EELV candidate backed by the PS. This is a bigger victory than that of his rival, François Fillon, in his new seat of Paris-2, where he won with a decent but not particularly great 56.5% against PS candidate Axel Kahn.

Former cabinet minister and Fillon ally Xavier Bertrand won by a much narrower margin in Aisne-2, winning with only 50.3% and by 222 votes. Bertrand then ran against Copé’s right-hand man, Christian Jacob, for the leadership of the UMP group, and lost badly to Jacob, the incumbent head of the UMP group in the National Assembly.

Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of the UMP’s so-called ‘social’ (moderate) wing, won much more handily with 64% of the vote in Haute-Loire-1, where he had narrowly missed out on a victory by the first round on June 10.

In Essonne-4, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former cabinet minister and a Fillon ally, survived a very tough runoff contest. Marine Le Pen went out of her way to endorse the PS candidate to defeat NKM, whom she loathes ever since NKM said that she’d vote for the PS over the FN. She survived this very close race with 51.5%, likely not doing too poorly all things considered with FN voters but perhaps benefiting from strong support from centrist and even some centre-left PS voters.

Sarkozy’s former top attack dog and vulgar populist Nadine Morano, the UMP incumbent in Meurthe-et-Moselle-5 had a disastrous runoff campaign. She called on FN voters to vote for her by the night of the first round, and then got trick by a left-leaning comedian in a prank call in which he imitated Louis Aliot, a prominent FN leader. Her chaotic and jumbled up desperate bid for reelection did not pay off, far from it. Her PS opponent won 55.7% of the vote, an extremely wide margin for the PS in this traditionally conservative constituency. In Meurthe-et-Moselle-2, Valérie Rosso-Debord, another Sarkozyst attack dog, lost to the PS.

In In Hauts-de-Seine-9, former interior minister Claude Guéant, the UMP candidate, lost in a triangulaire to Thierry Solère, a local UMP dissident. Solère won 39.4% against 38.4% for Guéant. Ultimately, Guéant also saw his son, François Guéant, go down to defeat in Morbihan-4. François Guéant took 47.4% in the runoff in this open right-wing seat, where his candidacy was heavily contested by the retiring incumbent and local right-wingers. He lost to Paul Molac, a Breton regionalist (from the UDB) backed by EELV (who will sit in their group) and the PS.

Eric Ciotti, Christian Estrosi, François Baroin, François Sauvadet, Bruno Le Maire, Luc Chatel, Eric Woerth, Bernard Accoyer, Christian Jacob and Valérie Pécresse all won reelection fairly easily.

Certainly one of the more impressive reelections this year will be that of Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the ambitious centrist deputy in Seine-Saint-Denis-5. Seine-Saint-Denis-5 is a very left-wing constituency (66.4% for Hollande!) in a very left-wing department which now has 9 PS deputies, so his reelection is an extremely impressive feat which showcases Lagarde’s particular political talent. He won 56.7% against 43.3% for the PS candidate, a huge margin considering how left-wing this seat is in other circumstances, but also a bigger margin than that of his sworn enemy, Hervé Morin who won with a fairly ‘small’ 53.2% in Eure-3.

Disgraced former foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie lost her old seat in Pyrénées-Atlantiques-6 to the PS, taking 48.4% in the runoff. Basque nationalist voters, who weighed nearly 10% on June 10, likely made the difference here.

Some other major results for the UMP and the NC:

Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s former right-hand man, who ran in the solidly right-wing constituency of Yvelines-3 won easily, with 61.9%, after a first round UMP dissident who won 23% dropped out of the runoff in his favour.

Hervé Novelli, the leader of the UMP’s liberal wing, lost in Indre-et-Loire-4, with only 46.6% in the runoff.

In the Bouches-du-Rhône-1, Valérie Boyer, an ambitious member of the Droite pop, won a very narrow reelection, thanks in large part to the FN. She won 50.7% against Christophe Masse, a close ally of the local PS Guérini clique. However, in the Bouches-du-Rhône-14, the the controversial UMP mayor of Aix-en-Provence Maryse Joissains-Masini, lost badly to the PS. She won only 46.5% in the runoff. UMP incumbent Christian Kert narrowly survived in the other aixois seat, the 11th, won a 50.98%.

Radical leader Jean-Louis Borloo won reelection in the Nord-21, winning 55.8% against a FG candidate. However, his ally Laurent Hénart lost in Meurthe-et-Moselle-1, taking 47.8% in the runoff.

In Corse-du-Sud-2, UMP incumbent Camille de Rocca Serra continued the family’s stranglehold on this seat, winning 53.2% in the runoff. He faced moderate nationalist Jean-Christophe Angelini, who ultimately fell quite short, probably because of imperfect transfers from first round left-wing voters.

The creation of eleven seats for French citizens abroad didn’t turn out to be the good idea the UMP had always hoped it would be. The UMP won only three seats, the rest were won by the PS. The UMP won handily in Switzerland, while former Vaucluse deputy Thierry Mariani won 52.2% in Asia-Pacific and former judge and Haute-Vienne deputy Alain Marsaud won 53% in East Africa-Mid East. But two former UMP cabinet ministers, presumed to be early favourites, lost badly. In the Benelux, Marie-Anne Montchamp won only 46.8% against the PS. In North America, Frédéric Lefebvre lost 54-46 to the PS, suffering from a very divided right in the first round.

The FN

As mentioned above, the FN won two constituencies: Gard-2 and Vaucluse-3. In the Gard-2, the FN candidate was Gilbert Collard, an old media-savvy trial lawyer who was the head of Marine’s comité de soutien (supporters’ committee) during the presidential election. He came in first in the first round, with nearly 35% of the vote, sending the UMP incumbent, Etienne Mourrut, into a distant third with only 24%. Mourrut considered pulling out of the race, basically in Collard’s favour, but under national pressure, apparently opted to remain in the race but barely campaigned at all. His support collapsed further to 15.6% in the runoff, allowing Collard to narrowly beat the PS, with 42.8% against 41.6% for the PS. Some of the FN’s old guard is a bit cool towards Collard, who is a political maverick (a former left-winger, who has shifted from party to party and ideology to ideology) and could prove a bit of trouble for the FN’s leadership. Collard, very much a loudmouth, has pledged loyalty to Marine Le Pen (to whom he probably owes a lot in this victory) and promised to be a tough and very vocal deputy.

In Vaucluse-3, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine’s niece, won 42.1% in a triangulaire against longtime UMP incumbent Jean-Michel Ferrand and PS candidate Catherine Arkilovitch, who refused to conform to the national leadership’s orders and maintained her candidacy in the runoff. The young law student proved to be a particularly strong candidate with some deep political talent (and ambition). The UMP incumbent won 35.8%, against 30% in the first round, while Arkilovitch failed to significantly improve on her first round result, ending up with only 22.1%. MMLP, who is seeking to deepen her political implantation in the region (in the 2014 local elections), is the youngest deputy ever elected (at age 22) and is a political rising star.

The far-right’s biggest victory, in Vaucluse-4, came with Jacques Bompard – who left the FN in 2005. Bompard, who had already been a FN deputy between 1986 and 1988, is mayor of Orange and the last remaining of the FN’s old ‘local barons’, whom Jean-Marie Le Pen never trusted. Bompard quit the FN in 2005 and since 2010 is the leader of a local far-right party, the Ligue du Sud (modeled on Italy’s Lega Nord). Alone in a one-on-one runoff against the PS, Bompard won by a landslide, taking 58.8% of the vote, benefiting from near-perfect transfers from the FN’s first round candidates and strong backing by those who backed the UMP’s candidate, eliminated by the first round.

In the Pas-de-Calais-11, Marine Le Pen, who placed first with an excellent 42.4% in the first round, lost by 114 votes (50.1 to 49.9%) to Philippe Kemel, a local PS mayor who had narrowly defeated Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG) for second place in the first round. Despite tensions within the PS and the division of the left in the first round, Marine Le Pen still hit an admittedly very high glass ceiling in the runoff. Of course, part of her defeat is due to the redistricting, which expanded the old 14th constituency (renamed the 11th) northwards to Carvin, the town where Kemel is mayor (he won 55.7% there) and where Marine has not worked her local machine up as much. She won 55% in Hénin-Beaumont, and even 52.7% in Rouvroy, an old PCF stronghold next door to Hénin-Beaumont. Marine Le Pen will be hoping to see this election invalidated by the courts, which would result in a by-election.

In Moselle-6, the FN’s Florian Philippot, Marine’s former campaign manager, won a fairly underwhelming 26% in the first round but his runoff performance, alone against the PS, was far more impressive. He managed to increase his support by 20%, more than the PS (which gained about 16%), and won 46.3%, a very strong performance in the end. The FN’s two mini-successes in the Bouches-du-Rhône against the PS were already mentioned.

The FG and EELV

In reality, the FG’s fate was sealed by the first round, when it was clear that it could not realistically win more than 10 seats. Which is exactly what it won. It held five seats unopposed by any candidate in the runoff, after the PS candidate who placed second in these constituencies conformed to tradition and dropped out. Another four of its ten seats are strongholds, where the FG won very easily. Only one of its ten seats was won in a close race. In Oise-6, former PCF deputy Patrice Carvalho (who had won the seat in 1997 but lost in 2002), won back his seat in a triangulaire with the FN, taking 42.7% against 36.9% for the UMP.

The first round for the FG had confirmed something picked up, by a few keen observers, in the first round of the presidential election. The FG performed, on the whole, decently well outside the PCF’s traditional strongholds but in the PCF’s strongholds, first and foremost the old urban/suburban ceinture(s) rouge(s), the FG’s results were fairly weak. On June 10, the FG and the PS were both surprised, in different ways, at the PS’ success at toppling FG incumbents across the ceinture rouge around Paris. The Parisian ceinture rouge, but also similar ‘belts’ which existed around Lyon, Marseille, Grenoble or Rouen have basically been wiped out now, the victims of the PS’ growing strength at all institutional levels in these regions.

As mentioned in the analysis above, EELV owes practically all of its 17 victories to the November deal with the PS. The EELV won a lot of its seats in very narrow races. In some cases, there were some pretty clear Green underperformances compared to “normal” (PS?) candidates, notably in Loire-4, Haute-Garonne-3 or Dordogne-2. In the most significant contests, cabinet minister and EELV leader Cécile Duflot won 72.2% in the runoff in Paris-6, while Denis Baupin won 64.7% in Paris-10. EELV won in Isère-10, Puy-de-Dôme-3, Hérault-1 (by a very narrow margin), Gard-6 (triangulaire), Dordogne-2, Essonne-7, Val-de-Marne-6 (a symbolic victory in a constituency which includes the traditionally right-wing town of Vincennes, though EELV’s win is thanks to Fontenay-sous-Bois), Bouches-du-Rhône-10, Vienne-4, Somme-2, Doubs-2 and even Calvados-5. However, in Loire-4, EELV was ultimately unable to profit from a triangulaire with the FN, suffering from imperfect transfers from the FG in this working-class constituency and some strategic voting from first round FN voters. EELV won 39.6% against 42% for the UMP-PCD incumbent. In Haute-Garonne-3, François Simon likely suffered from a first round PS dissident (who pulled out of the runoff but whose votes did not, seemingly, transfer as smoothly) and a very strong UMP candidate in Jean-Luc Moudenc, a former mayor of Toulouse defeated in 2008 but setting up for a re-run in 2014. Moudenc won 50.4% in this seat, which is the only seat in the department in which the right had a serious shot.

MoDem

While the MoDem still won two seats, François Bayrou was not among the winners. The leader of the party and three-time presidential candidate was defeated in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques-2, a seat he first won in 1988 and in which he had won fairly straightforward reelections since then. The first round, in which he trailed the PS candidate by about 11 points, resulted in a triangulaire with the UMP, which placed a narrow third behind Bayrou. The triangulaire killed any chance of a Bayrou upset on the back of strategic anti-PS voting by right-wing voters. He lost by nearly 13 points, 30.2% against 42.8% for the PS. The UMP candidate won 27%. Did Bayrou suffer from his endorsement of Hollande between the two rounds of the presidential election? It is possible that some voters, who had backed him in the past but who also had sympathies for the left, opted to elect a candidate of the presidential majority altogether rather than reelecting him.

In the Pyrénées-Atlantiques-4, Jean Lassalle, Bayrou’s ally and the other MoDem incumbent, won reelection with 51% of the vote in a direct runoff against the PS. Lassalle voted for Sarkozy rather than Hollande in the runoff, and won on the back of support from UMP voters in the first round but also good backing from Basque nationalist voters (about 7% in the first round).

Amusingly, La Réunion is something like the last MoDem stronghold, but that is due mostly to the island’s weird and fairly incomprehensible politics. The MoDem won its second seat on the island – in La Réunion-7 – where Saint-Leu mayor Thierry Robert won 67% of the vote in the runoff against a UMP candidate. Robert, a popular local mayor, is a ‘local baron’ of kinds, who happens to be affiliated with the MoDem. He voted for Hollande in the runoff and was elected in large part with left-wing votes, so it is quite possible that Robert will quickly affiliate with a left-wing group if not jump ship to another left-wing party. In La Réunion-1, Nassimah Dindar, the former UMP president of the general council who is now with the MoDem, won 44.8% in a runoff against the PS.

[...]

As noted above, I scored a 93% on my constituency-by-constituency predictions. I overestimated the left’s majority by a bit, but overall I am quite pleased with my performance, considering how terrible I am at these kinds of prediction things.

Again, this post (while long enough!) is far from being fully complete. I would love to delve into more details about constituencies, the intricacies of the results, the sociological explanations for what happened and what could happen and so forth; but unfortunately, I don’t have the time or the courage to do that at this point. I’ve focused on a political analysis of the results, with some comments about constituency results, as the best way to cover these massive elections which hide so many interesting tidbits and details.

Greece 2012 – Second Coming

Legislative elections were held in Greece on June 17, 2012. All 300 members of Greece’s unicameral legislature, the Vouli ton Ellinon, were up for reelection. This election comes only a bit more than a month after a previous general election, on May 6, proved inconclusive as no government could be formed based on the election’s results.

For a quick reminder, Greece uses a modified and basically rigged form of proportional representation. There is a 3% threshold for representation in Parliament, and seats are distributed to 56 electoral constituencies (48 of which are multi-member) through rules which nobody bothers understanding. The most important aspect of Greek electoral law, however, is the “majority bonus”, which awards 50 seats to the party which wins the most votes. This means that a party can win an absolute majority in Parliament with only 39% of the vote. The remainder of the seats will be distributed proportionally to parties who have won over 3% of the vote on the basis of valid votes and excluding votes cast for parties which did not meet the threshold. Voting is compulsory in Greece but the law is not strictly enforced, turnout reached a record low of only 65% in May.

These elections, like the last elections in May, remain, of course, heavily conditioned by Greece’s economic situation. The Greek economy remains on the verge of collapse, still crumbling under the weight of recession and a public debt crisis of phenomenal proportions. The country’s economy remains mired in recession with little prospect for recovery in the near future, and the successive austerity packages imposed on Athens by its foreign creditors have created a dangerous climate of social tensions, political radicalization and a total loss of faith or confidence in traditional democratic institutions.

The general elections on May 6 confirmed the ire of Greek voters towards their traditional political leaders and the explosion of Greece’s old two-party system. The two old parties, the conservative New Democracy (ND) and the old centre-left Socialists (PASOK) won only 32% of the vote together, and ND emerged as the largest party with only 18.9% of the vote. ND was crippled; PASOK was almost utterly destroyed. Smaller parties, almost all of them fairly ‘radical’ in their attitudes towards the successive EU-IMF imposed austerity and bailouts, were the main beneficiaries. SYRIZA, a ‘radical’ left-wing party who campaigned on a platform supporting Euro membership but visceral opposition to the terms of the bailout, won 16.8% and placed a strong second behind ND. The hardline Communists won 26 seats, but far more worryingly, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (XA) party won 7% of the vote and 21 seats.

These results, which gave no majority to ‘pro-austerity’ ND and PASOK, meant that no stable government could possibly be formed. SYRIZA was unwilling to cooperate with PASOK, while it was unable to gather support to form an anti-austerity coalition with other anti-austerity parties – given that one of them are outright Nazis and the other are crackpot Stalinists who hate SYRIZA, this is no surprise. As per Greek law, when government formation talks failed, the President was forced to call for snap elections and appoint an interim technical government to manage the day-to-day affairs of the country.

In any other country, this would make for amusing and entertaining politics, but in Greece, the stakes are so high. The country’s economy is teetering on the edge of collapse. Its foreign creditors have temporarily halted their loans to the country and warn that they could suspend them if political stability is not restored. The government is struggling to pay public sector wages and pensions, and the entire healthcare system is collapsing. There are fears that Greece will invariably be forced to default and eventually leave the Eurozone entirely, which would entail a deep economic collapse in Greece and likely across Europe. These fears have sparked a mini bank-run, with a large number of persons withdrawing their cash, in Euros, from their banks.

This election evolved into a straight contest between ND and SYRIZA, who emerged in May as the top leaders of their respective camps: the pro-austerity and anti-austerity camps, that is. For opponents of the austerity-inducing bailout packages and left-wingers, SYRIZA has become the sole credible alternative which is willing to govern. The party’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, a young and fiery populist, has struck a chord with his simple and appealing message of keeping Greece in the Eurozone while basically scrapping the austerity policies. Tsipras boldly argues that accepting the bailout terms is not a precondition for Greece staying in the Eurozone. He wants to boost the collapsing economy through consumption. His main promises include an audit of the public debt, nationalizing main banks, an increase in retirement pensions, unemployment benefits and the minimum wage, abolishing tax loopholes for ship owners and the creation of many new jobs in the public sector. You can find details about the platform here.

This election has been billed as a referendum on Greek membership in the Eurozone, though it would be more accurate to style it as a referendum on the bailout conditions. A vast majority of Greek voters support the Euro, but on the other hand, an equally large majority of voters oppose the austerity measures which have been imposed on the country. SYRIZA has been able to profit from these conflicting attitudes, which are, in reality, fairly contradictory. It has presented itself as pro-European, but radically anti-austerity. In reality, however, can SYRIZA realistically hope that Greece remains the Eurozone when Germany, Brussels and the IMF have shown no willingness to reopen or renegotiate the austerity deal, and seem willing and/or resigned to “let Greece go”?

As much as Tsipras’ campaign was bold, confident and fiery; ND led a cautious campaign. ND has emerged as the main representative of pro-austerity forces, and its leader, Antonis Samaras, has played it very cautious in this go-around. Gone are the various populist vote-winning promises of the last election, rather it has preferred to run a campaign urging voters to be realistic about Greece’s European future and warning that a SYRIZA victory would spell ruin for Greece (as the country would risk returning to the drachma in a disorderly fashion). ND managed to form an electoral alliance with the small liberal DISY, led by a former ND cabinet minister, which won 2.6% and no seats in the last election. In the same spectrum, PASOK, found itself trying desperately to prevent an electoral armageddon for the party. ND’s emergence as the anti-SYRIZA, pro-austerity party has seriously marginalized PASOK, which has played an even more low-key campaign. At this point in time, PASOK is fighting for its political survival.

Other anti-austerity parties also found themselves marginalized in this campaign. This is especially true for the KKE, which, somewhat to my surprise, started the campaign at a much lower level than where it was in May. It appears as if even KKE’s usually loyal voters opted to vote for SYRIZA, as the KKE continued to refuse any role in any government majority. Similarly, the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks (ANEL) also entered the campaign at somewhat lower levels of support. Finally, the neo-Nazi XA also lost a good share of their May 6 vote during the campaign, likely because they were unable to resist the media spotlight which ended up scaring away a lot of its first time voters. During the campaign, at a TV debate, a XA candidate physically attacked a Communist candidate.

Turnout was 62.47%, a new all-time low after having already reached a previous all-time low (65%) in May. Once again, the economic crisis has not just worked to the benefit of the old third parties and new political actors, but has also significantly increased the number of non-voters in a country where turnout was usually well over 70% in the past. Political institutions, parties and politicians have lost a great deal of legitimacy and trust with the advent of the economic crisis. In contrast, only 0.99% of votes were blank or invalid, down from 2.58% in May. Results were as follows:

ND-DISY 29.66% (+8.26%) winning 129 seats (+21)
SYRIZA 26.89% (+10.11%) winning 71 seats (+19)
PASOK 12.28% (-0.9%) winning 33 seats (-8)
ANEL 7.51% (-3.1%) winning 20 seats (-13)
XA 6.92% (-0.05%) winning 18 seats (-3)
DIMAR 6.25% (+0.15%) winning 17 seats (-2)
KKE 4.5% (-3.98%) winning 12 seats (-14)
(total below threshold: 5.98%)
DX-Drasi 1.59% (-2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LAOS 1.58% (-1.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Greens 0.88% (-2.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others below 0.5% 1.93% (-4.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)

IGraphics.gr has a wonderful interactive map, which can hardly be beaten.

In this unofficial referendum over Greece’s economic future, the centre-right ND – which is generally pro-austerity (regardless of whatever posturing they do) and favourable to the gist of the EU-IMF bailout – narrowly won the election.

The first election in May was really a massive free for all, and a dictionary definition for protest voting (or voting with the middle finger) taken to its fullest extent. Many voters, in May, let out their anger and frustration with their country’s economic state by casting their votes for new (or old) small parties, many of which did not pass the 3% threshold for representation. While there were still two general competing ‘ideologies’ in May – pro and anti-austerity, both camps were divided between their various ‘factions’ and avatars (and there are many – from neoliberals to ND-PASOK’s old patronage machines; or from Stalinists to outright Nazis), and nobody really emerged as a clear winner.

This month, while protest voting, to be sure, was still a major factor, voters didn’t use their middle fingers all that much and, in large part, votes coalesced around ND and SYRIZA – which had emerged in May as the strongest pro and anti-austerity parties respectively. Fears about the country’s future economic and political prospects played a much greater role in this campaign, and after the disastrous experience of May, there was a much stronger motivator to vote for parties which could form a stable government.

The result was that both ND and SYRIZA significantly increased their support compared to the May election. ND, which represented the generally ‘pro-austerity’ or, perhaps more accurately (given that Samaras didn’t exactly sing the praises of austerity in the campaign) a vaguely pro-memorandum, centre-right anti-SYRIZA party, gained about 8.3% compared to what it and DISY (Bakoyannis’ small liberal splinter from ND which joined ND ahead of these snap elections) won in May. In doing so, it killed off any chances which the new liberal and clearly pro-austerity DX-Drasi alliance might have had (if the two parties had ran together in May they would have won seats) of doing well in this election. It must have taken votes from PASOK – though PASOK is at a point where its remaining voters are probably born-and-bred parochially Socialist – but also from the right-wing but anti-austerity ANEL (by fear of a radical left government?) and the. LAOS, the “old” (and far more pleasant – how things have changed!) far-right party, lost all its seats in May and lost another 1% of its May popular vote, likely to ND. There has always been some symmetry between the two parties, given that ND – regardless of what the clueless media writes – has always had a soft nationalist side to it.

In practical terms, the election results gave 162 seats – a bare 11 seat absolute majority – to ND and PASOK, historically the bitter enemies of Greek politics, but forced towards reconciliation as moderate pro-memorandum parties by the forceful emergence of the likes of SYRIZA, ANEL and XA. PASOK, in a last bid to appear as still vaguely left-leaning, announced that it would not participate in a government without SYRIZA (arguing that a ND-PASOK government weighing only 42% of voters would be illegitimate – but PASOK won its majority in 2009 with only 43%…), but, unsurprisingly, it threw this weird posturing out the window and will swallow its pride and form government with Samaras, complemented by DIMAR, a small moderate left-wing and vaguely pro-Eurozone party. This new ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition holds 179 seats, a much more comfortable 28 seat majority.

Besides ND, SYRIZA was, of course, the other main winner of this election. Strong from a close second place finish in May, SYRIZA clearly established itself as the left-wing party of choice for those voters who opposed austerity or the EU-IMF bailout. Because this election was a must-win contest for both ND and SYRIZA, the latter’s very narrow defeat will definitely be a bit disappointing for them, but in the wider realm of things, this is a spectacular result for a party which was polling only 4% as recently as 2009-2010. Alexis Tsipras has gone from the young (unknown outside of Greece) leader of an also-ran third party which seemed destined to continued marginalization to the vocal, charismatic and fiery leader of the main anti-austerity force in the Greek political and economic crisis, with international recognition and a very strong following at home. Tsipras will now have the chance to prove himself and his fairly young and relatively unknown or misunderstood party as the main opposition in the new Parliament. Of course, in these conditions, opposition is a much more lucrative position in the long-term than being government. If Tsipras and SYRIZA prove themselves to be credible and competent in opposition, they are promised an even greater future, in political and electoral terms.

What SYRIZA did is quite spectacular. Indeed, it has done what so many non-dominant socialist left-wing parties in Europe (notably the IU in Spain) have always dreamt of: outrunning the dominant social democratic centre-left parties and replacing them as the dominant force of the ideological left. It took an economic depression of phenomenal proportion and a social and political crisis for SYRIZA to achieve this, but it has perhaps irrevocably changed Greek politics. It must now live up to expectations, but that is much more easily done when one can reap the luxuries of opposition.

Interestingly, the results of these elections show a little move back towards a two-and-a-half party system, though weaker than the old system which prevailed since the fall of the Colonels. ND has remained the main right-wing – or more accurately, the pro-memorandum party – in this system, but SYRIZA has seemingly, for now at least, replaced PASOK as the main left-wing party; while PASOK could be relegated to the position of perennial third, formerly occupied by the KKE.

PASOK’s results could have been much worse, considering that it has absolutely nothing going for it at this point. It remains a discredited party, both by the left and right, since its last stay in power; it is no longer one of the top two parties of Greek politics (unlike ND), meaning that it is no longer a patronage party; and it has a very hard time finding a voice, hesitating between maintaining appearances as even remotely left-leaning or playing along with ND in a game in which it would be marginalized and dwarfed by ND. The party lost about 1% of its vote compared to an already disastrous performance in May, and ends up with a new record low, which places it below 13% of the vote. It would be interesting to analyse who are PASOK’s last remaining voters, resisting the SYRIZA onslaught, but from my (admittedly cursory) knowledge, my hypothesis is that, like in May, PASOK has been limited to core, rock-ribbed base of ancestral or traditional PASOK voters, not necessarily (and in fact, probably not) left-leaning in ideology.

ANEL, a populist right-wing, nationalist and anti-austerity, won over 10% of the vote in May, boosted by its charismatic rabble-rousing leader, Panos Kammenos, a former ND cabinet minister. Nowadays, it has little in common with ND, which it generally brands as traitors, and ironically has far more in common – at least as far as opposition to austerity is concerned – with SYRIZA (though ANEL has an added nationalist-conservative and anti-German rhetoric which SYRIZA does not have). It lost a bit over 3% of the votes compared to the May election. The party is rather thin on substance, banking heavily on its charismatic populist leader, so its star was set to fade after its great performance in the very protest-oriented May election. Once again, the mood in the May election was a free-for-all attitude of protest voting, with little concern for the formation of a stable government. In the government negotiations in May, ANEL played its role in creating the deadlock, by refusing to work with the ‘traitors’ (ND and PASOK) although I believe it would have agreed to work with SYRIZA if an anti-austerity cabinet without the Nazis and the KKE had had a majority. In this election, the concern of forming a stable government and the resulting re-polarization of the election around ND and SYRIZA likely had a significant impact on ANEL’s vote, which is probably not as rock-ribbed anti-system as XA’s vote is. It is hard to say, with my cursory knowledge, where its lost voters went given the general incompatibility with both ND (on the issue of austerity and the memorandum) and SYRIZA (on general ideology and nationalism), although I would bet more towards ND.

Perhaps most interesting and surprising was XA’s performance. The neo-Nazi party held its vote remarkably well, losing less than a tenth of percentage point in the end, when most polls had shown that the party, which won 6.97% in May, would win a somewhat lower share of the vote (4-6%). Most had thought that the recent media spotlight on XA’s various insanities – like the physical assault on a KKE deputy or its open Nazism – would throw cold water on some voters who voted for XA without exactly knowing what XA really was. I would wager that it was less XA’s repulsive ideology than its general anti-system, anti-establishment, radical nationalist and populist rhetoric which won it that many votes. However, clearly – but fairly understandably – there must be a large share of “shy Nazi” voters who do not want to admit to a XA vote, but who nonetheless vote for XA in the secrecy of the voting booth. It would seem as if those who voted XA in May – and almost all of them had not previously voted for the party – were resolutely anti-system, and were unmoved by the various attacks on the party (likely believing Michaloliakos when he raves about a media conspiracy to silence him) and the calls for a stable majority. In very large part, they confirmed their vote in this election.

DIMAR was the only smaller party to see an increase in its vote share, although only minimally. Given its history but perhaps most importantly its position on the political spectrum as a moderate and fairly social democratic party which supports a renegotiation of the memorandum only with a guarantee that Greece will remain in the Eurozone, its voters, a lot of whom must have come from PASOK’s 2009 electorate, were perhaps less attracted to Tsipras’ more radical creed of scrapping the memorandum and the unspoken risk of leaving the Eurozone as a result. The party’s actual views and positions on the issue remain rather vague, because they aren’t totally anti-austerity but certainly are not as pro-austerity/memorandum as ND is portrayed to be. Nonetheless, the party has taken the (politically courageous) decision of supporting (without joining) Antonis Samaras’ new government, thus forming a ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition of sorts which DIMAR had kind of rejected in May.

This election was an unmitigated disaster for the KKE, which saw its support nearly cut in half and reduced to its lowest results in at least 20 years. In May, the KKE had won a good but not great result, which they, of course, interpreted as a sign that the Revolution was around the corner and that they could continue playing its Stalinist games. The KKE has been locked in its archaic ideology and style since the 1990s, without ever suffering excessively from it, given that it could count on a base of voters which were likely ideologically or socially attached to the KKE without being too displeased by its attitude of constant opposition and its perennial use of Stalinist language. Until this year, the KKE never really faced a very strong challenge in its own backyard on the left, but in establishing himself and SYRIZA as a dominant political force, Tsipras has also managed to strike what could be a mortal blow to the KKE.

Tsipras presented himself as a credible and fairly realistic but still clearly left-wing alternative, notably with his proposals for a major stimulus/recovery plan. This is more than what can be said for the KKE, which played its role in the May deadlock by continuing its Stalinist antics and keeping up with its vociferous hatred for the “opportunists” (SYRIZA). The image which KKE gave off right after the May election was of an obviously archaic party which actually had little in the way of credible policy and categorically refused to partake in the country’s governance. It seems as if even its own usually loyal voters saw this image and reacted negatively to it, by abandoning, in large part, the KKE in favour of a strategic vote for SYRIZA, the ‘credible’ left-wing and anti-memorandum option. The KKE responded to this situation by branding SYRIZA as an opportunist bourgeois force, in cahoots with foreign powers and global finance. And, of course, the KKE’s assessment of these elections is that its poor result is due to outside forces, blackmail, intimidation and fear; certainly not to its own faults!

The major re-polarization of this election was most apparent with parties who did not pass the 3% threshold. Together, they won over 19% in May and formed the largest “political force” when combined. Only a month later, they weighed a mere 6%. All these ‘third parties’ which had ran in May lost a significant amount of their votes, further proving that May was very much a massive free-for-all election. The new liberal alliance formed by DX and Drasi, which would have won seats in May had they run together, won only 1.6% of the vote, clearly marginalized and hence crushed by re-polarization around ND. LAOS continued its descent into the abyss, losing 1.3% of the vote and being reduced to a paltry 1.6%. SYRIZA’s pressure was very heavy on the Greens, who had toyed with the idea of running on a joint slate with SYRIZA. They probably should have, judging by their results: 0.9% against 2.9% in May, erasing three years of slow gains by the Greek Greens. Another party which suffered particularly heavily from SYRIZA’s gains was ANTARSYA, a small far-left outfit with a wonderful name (Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow), which won 1.2% in May but only 0.3% this month.

The geography of this election was broadly similar to that of the May election, except that PASOK came first in no district this month. SYRIZA’s map clearly shows the extent to which the party has recouped much of PASOK’s old base – and now parts of the KKE base. Crete, the historical bastion of PASOK, saw all four prefectures back SYRIZA in this election, though PASOK still pulled over 20% in two of these prefectures. In the urbanized conglomeration of Attica (Athens, Piraeus and their suburbs), SYRIZA has emerged, once again, as the main force – particularly in the Piraeus and Athens’ working-class suburbs, though not in Athens proper (ND came first in the traditionally conservative city). PASOK, in turn, was once again obliterated in Attica, the country’s premier industrial region, and obviously the region which has seen the most of the social unrest which has shaken the country in the recent years. XA won some of its best results (9-10% in some parts, peaking at 14-16%) in Attica.

Antonis Samaras’ new government will probably not include any PASOK or DIMAR cabinet ministers, both parties having announced that they would only provide parliamentary backing to the new government. The new government faces a daunting task, held hostage by a wrecked economy and a state apparatus on the verge of collapse. This new cabinet will be greeted by a sigh of relief by decision makers in Berlin, Brussels but also Paris and Washington, given that ND is far more likely to adhere to the EU-IMF’s bailout conditions. Samaras has pledged a renegotiation of the most onerous parts of the deal, and creditors have shown some willingness in reopening some parts of the deal. However, Samaras is left with very little leeway here, and will probably need to quickly acquiesce to more stringent conditions. ND’s defeat does not necessarily eliminate the risk of a Greek exit from the Eurozone – far from it – nor does it ensure that the worst is behind.

Besides some phenomenally huge economic challenges, the new government also faces an uncertain political situation and the real risk of continued social unrest. While SYRIZA has promised resolutely tough opposition and warned that ND will not be able to renegotiate the bailout deal, ND is backed by two parties who, having contributed no ministers to the cabinet could be ready to pull the plug if they feel things are not going their way. In the end, this government’s lifespan could end up being pretty short, and Greek voters might return to the polls as early as next year. The government will also face pressure from the street, where social unrest will certainly continue as Samaras will eventually be forced to agree to more tough austerity medicine in return for more bailout money to keep the country’s government afloat.

In electoral terms (and this is what this blog is all about after all!), the future prospects of all parties – especially the governing parties – will be heavily dependent on Greece’s economic performance in the coming months. If the situation worsens or even remains the same, which is unfortunately the most likely option at this point, the government could be hitting high unpopularity numbers very quickly, its partners could be looking to pull the plug to save their own turfs while SYRIZA could be standing to be the happy beneficiaries. If the situation somehow starts improving, the government could certainly benefit.

The country’s future might be marginally brighter than in May, but even then, Greece’s future – socially, economically and probably politically – still looks very bleak.

Quebec provincial by-elections 2012

Provincial elections were held in two constituencies in Quebec (Canada) on June 11, 2012. These by-elections filled two seats – Argenteuil and LaFontaine – left vacant by the resignation of these respective MNAs.

Quebecois provincial politics remain as uncertain as ever. The provincial Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest, in office since 2003 and not due at the polls until (officially) late next year, remains as unpopular as ever, with over 70% disapproving of the government’s performance. The governing Liberals continue to be hurt by a string of corruption, bribery, graft and illicit party financing scandals. The provincial Liberals are very unpopular, but the opposition PQ has not really proven to be

However, since February, the province and the Charest government have been rocked by a massive student strike which protests a 75% increase in tuition fees for post-secondary institutions spread out over the next five years. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees of all Canadian provinces, but student associations found the tuition fee increase unacceptable. Neither side have been able (or willing, really) to come to an agreement or even move past meeting each other, meaning that the student movement has turned into a generalized political and social crisis, which the government is unable to deal with. In May, the government adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricts freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval – with the aim of breaking up the student movement which has, at times, degenerated into violence.

The political impacts of this movement are surprisingly hard to measure. Voters are generally split (along partisan lines) on the issue, though a narrow plurality usually side with the government over the students. This might explain why the PLQ has regained a narrow but still weak lead over the PQ in recent opinion polls. The PQ leadership generally, more or less ambiguously, backs the student movement; while the small far-left Québec solidaire (QS) party fully supports the student movement – its sole MNA, Amir Khadir, and his daughter, were arrested by police for participating in demonstrations. QS, if polls are to be believed, has moved up to a strong 8-10% range in voting intentions.

When I last talked about Quebec politics in December last year, the fad was the CAQ – the new political party led by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister. The CAQ – Coalition Avenir Québec (they seem to hate prepositions) – has since then merged with the weak centre-right ADQ, which provided the CAQ with a parliamentary caucus. Legault is a former péquiste but a big part of the CAQ’s appeal is its claim that it lays beyond the sovereignist-federalist divide which has defined politics in Quebec since 1970. The appetite for independence is not very strong in Quebec, so the CAQ’s novel message of being a post-sovereignist centrist (or centre-right) party allowed it to ride a wave of support late last year, with December proving to be the CAQ’s peak with over 35% support in polls and a comfortable first place showing. However, the CAQ’s surge was built on nothing, other than a major thirst for change for change’s sake (given the PLQ’s unpopularity and the PQ’s uninspiring state of perpetual chaos). Legault has offered little in the way of consistent policy proposals, and those who backed the CAQ in December did so only because it represented change and a new third way. The CAQ’s predictable collapse, however, came sooner than expected. By January the CAQ’s numbers started falling, and since April has stabilized at a bit over 20% support, roughly what the ADQ was pulling before it disappeared below the waves.

The result of the CAQ’s rise-and-fall was a second coming for the PQ, which had a terrible year in 2011, hurt by internal feuds, bickering, divisions, chaos and an uninspiring leader, Pauline Marois. However, Marois and the PQ have managed to re-appear as a credible alternative to the governing Liberals. Marois still isn’t going to break popularity records any time soon and the PQ’s support, while seemingly solid, is largely unenthusiastic support by voters eager for change, at any cost.

The riding of Argenteuil fell vacant after the Liberal incumbent and former cabinet minister, David Whissell, resigned his seat, unofficially preferring to focus on his parallel business career – he is a major shareholder in an asphalt company and was in a position of conflict of interest as a cabinet minister and government MNA. Whissell held the seat since a 1998 by-election, and won reelection in 2008 with 49.6% of the vote. This seat has been held by the Liberal Party since 1966, and had never elected a PQ member. Between 1979 and 1994, this riding’s MNA was Claude Ryan, a one time leader of the PLQ.

Argenteuil is in the Laurentides region and is about halfway between Gatineau and Montreal, on the north shore of the Ottawa River but expanding into high-growth exurban territory around Saint-Colomban and Lachute and upwards to Morin-Heights, an affluent ski resort in the Laurentians. The region has traditionally had a large Anglophone community, which still accounts for 16% of the population. This is a traditional Liberal stronghold, although races can be close. The NO won only very narrowly here in the 1995 referendum, with 50.3%, and the 1998 election was very close in this riding. Since 2003, however, the Liberals have maintained the upper hand. Whissell won 53% in 2003 and 49.6% in 2008, while in 2007 he won with 37.6% against 29.7% for the ADQ. The Liberals usually poll best in rural English communities in the western parts of the riding, as well as the ski resort of Morin-Heights, while the PQ is dominant in exurban Francophone Saint-Colomban (where the ADQ was strong too).

The PLQ nominated Lise Proulx, the PQ nominated Roland Richer while the CAQ got themselves a star candidate – Mario Laframboise, a former Bloc MP in Ottawa for the region until he was handily defeated by a young Dipper in the 2011 federal election. This election, alongside LaFontaine, was the CAQ’s first electoral foray, so a strong showing by the CAQ was almost imperative for the party, which since the new year has found itself struggling more than it probably ever expected. The Green leader, Claude Sabourin, who has run here since 2003, ran again. The by-election saw the first electoral outings of three new parties: Jean-Martin Aussant’s hardcore nationalist Option nationale (ON) party, the new Conservative Party (PCQ) led by former federal Tory MP Luc Harvey and the centre-right Autonomist Team (EA). The PLQ was thought to have a fairly significant edge in this riding, though both the PQ and CAQ put significant efforts into this contest.

Roland Richer (PQ) 36.16% (+2.54%)
Lise Proulx (PLQ) 33.4% (-16.18%)
Mario Laframboise (CAQ) 21.4% (+10.16%)
Claude Sabourin (Green) 2.99% (-0.49%)
Yvan Zanetti (QS) 2.7% (+0.61%)
Patrick Sabourin (ON) 1.34%
Jean Lecavalier (PCQ) 1.05%
Georges Lapointe (Ind) 0.83%
Gérald Nicolas (EA) 0.14%

The Montreal riding of LaFontaine was vacant since May after Tony Tomassi, the independent (former Liberal) MNA for the seat was compelled to resign after a long-running corruption case against him. In 2010, he was forced out of his cabinet position (family minister) and the PLQ caucus after a scandal surrounding daycare licenses erupted. Tomassi had held this seat in eastern Montreal since 2003.

LaFontaine covers most of the neighborhood of Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies in northeastern Montreal. Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Prairies are two largely suburban and fairly well-off middle-class areas on Montreal Island. However, the Rivière-des-Prairies neighborhood is marked by a strong Italian community. Overall, 47.5% of the riding’s population had an non-official language – usually Italian but with significant Hispanic and Creole minorities – as their mother tongue (while only 9.3% claimed English as their mother tongue, 26% spoke English at home). 26% of the riding’s population is made up of visible minorities, most of them Haitian. This demographic makeup makes this riding a Liberal stronghold. In 2008, Tomassi won 69.8% of the vote against only 19% for the PQ. He won 69.5% in 2003 and still managed 62.5% in 2007. The riding was more marginal in the past, when it included more Francophone and péquiste areas in Pointe-aux-Trembles. Indeed, under significantly different boundaries, the old riding of Lafontaine elected a PQ member as early as 1970. The Liberals won in 1985 and since the 1988 and 2001 redistrictings removed the remnants of Pointe-aux-Trembles, the Liberals have turned this riding into a core Liberal stronghold.

The PLQ nominated Marc Tanguay, the president of the party. The PQ and CAQ nominated sacrificial lambs, as did all other smaller parties including the new ON, PCQ and EA.

Marc Tanguay (PLQ) 53.32% (-16.44%)
Frédéric St-Jean (PQ) 17% (-2.11%)
Domenico Cavaliere (CAQ) 15.58% (+9.08%)
Sébastien Rivard (QS) 5.09% (+3.18%)
Gaëtan Bérard (Green) 3.02% (+0.29%)
Paolo Zambito (ON) 1.64%
Patrice Raza (PCQ) 1.26%
Marc-André Beauchesne (Ind) 1.02%
Renaud Blais (PN) 0.86%
Guy Boivin (EA) 0.41%

Turnout was 42.4% in Argenteuil but only 25.6% in LaFontaine.

The Liberals were the main losers of June 11. Their fairly startling defeat in Argenteuil has proven a major loss for the Liberals, both in political terms and in more general media/spin/image impacts. The PLQ’s line that by-elections don’t matter doesn’t really cut it for them: by-elections aren’t the most important things in the world, but idle voters and the media do make something of by-election results. Similarly, the argument that low turnout leads to such “fluke” results might be true from a psephological standpoint, but the media and the idle voter know that by-election turnout is always ghastly but still play along anyway.

The Liberals lost a full 16% in both constituencies, generally in line with their loses in other provincial by-elections since troubles began: -14.8% in Bonaventure (Liberal hold, December 2011), -17.9% in Kamouraska-Témiscouata (PQ gain, November 2010) and -10.4% in Saint-Laurent (Liberal hold, September 2010). If a -16% swing against the Liberals was applied throughout the province, the Liberals would win only 26% of the vote (which is less than what polls currently give them: 30-32%). The PLQ has been unable to gain any political support out of the student movement, when some could have thought that the image of a “tough” government against “unruly mobs” could gain it a bit of support. However, views on the issue are divided along partisan lines: those most likely to appreciate the government’s policies are already PLQ (or CAQ) voters. At 26% support, the PLQ would be hitting rock-bottom – that is, likely third place with Francophone voters but maintaining only a solid 60-70% core vote with the rock-ribbed federalist Anglo and allophone communities.

The PQ’s victory in Argenteuil has kicked up the party’s moods once again, and it is a significant victory for the PQ in a constituency which had never elected a PQ member. However, instead of undue triumphalism, the PQ should read the other (hidden) message these results carry for the PQ: it is largely stagnating a bit above or a bit below its 2008 result (35% – which I guess is still ‘good’ when the PLQ could be at 26% in the province…). These results are some nice proof for the old fact that the PQ’s success and potential victory in the next provincial election will be due far more to the PLQ’s state of ruin and utter discredit than to any genuine support for the PQ’s message or for its hapless leader. I guess a win is a win, but in the long term, a win better be a real win rather than a win-by-default. The PQ appears to have retrieved its 2008 support, likely gaining back the preferences of some fledgling Francophone voters who had toyed with the CAQ fad while it lasted but who have since returned to the PQ as the least worst of uninspiring options.

The CAQ’s first electoral foray was marked by two defeats, including a rather bad one in Argenteuil. The CAQ had downplayed expectations, but it was still hoping for a second place finish (a la ADQ 2007) in Argenteuil, especially with the recruitment of a star candidate like former MP Mario Laframboise. In LaFontaine, the CAQ’s result is not all that bad (it is fairly amusing that the difference between the CAQ’s results in these two very different constituencies is that small…). It appears as if the CAQ’s ‘remaining’ vote has come heavily at the expense of the PLQ rather than the PQ. This would give credence to theory that while the CAQ fished on both sides of the pond during its surge, its decline was more pronounced with more traditionally péquiste voters, while retaining a good base with disillusioned or unhappy former Liberals. The CAQ can also be assumed to have kept a good part of the former ADQ electorate.

The CAQ’s result was about 9.5% better than the ADQ’s results in these two constituencies in 2008. Surprisingly, if the CAQ performed 9.5% better than the ADQ did in 2008 at the provincial level, it would be standing at 26% support (thus tied with PLQ for second) – quite a bit higher than the 20-22% support it garners in polls. However, such results are hardly encouraging for the CAQ, which has rapidly transformed into a boring third party which nobody cares about.

QS improved its vote in both ridings, including by a significant 3.2% in LaFontaine. Most of this additional support likely comes from the PQ. But given that polls show that QS could be as high as 8-10% nationally, and seems to have benefited a bit from the student movement, these results are a bit underwhelming for them. Of course, these are hardly the type of places where I would expect a student movement-generated QS mini-surge to be strongest (a rural constituency with no unis on one hand, a largely allophone suburban constituency on the other hand…), and perhaps that turnout played a trick on them.

Its results were still much better than those won by the irrelevant others: the Green leader did fairly terribly, the ON was (as expected) a flop (like all other hardcore nationalist PQ splinters have been) and the new Conservative Party went nowhere. Of course, neither of these two new parties have a real base: the PQ eats up potential ON voters, the PLQ and CAQ eat up any potential PCQ voters.

Jean Charest has until 2013 to call an election, but he could be calling an election in the province as soon as this fall or this winter. The PLQ is continuing to rush into the wall at full speed, and there is little which it can do about it. The Liberal government has lost a good deal of its political legitimacy as a government (and this is a very big deal) with the student strikes, and it could be tempted to end its own misery sooner rather than later.

France (Legislative) 2012

The first round of legislative elections were held in France on June 10, 2012; with a second round being held on June 17, 2012. All 577 seats in the French National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), the lower house of France’s Parliament, were up for reelection. In the wake of the April 22 and May 6 presidential election, the left aimed to confirm its victory in the presidential election by conquering a legislative majority, necessary to govern.

The French National Assembly is composed of 577 members elected for five-year terms in 577 single-member constituencies. France uses a modified form of runoff voting for legislative elections. These elections will be the first fought under new boundaries, established in 2009 by the first redistricting since 1986.

In each constituency, a candidate must win over 50% of valid votes cast (these are called suffrages exprimés) and over 25% of total registered voters to win by the first round of voting. This means that is possible for a candidate to win over 50% of votes cast but not be deemed elected because he/she has not won over 25% of all potential votes due to high abstention.

In the event that no candidate has been elected by the first round, a runoff is held a week later opposing all candidates who won over 12.5% of registered voters (potential votes), or, in the case that only one or no candidate has won over 12.5% of registered voters, the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate winning a plurality of the votes is elected. Traditionally, runoffs usually oppose the top two contenders. The rising abstention in legislative elections, reaching 40% in 2007, means that it is increasingly hard for over two candidates to win over 12.5% of all registered voters. However, triangulaires opposing three candidates are quite possible. In 2007, there was only one triangulaire, largely because the far-right National Front (FN), usually the third party which partook in most triangulaires in the past, was crushed at the polls. In 2002, there were 10 triangulaires but in 1997, 79 of runoffs were triangulaires.

I covered the stakes, the parties and the major races in a preview post here.

Data and Analysis

Turnout in the first round was 57.23%, down from 60% in the first round in 2007. This is the lowest first round turnout in any legislative election held in France under universal suffrage. 2007 had already broken the unfortunate record with only 60% turnout in the first round. It is not, however, all that surprising. Since the calendar was shuffled in 2000, the legislative elections have become, for the average voters, much less important than in the past. The perception is that they are mere confirmations of the results of the presidential election a month earlier, like in 2002 or 2007. Their stakes are lower than when they were held independently from presidential elections. Some voters also likely suffer from “electoral overload”, since this is the third time in less than two months that French voters are returning to the polls.

PS 29.36% (+4.63%) winning 22 seats
UMP 27.12% (-12.42%) winning 9 seats
FN 13.60% (+9.31%) winning 0 seats
FG 6.91% (+2.62%) winning 0 seats
EELV 5.46% (+2.21%) winning 1 seat
DVD 3.51% (+1.04%) winning 1 seat
DVG 3.40% (+1.43%) winning 1 seat
NC 2.20% (-0.17%) winning 1 seat
Centre-MoDem 1.76% (-5.85%) winning 0 seats
PRG 1.65% (+0.33%) winning 1 seat
PRV 1.24% (+1.24%) winning 0 seats
Far-left 0.98% (-2.43%) winning 0 seats
Ecologists 0.96% (+0.16%) winning 0 seats
AC 0.60% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats
Regionalists and nationalists 0.56% (+0.05%) winning 0 seats
Others 0.52% (-0.51%) winning 0 seats
Far-right 0.19% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats

Parliamentary Left (PS+DVG+PRG+EELV+FG) 46.78% (+11.22%) winning 25 seats
incl. Presidential Majority (PS+DVG+PRG+EELV) 39.87% (+8.6%) winning 25 seats
Parliamentary Right (UMP+DVD+NC+PRV+AC) 34.67% (-10.91%) winning 11 seats

Before passing any more comments, it is quite important to point out that the results above use the etiquettes used by the Ministry of the Interior in their archaic and shady methods of classifying candidates. I disagree with a lot of their classifications, given that they have classified some NC candidates backed by the UMP as UMP, some DVD candidates as UMP or NC, and continue to group smaller parties of the left and right (MRC, MPF, DLR etc) into the DVG and DVD labels, which also include – in large part – dissident candidates from the UMP or PS. But after all, these are just for play – national numbers are fairly meaningless, especially in the first round. It is only useful and interesting if you group the labels into broader left and right categories, like I have done.

The results of the first round are quite favourable to the left. In this general regard, there were few major surprises at a national level. The left came out with a sizable advantage, and nothing indicates that the left will not have a majority in the new National Assembly – far from it. Any commentary which describes this as an underwhelming result for either the PS or the left is off the mark. 29.4% for the PS alone is nothing to write home about, and 40% for the presidential majority is less than the 45.6% won by the Sarkozyst majority in 2007. However, the combined 40% for the left excluding the FG-PCF is superior to the result of the same parties in 1997 – the last left-wing victory – when these parties took 34.6% combined, or 44.5% with the PCF added. 47% for the left altogether by the first round – it is quite a strong result for the left.

In terms of raw seats, which, at the end of the day when all is said and done is the only thing which matters, it is quite likely that the PS and its closest allies (DVG and PRG) will get over 289 seats, the absolute majority which will allow it to govern alone, without needing to take heed too much of the more demanding Greens. This was Ayrault-Hollande’s goal from day one, and it appears as if they will reach it. I have not yet done my own crunching of numbers seat by seat (given how my predictions were terrible, I doubt anybody will take my predictions seriously!), but from a cursory glance at the main battlegrounds, the PS is in a very strong position.

Of course, the first round is only a dry-run or a series of primaries of sorts before the second round(s) which decide it all. A week is indeed a long time in politics, so it would be unwise to “sell the bear’s skin before killing it”. In 2007, the first round was a massive blue tsunami which allowed the UMP to think that it could easily win over 300-350 seats and totally crush the left. The second round humbled the right, which, albeit saving an absolute majority without too much trouble, faced a resurgent left which conquered a significant number of constituencies. A similar phenomenon happened in 1967, when the left was able to turn a mediocre first round into a successful second round.

Should the left beware of a 1967/2007 repeat, the other way around? It should obviously keep away from triumphalism in the upcoming week, but I feel as if the chances of a 1967/2007 “corrective” which would see a narrower than expected victory for the left in the second round(s) to be small. In 2007, the media narrative coming out of the first round was all about a blue tsunami, a massive majority for the right in the National Assembly and a humiliation for the PS. This narrative, plus Jean-Louis Borloo’s tax-gaffe, contributed to the corrective in the runoff. This year, the narrative will be of a left-wing victory but not of an obliteration of the right. On top of that, the media seems to have decided to only talk about the FN targets and the Royal-Falorni civil war in La Rochelle. The right’s voters are, on the whole, resigned to a left-wing majority, and it is unlikely that a whole slew of right-wingers who did not vote in the first round will miraculously show up to prevent a large left-wing majority. Turnout is unlikely to be significantly higher (or lower) than in the first round at the national level, because nothing indicates that the left’s base will decide to sit out the runoff thinking all is said and done, or that the right’s voters will mobilize spectacularly well.

The UMP was not crushed or obliterated, resisting the onslaught fairly well. Unlike in 1981, it does not seem as if the right’s core voters were demobilized far more than the left’s core voters. Both sides suffered from the major fall in turnout since April-May, but it does not seem as if the right demobilized far more than the left did. This means that the UMP will come out of this in slightly better shape than the RPR-UDF did in 1981. Whether this is a significant advantage for the right in the upcoming reconstruction/civil war is another matter. These elections have, unsurprisingly, very much reopened the old FN question for the right. The current leadership and big thinkers of the UMP seem to believe that the reconquista of power lies with the far-right/populist right rather than the centre/centre-right (whether or not this is true is another matter), and, with things as they currently stand, the UMP will invariably tack hard to the right, in part a desperate bid to quickly kill off any Mariniste/frontiste momentum.

The UMP will lose a few high-profile members, but besides NKM and a few others I might have forgotten, no prominent leadership material will be defeated. Jean-François Copé, François Fillon, Laurent Wauquiez and Xavier Bertrand are favourites to win their respective fights. The UMP knew that it would lose the legislative elections, so its whole semblance of a campaign was a jumbled up defensive effort of saving furniture. With that bad spell soon behind them, the UMP will soon be able to move on to the upcoming leadership war – the much talked about Copé-Fillon showdown.

The FN won 13.6% of the vote. It is, on the whole, quite a disappointing result for the party, after having won 17.9% in the presidential election. While it is a significant improvement on 2007 (which seems to be the FN’s main spin on its result, which is a ridiculously dishonest spin) and even 2002, it falls below the FN’s record 15% in the 1997 legislative elections. However, the FN can content itself with two factoids: its main star candidates did very well, and the FN will keep a strong nuisance power on the UMP. The FN is qualified for 32 theoretical triangulaires and I believe a total of 61 candidates of the FN are qualified for the runoff, in a good number of cases at the UMP’s expense. We’re a long way from the 70+ triangulaires with the FN and the 133 total runoffs with the FN in 1997, but it is still a strong performance for the FN. We will come back to the results for the main FN star candidates a bit later on.

Though the FN’s result is far from spectacular, the outside chance that the FN will win one or more seat and a not insignificant nuisance power on the UMP, will cement the FN’s renewed presence in the political landscape. Its good results will fill up the party’s coffers – public funding for political parties is determined by its results in legislative elections. The FN’s strong performance has had the effect of throwing an explosive grenade in the UMP, by injecting the old issue of “what to do with the FN?” in the reconstruction of the old presidential party.

We have already seen the impact of the FN’s result on the UMP. Nadine Morano, the particularly distasteful attack dog of the UMP, in trouble in her own seat, has openly called on FN voters to vote for her in the runoff, citing shared political values. Two UMP candidates, including an incumbent, who placed third in the first round, have said that they are considering dropping out of their triangulaires in the FN’s favour, to prevent a PS victory. The UMP’s official line on the matter remains the ni-ni, neither PS nor FN. Some UMP moderates, most significantly Chantal Jouanno, have criticized this policy and prefer the old “republican front” strategy with the left against the FN; while some members of the UMP’s right – the famous droite populaire – likely prefer the FN to the PS, either silently or out loud.

The FG won a very disappointing result. While with 6.9% it ends up better than the PCF alone in 2007, it has been totally unable to translate Mélenchon’s presidential campaign momentum into a large number of new votes. Moreover, in terms of seats (which is, again, what counts in the end), the FG will likely be crushed, ending up with a caucus smaller than that of the PCF in 2007 (which had already performed very badly). I would not predict any more than 10-11 seats for the FG in all, a result which, if confirmed on June 17, would be a result beyond horrible for the FG. We had all assumed that the FG vehicle added to Mélenchon’s fairly successful presidential campaign would not only allow the PCF, the FG’s main component in terms of parliamentarians, to save its seat but also to gain new seats. Not only will the FG not gain any more than one or two new seats, it has also lost a good number of the seats it already held. When the FG played offensive, maybe it would have been best served by placing defensive on its own ground!

Like in 1981, the PS-left onslaught did not save the PCF. The FG found itself swept up in a PS dynamic in the first round, whereby left-wing voters, by and large, decided to confirm their May 6 vote by helping Hollande and the PS win an absolute majority on their own. Ultimately, it was this dynamic – the general feeling on the left of “let’s give Hollande his majority” – which marginalized the FG. Mélenchon, on April 22, had been able to speak to a wider electorate than just the core PCF vote, so we should have expected a good part of Mélenchon’s voters – a good number of them being traditional PS voters – to return to their traditional home (the PS) as early as June 10. The FG fooled itself by believing that it could hold the bulk of this vote.

The end result will be that the FG will be obliterated at the legislative level. With 10 seats, it would not have enough members to form a parliamentary group (which requires 15 members) and would likely be forced to look to the MRC (which will win 3-7 seats) and left-wing independents (like the ex-PCR Huguette Bello in La Réunion) if it wants to form a group. The new FG caucus will be overwhelmingly dominated by the PCF, which should account for about 8 out of the 10 likely deputies (the PG would have one and the FASE would have one). This result will likely send a chill down the spine of the PCF’s leadership, which certainly isn’t as bold or assertive as Mélenchon and the PG. The PCF was content with the FG because it believed (with reason, until today) that it was a golden opportunity for its political survival without getting amalgamated with the PS. With a legislative election which will have proven a rout for the FG, the PCF will show signs of wariness with Mélenchon’s bold strategy of quasi-complete independence from the PS, and be even more tempted than before to rush like schoolchildren to the big master, the PS, and beg for a little bit of soup from the Leviathan of the French left.

While Mélenchon and co have a political future as opponents of Hollande to his left in what will certainly be a very difficult term (because of the economic crisis, the debt and deficit issues which will be pressing issues for the new government, the social situation and so forth) for the PS, with a result such as this one, the FG faces, for the first time since 2009, a real risk of explosion, with the PCF scrambling back to the old Hue strategy of playing nice with the PS, leaving Mélenchon and his tiny party isolated. The PCF’s only political goal since the late 1980s has been its own survival, and nothing else. When times are tough, I doubt the PCF’s apparatchiks and Politburo will think that the mélenchonien boldness allows for it.

EELV won 5.5% overall. However, the appearance of a fairly strong result hides, in general, some fairly weak performances. EELV’s result is boosted by the much stronger performance of almost all of its 60ish candidates who were backed by the PS. It is because of this deal with the PS, signed in November 2011 and which the PS is probably regretting now, that EELV stands a good chance of winning more than the 15 seats necessary to form a parliamentary group on its own. Over half of EELV’s 60 or so candidates backed by Solférino faced dissident candidates, of varying strength. Their performances against these PS dissidents were mixed. In some cases, like in the Côtes-d’Armor (Guingamp), Orne (Flers) or Sarthe (La Flèche), their candidates were handily crushed by very strong dissidents. In Roubaix-Wattrelos, the PS incumbent-turned-dissident defeated the EELV candidate backed by the PS. In Lyon (1st constituency), Thierry Braillard (PRG, backed by the PS mayor of Lyon Gérard Collomb) defeated Philippe Meirieu (EELV). In other cases, some of them expected other more surprising, EELV-PS candidates managed to defeat weaker dissidents, most notably in Haute-Garonne (Toulouse-Balma).

Outside these constituencies, generous gifts from the PS, EELV candidates posted, in general, very weak performances when running against PS candidates. EELV is thus placed in a fairly ironic position. On its own, it did badly – only marginally better than Eva Joly on April 22 – but thanks to the PS’ generosity in November of last year, it will now find itself with about 15-20 members and a good chance at forming an independent parliamentary group. While the eventuality of a PS-PRG-DVG absolute majority would prevent EELV from being able to bother the PS too much, an independent group will allow EELV to be fairly demanding and assertive against the PS.

The centre, as always, finds itself dispersed. The NC will emerge as the strongest force of the centrist constellation, but the likely reelection of Jean-Christophe Lagarde (a major surprise) will promise an internal battle against the party leader, Hervé Morin, Lagarde’s top rival. However, the NC will owe almost all of its victories to the good graces of the UMP with its members (because they all proved good soldiers and had lined up behind Sarkozy without too many fits). Some NC members are closer to the UMP than they are to their centrist partners, and they will secretly work against any future centrist reunification. While the NC has managed a face-saving performance, the same cannot be said for the MoDem. The centrist party’s two main incumbents: party leader François Bayrou and his close ally and neighbor Jean Lassalle placed second behind the PS, and Bayrou faces a difficult triangulaire with the PS and UMP in which he is likely to be defeated. The MoDem’s other non-incumbent candidates won paltry results, even stronger ones like Rodolphe Thomas (Caen-Hérouville) or Gilles Artigues (Saint-Étienne nord) did fairly badly. Amusingly, the last remaining MoDem ‘heartland’ is… La Réunion, where the MoDem’s Thierry Robert is the favourite in the 7th constituency on the island with weird politics. Weird successes in places which nobody has ever heard of won’t save the party, especially with the likely defeat of its leaders. Bayrou is too proud and independent to accept his political death, but political death is the fate of the MoDem. It certainly kills any hope that Bayrou had of being a senior partner in a reconstruction of the UDF.

The centrist bench in the new National Assembly, composed in large part of NC members reelected with the UMP’s backing with a little assortment of Borlooist Radicals and centre-rightists all backed by the UMP, will not be a very potent political force. The centre, especially sans Bayrou, has no leader of worth capable of reunifying the centrist constellation. Jean-Louis Borloo had his chance with the ARES, but he killed it himself and is far too erratic and weird to have a second shot. Hervé Morin is a boring party apparatchik with no charisma, following or special political talent, and he can’t even keep his little party together. The NC’s other members are all fairly independent on their own (though not independent from the UMP!) and none of them seem keen on leading a centrist reunification (besides Lagarde, but Morin would probably kill him in the process). Jean Arthuis, the leader of the AC, is a dusty old Senator which nobody has ever heard of and who is more reflective of Third Republic parliamentary politics than twenty-first century image-driven politics. Good luck to the centre in whatever they do, because God knows they’ll need all the luck they can get.

More random numbers

Ipsos did one of its pre-election polls which broke down voters and non-voters based on demographic and other categories. It is fairly uninteresting or unsurprising, so I feel no need to detail it out (but you can see it here) . What is most interesting, in my opinion, is the breakdown of non-voters by 2012 presidential vote. 68% and 65% of Hollande and Sarkozy’s first round voters respectively showed up to vote. While the right appears marginally more demobilized, both PS and UMP kept their core electorate and the UMP did not lose out all that much to demoralization. Mélenchon’s voters, with 62% showing up, posted good turnout levels, but did this not help the FG, which kept the support of only 44% of Mélenchon’s April 22 voters (against 38% who voted PS and 9% who voted EELV).

Only 54% of Marine and Bayrou’s voters from April 22 turned out on June 10. The FN kept 71% of Marine Le Pen’s voters (22% voted UMP), but the MoDem won only 33% of Bayrou’s voters against 42% who voted UMP and 26% who voted PS. These numbers, certainly generally correct, confirm the impression that Bayrou – like in 2007 – won a much wider electorate, but one which was very uncertain in its political orientation. Bayrou’s decision to personally endorse Hollande likely lost him and his party the backing of certain centrist/centre-right voters who preferred to return to their historical ideological and partisan roots by voting for UMP candidates by the first round. On top of that, legislative elections are very polarized battles – increasingly so in recent years. It is hardly surprising that the MoDem, with an incomprehensible message of wanting to be neither a supporter nor an opponent, would get utterly crushed both to its left and right.

A lot of UMP candidates in tough runoff situations against the PS find themselves dependent on FN voters. The list of constituency with close left-right runoffs with the FN appearing as the kingmaker is very long, thus a major question is whether or not the FN’s voters will bother turning out on June 17 to vote for the UMP. The UMP is certainly aware of this fact, and, like Sarkozy in the two week runoff campaign, is going all out to get these votes. Whether or not FN voters are particularly receptive to what can appear as desperation on the part of old UMP incumbents worried about their political futures is another matter. However, the situation is not hopeless for the UMP. Ipsos tells me that 61% of FN voters voted the way they do to oppose Hollande (like 68% of UMP voters), 74% of them do not want a left-wing majority and 72% want the right to win the elections (though not all, probably, understood the right as the UMP and its allies!). In a left-right battle, Ipsos’ data says that 60% of FN voters would back the right, against 27% who would not vote and 13% who would vote PS. Figures not all that different from those seen on May 6, and it would be reasonable to assume, on average, that anywhere between 50 and 60% of first round FN voters will vote for the UMP in the runoff. This is still not good enough for the UMP, especially when compared to the FG: 92% of FG voters would vote for the left in such a runoff situation.

Results Overview

I cannot feasibly run through every constituency and give my commentary on each individual result, and I can’t even go through every constituency which was even marginally interesting. This brief overview of major results is thus fairly complete, but also quite incomplete… Full results can be found here.

The PS and PRG

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was handily reelected by the first round in his stronghold, Loire-Atlantique-3 with 56% against only 18% for the UMP candidate. Two other PS candidates also won by the first round in his department, and the left has a chance at winning two or three additional seats in the department.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who had only narrowly missed out on winning reelection by the first round in 2007, won 52.8% in Seine-Maritime-4, sealing a first round win in a safe PS seat centered around the proletarian hinterland of Rouen, notably Elbeuf and Quevilly.

Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, will need to wait until June 17 to win reelection in Doubs-4, a traditionally left-leaning seat he had gained from the right in 2007. He took 40.8% by the first round, and enters a triangulaire against the FN (23.9%) and the UMP (23.2%) as the overwhelming favourite.

Marisol Touraine, health and social affairs minister, had conquered Indre-et-Loire-3, a fairly marginal seat, from the right in 2007 with a very narrow margin (less than 1%) which came entirely from her strength in the Communist stronghold of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps. This year, she will not owe her likely reelection on June 17 solely to her huge margin in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps. She took 44.8% by the first round, against only 23.6% for the UMP candidate.

The Minister of Culture, Aurélie Filippetti, saw her constituency eliminated in the redistricting, compelling her to run in the redesigned 1st constituency of Moselle, which would have been notionally UMP in 2007 though Hollande won 52% in the constituency. The media convinced itself this was a close race, but Filippetti was always the favourite in this seat, which had no defending UMP incumbent. Indeed, she won 43.5% by the first round, against only 25.8% for the UMP candidate. She should win easily on June 17.

Stéphane Le Foll, the new agriculture minister, was running for the umpteenth time in Sarthe-4, whose tenant since 1981 was François Fillon, who had defeated Le Foll by the first round in 2007. With Fillon, who had a strong personal footing here, out of the picture, Le Foll will handily replace Fillon as this constituency’s high-profile member. Le Foll won a very strong 46% in the first round, against only 31.7% for Fillon’s former suppléant, the UMP candidate.

In Guadeloupe-4, the overseas minister Victorin Lurel (PS), who is wildly popular on the island, won no less than 67.2% by the first round against a paltry 23% for Marie-Luce Penchard, the former UMP overseas minister and daughter of Lucette Michaux-Chevry, the old strongwoman of the right in Guadeloupe and mayor of Basse-Terre.

Manuel Valls, Geneviève Fioraso, Marylise Lebranchu, Valérie Fourneyron, Jérôme Cahuzac, George Pau-Langevin, Alain Vidalies, François Lamy and Michèle Delaunay (who had defeated Juppé in 2007) will win reelection easily in the runoff. Frédéric Cuvillier and Delphine Batho won by the first round, as did Bernard Cazeneuve in Manche-4 – with no less than 55.4%! Kader Arif, in Haute-Garonne-10, won the primary against two PS dissidents and should win handily in the runoff.

Benoît Hamon, a new junior minister and prominent leader of the PS’ left-wing, was running in Yvelines-11, a fairly tailor made seat for the left (though with a UMP incumbent). He won 45.3% against 34.3% for the UMP and will no doubt win easily.

Sylvia Pinel, a young PRG junior minister, faced a tough constituency – she narrowly picked up Tarn-et-Garonne-2 from the UMP in 2007 – but she can laugh her way to the runoff. With 42.1%, she is far ahead of her opponents, and the division of the right between a former incumbent running against the UMP candidates allowed the FN to squeak through and place second, with 19.2%, and qualify for the runoff alone against Pinel. She will win very easily.

Marie-Arlette Carlotti, a new junior minister, was ultimately the only cabinet minister with a truly tough race on her hands. In Bouches-du-Rhône-5, she faced UMP incumbent and mayoral hopeful Renaud Muselier. On June 10, she polled 34.4% against 32.5% for Muselier. She can certainly count on the backing of the 7.6% of voters who backed Frédéric Dutoit, a former PCF deputy running for the FG. The FN, which polled 16.3%, is unlikely to save Muselier, although this race will be close.

The race which was the topic of so much conversation on June 10 and will continue to be one of the top races in the country is Charente-Maritime-1 (La Rochelle). This is a left-wing civil war like no other. The PS candidate is none other than Ségolène Royal, the party’s 2007 presidential candidate and a presidential contender this year again – for the presidency of the National Assembly. Even though Royal is the regional president, her move to La Rochelle was perceived as carpetbagging. She faced the dissident candidacy of a local Socialist, Olivier Falorni. Royal won 32% in the first round, against 28.9% for Falorni. The elimination of the UMP’s Sally Chadjaa (19.5%) means that the runoff will oppose Royal and Falorni. Royal and the PS barons have clamored for Falorni to bow out of the race, as tradition would usually mean. However, Falorni seems quite determined to stay in the race, to Royal’s ire. No amount of abuse and name-calling from Solférino seems to stop him at this point. Royal faces a very close fight indeed, and her fate hinges on the behaviour of UMP voters. Right-wingers were already tempted to vote for Falorni by the first round, and some UMP voters might now seize the opportunity to land a stunning blow to Royal’s political career. Chadjaa has called on her voters to vote for neither Falorni nor Royal, which also seems to be the UMP’s line (though Dominique Bussereau, the UMP president of the general council, has endorsed Falorni over Royal). The behaviour of FN (6.8%), EELV (3.7%) and FG voters (3.4%) will also be decisive.

Another high-profile Socialist is in some amount of trouble. Jack Lang, the former culture minister, was running in the Vosges (2nd) this year after a long and tortuous crisis ensued after he threw a fit over a primary in his old constituency, in the Pas-de-Calais (Lang is famous for being elected about everywhere). The Vosges-2 is winnable for the left, but the FN’s strength in this working-class constituency around Saint-Dié has diluted the region’s historical left-wing leanings. Lang won 37.5% in the first round, narrowly outpolling the UMP incumbent Gérard Cherpion who won 35.4%. Cherpion can be pleased that the FN is not qualified for the runoff, but if he is to defeat Lang (and it would be a fairly major defeat for Lang, who would also like the presidency of the National Assembly), he must win the bulk of the 17.4% who voted for the FN. He got a tiny boost when Marine Le Pen placed Jack Lang on her blacklist of prominent right and left incumbents who she wants to see gone.

Some other major results for the PS and the PRG:

  • Christophe Borgel won 30% in Haute-Garonne-9, defeating a strong dissident candidacy which placed third with 15%, which will allow him to win easily in the runoff.
  • Olivier Ferrand, the controversial president of the centre-left Terra Nova think-tank, placed second with 31.6% in the Bouches-du-Rhône-8 but stands a good chance at winning in the runoff, which will be a triangulaire with the FN.
  • Michel Vauzelle, the president of the PACA region and incumbent in the Bouches-du-Rhône-16 won 38% in the first round, against 29% for the FN and only 22.6% for the UMP’s Roland Chassain, who he had defeated in 2007. All three qualified for the runoff, but Chassain has announced that he is dropping out and endorsing the FN candidate in order to defeat Vauzelle. In a PS-FN runoff, Vauzelle is still the favourite.
  • Sophie Dessus, the woman on whom Jacques Chirac has a crush, won Hollande’s old seat (Corrèze-1) with 51.4% by the first round.
  • Henri Emmanuelli, long-time incumbent in Landes-3 and major figure of the PS left, won 56.1% in the first round.
  • Claude Gewerc, the president of the Picardy region, is in a tough fight against the UMP incumbent Édouard Courtial in Oise-7, where Courtial took 36.5% against 32.5% for Gewerc. Courtial can hope to gain most of the 18.5% of voters who backed the FN.
  • Jean-Pierre Kucheida, the corrupt PS (now DVG) incumbent in Pas-de-Calais-12, was surprisingly defeated by the FN and the official PS candidate. Kucheida, caught with the hand in the jelly pot, won 21.6% against 25.7% for the FN and 24.6% for the PS candidate.
  • Sylvie Andrieux, a PS incumbent in the Bouches-du-Rhône-3 with judicial troubles of her own, placed second (29.8%) behind the local leader of the FN (29.9%) but should win in the runoff, although there is an outside chance for an upset by the FN depending on the behaviour of the 20.2% who voted UMP.
  • The PS stands a chance at winning one or even two seats in traditionally right-wing departments such as Loiret, Savoie, Vendée, Vaucluse and the Var.
  • The PRG won reelection by the first round in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. Two former PRG deputies, Alain Tourret (Calvados) and Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg (Val-de-Marne) are in good positions to return to their old seats. They could be joined by other PRG candidates in Aisne-5 and Pas-de-Calais-9. The PRG could win about 10 seats, with an outside shot at reaching 15 seats. They could form an independent group with support from some PS dissidents, overseas deputies and perhaps the MRC (or EELV if they do not win 15+ seats).

The UMP, NC and right-wing dissidents

The leader of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, will, ultimately, not be in any trouble. Copé won 45.1% by the first round, far ahead of the EELV candidate backed by the PS who won 29%. The FN won 16% in the constituency, and Copé should win handily in the runoff.

François Fillon, Copé’s top rival and former Prime Minister, packed his bags and moved to Paris (2nd constituency), likely in preparation for a tough mayoral bid in the capital in 2014. The Fillon-Dati showdown in this constituency was settled – in appearances – before the election, so the election itself was not too interesting in a constituency which is solidly right-wing. Fillon won 48.6% against 34% for Axel Kahn, a fairly high-profile PS candidate. Fillon should win handily.

Xavier Bertrand, a former UMP cabinet minister and potential leadership contender, is the favourite for reelection in Aisne-2, not an easy constituency for the right by any means. With 38.9%, he is in first ahead of the PS (35.5%) but can count on part of the FN’s 16.3%. Even though Bertrand, a moderate, was placed on Marine’s blacklist, I still think Bertrand should save his seat by a narrow margin.

Laurent Wauquiez, the leader of the UMP’s so-called ‘social’ (moderate) wing, won 49.7% in Haute-Loire-1, against 23.4% for a PS candidate. He will win very easily in the runoff after almost winning in the first round. The FN (11.7%) performed poorly in a constituency where it can normally poll much better. Wauquiez is also a potential leadership and presidential contender.

In Essonne-4, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Sarkozy’s spokesperson and former cabinet minister, is the only potential presidential contender in trouble. She came out ahead with 39.5% against 36.3% for the PS mayor of Marcoussis, Olivier Thomas. Thomas can count on the FG (5.3%) and EELV (2.8%) but can NKM count on the good graces of the FN (11.4%)? NKM had said in the past that she would vote for the left in a left-FN runoff, and Marine has, in return, placed her on her blacklist of must-go incumbents. She seems to be the underdog in this fight.

In Meurthe-et-Moselle-5, the loudmouthed UMP incumbent Nadine Morano, a particularly distasteful Sarkozyst populist, is in a tough spot. She won 34.3% in the first round, against 39.3% for the PS candidate. I thought that her (allegedly) strong constituency work and base would pay off for her, but perhaps her over-aggressive negative image in general hurt her. The FN won 16.5%, and could hold the keys to an upset for her. Indeed, as aforementioned, she immediately called on FN voters to vote for her, citing shared political values. She is likely to lose, and a similar fate likely awaits another loudmouth young Sarkozyst in Meurthe-et-Moselle-2, Valérie Rosso-Debord.

Two unelected Sarkozysts sought election this year. In Hauts-de-Seine-9, Claude Guéant, the former interior minister known for his very right-wing views, faced a local UMP dissident candidacy from Thierry Solère. Guéant came out ahead of Solère in this safe right-wing constituency, with 30.4% against 26.9% for Solère, while the PS also qualified for the runoff, though with only 22.1%. Solère seems to have decided to maintain his candidacy in the runoff, which will be closely fought between Guéant (who could benefit from the FN’s 5.3%) and Solère (who could gain some of the 8% cast for other DVD candidates). In Yvelines-3, Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s former speechwriter and aide, placed a narrow first with only 28.1% against 25.8% for the PS and 23% for Olivier Delaporte, a right-wing dissident. Delaporte has dropped out and Guaino should win this traditionally right-wing constituency easily.

Other prominent UMP or NC incumbents including Eric Ciotti, Christian Estrosi, François Baroin, Dominique Bussereau, François Sauvadet, Bruno Le Maire, Luc Chatel, Hervé Morin, Eric Woerth, Bernard Accoyer, Christian Jacob and Valérie Pécresse are all favoured for reelection.

Some other UMP incumbents who aren’t so fortunate and other important results for the UMP and NC include:

  • Disgraced foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie is in trouble in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques-6 even if she came out on top in the first round with 35.4% against 31.6% for the PS. However, the PS will likely benefit from fairly good transfers from the Basque nationalists who took 9.8% in this constituency, where the Basque nationalist movement is quite strongly implanted.
  • Hervé Novelli, the leader of the UMP’s liberal wing, will likely lose in Indre-et-Loire-4 where the PS won 39.7% against 35.9% for him.
  • In the Bouches-du-Rhône-1, Valérie Boyer, another UMP mayoral contender and major figure of the droite populaire, faces a tough contest, having won 26.1% against 32% for the PS. She could still win thanks to the nearly 22% won by the FN, which nonetheless failed to qualify for the runoff.
  • In the Bouches-du-Rhône-2, the controversial UMP mayor of Aix-en-Provence Maryse Joissains-Masini placed second with 28.5% against 35.6% for the PS. Even though the FN (14.2%) and a dissident (8.3%) offer potential reserves, I would still bet against her at this point.
  • In Corse-du-Sud-2, Camille de Rocca Serra, the UMP incumbent in a constituency which has long been the personal preserve of the Rocca Serra dynasty, faces a tough runoff. He won 33% in the first round, and will face the moderate nationalist Jean-Christophe Angelini who won a somewhat underwhelming 21.2%. The victory or not of this Corsican nationalist, which would be an historical milestone, depends on the behaviour of those who backed a DVG candidate (16.8%) and those who backed Dominique Bucchini, the FG president of the regional assembly who took only 10.9%. Bucchini is well known for his opposition to nationalists, but he could prove receptive to the calls of beating the right.
  • In Indre-et-Loire-1, Guillaume Peltier, the former FN and MPF member who has become a prominent UMP rising star, will lose heavily in the runoff against the PS incumbent. He won 28.7% against 41.7% for the PS.
  • Jean-Louis Borloo, the leader of the Radical Party, won 43% in the Nord-21, against 24.3% for his perennial FG opponent. EELV backed by the PS took 16.7% while the FN won 14.1%. Borloo is the narrow favourite.
  • Christian Vanneste, the controversial incumbent in the Nord-10 known for his homophobic statements, ran as a dissident but took only 13.2%. The runoff opposes the PS (30.7%) and the UMP (25.1%), although I would think the UMP should win this constituency.
  • François Guéant, the son of Claude Guéant, was the UMP candidate in Morbihan-4, where he won 25.8% against 26% for the Breton regionalist backed by EELV and the PS. A local mayor running as a centre-right dissident won 14.7%, the obligatory PS dissident against EELV took 12.8%. This is certainly a race to follow, like the race next door in Morbihan-1, where the villepiniste mayor of Vannes and incumbent member François Goulard is in much difficulty after a poor result (32.6%) in the first round.
  • DLR presidential candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan should hold his constituency, Essonne-8, fairly easily. He won 42.8% in the first round, against 30.2% for the PS.
  • Rama Yade, the former cabinet minister who is now a member of Borloo’s Radicals, won only 13.8% running against the official UMP candidate in Hauts-de-Seine-2, which the PS should pick up in the runoff.
  • Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the NC incumbent in a very left-wing seats in Seine-Saint-Denis (5th) should hold his seat, in a surprise to most. He won a very strong 43.5% in the first round against 20.6% for the PS and 18.9% for the FG. He should be the only right-wing member in the 93, where other UMP incumbents, notably Eric Raoult, will likely lose their seats.

The FN

The FN’s main contest, was, of course, the Pas-de-Calais-11 (which was also the FG’s main contest). Marine Le Pen won 42.4%, an excellent result, and took over 48% in her political homebase of Hénin-Beaumont. She will face the PS candidate Philippe Kemel, who won a distant second place with 23.5%. Kemel narrowly won the divisive left-wing contest against Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marine’s sworn enemy who had come up to this constituency, thinking he could benefit from the bad climate in the local PS. Mélenchon won third place with 21.5%. Jean Urbaniak, the former centre-right deputy for the constituency between 1993 and 1997, won only 7.9% of the vote, a very bad result. Marine still faces a difficult runoff, even though 42% is an excellent starting point. Kemel absolutely must win almost of Mélenchon’s voters, which could be difficult given how pissed off Mélenchon seems to be and the old histories of acrimony between PS and PCF in the region. He also must win a lot of Urbaniak’s voters, which represent the tiny base of the UMP and the centre in this constituency. I would tend to place Marine as the underdog, which is probably exactly what she wants to be seen as.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the 22-year old granddaughter of the old patriarch, won 34.6% and first place in Vaucluse-3, an excellent result for the young candidate. The UMP candidate won 30% of the vote, while the PS candidate, with 22%, qualified for the runoff. Solférino called on their candidate to drop out, to prevent the victory of the FN, but the local candidate has apparently preferred to play the game until the end and will maintain her candidacy, having already said in the past that she saw no major differences between Maréchal-Le Pen and the UMP incumbent. This is the FN’s second major hope, and is another major race to watch. The PS staying in this race likely boosts the FN’s chances.

In the Gard-2, the famous lawyer Gilbert Collard won 34.6% of the vote as the FN candidate, placing first. The PS won 32.9%, while Collard utterly crushed the UMP incumbent who managed a paltry 23.9%. The UMP incumbent, Etienne Mourrut, has said that he is considering dropping out in favour of Collard (again to prevent the PS from winning). If he does do so, the race will be close, but the PS would have a narrow edge. If he decides to stay in the race, the PS should still be favoured in this very close contest. This is the FN’s third hope.

In Vaucluse-4, the former FN mayor of Orange Jacques Bompard, running as a far-right independent, will face the PS in a one-on-one runoff. The PS won 25.2% against 23.5% for Bompard. The UMP candidate won 20.5%, while the FN still managed 16.3%. This seat is, ironically, the far-right’s best chance at winning a seat this year. Bompard and the FN together polled nearly 40%, and he should some support from the UMP candidate.

In Moselle-6, however, the FN’s Florian Philippot, Marine’s former campaign manager, was not as lucky. He won 26.3%, not a particularly excellent result, though he has eliminated the UMP incumbent (who won 25%) and will face the PS in the runoff. The PS starts off with a strong base of 37.5% and has won this seat in the past, so it is likely the favourite in this contest.

Paul-Marie Coûteaux, a former Eurosceptic MEP who ran for the FN in Haute-Marne-2 failed badly in a constituency where he should or could have done much, much better. He is out by the first round, with only 19%, while the UMP incumbent took a strong 45.7% and will win handily.

Bruno Gollnisch, Marine’s old rival for the FN leadership, won 24.1% and qualified for the runoff in Var-3, though he will not prevent the FN from winning. Stéphane Ravier, the FN leader in Marseille, won 29.9% in the aforementioned contest against the PS incumbent Sylvie Andrieux in northern Marseille, but Ravier will probably not win. In Alpes-Maritimes-1, Jacques Peyrat, the former mayor of Nice, won 16.2% of the vote and find himself out by the first round. Originally a FN member, Peyrat later moved closer to the right but ran as a far-right candidate with FN support this year.

The FN could win between 0 and 3 seats, with Bompard’s potential victory adding an additional seat.

The FG

The FG, against all expectations, lost seven seats, placing second behind PS candidates in these seats. FG/PCF incumbents in legislative elections usually face first round PS opposition. The unwritten tradition and quasi-rule in these cases is that the left-wing candidate who won the most votes benefits from the automatic withdrawal of other left-wing candidates qualified for the runoff. Hence, PCF candidates placing second behind PS candidates have almost always bowed out in the PS’ favour, sometimes allowing them to win unopposed in the runoff. Therefore, even though the FG is qualified for the runoff against PS candidates in a good number of constituencies, the unwritten “republican tradition” should be followed this year again.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, Patrick Braouezec and Jean-Pierre Brard in 2nd and 7th constituency have been outpolled by the PS. In the 7th, Brard, the former mayor of Montreuil, won 32.8% against 36.7% for Razzy Hammadi (PS), who is backed by Dominique Voynet, the EELV mayor of Montreuil who defeated Brard in 2008. In the Val-de-Marne-10, the MRC’s Jean-Luc Laurent narrowly outpolled (33-30.3) the FG incumbent Pierre Gosnat. In the Hauts-de-Seine-1, Roland Muzeau has been defeated by the PS (32.5 vs 29.8) while in the 11th constituency, FG incumbent Marie-Hélène Amiable lost out to the PS by a very short margin (29.9 vs 29.2). Only Jacqueline Fraysse (Hauts-de-Seine-4), Marie-George Buffet (Seine-Saint-Denis-4, but by only 3 points) and François Asensi (Seine-Saint-Denis-11) saved their seats in the Parisian region. Asensi could face a runoff against Stéphane Gatignon, the ex-PCF EELV mayor of Sevran (backed by the PS) who won 25.5%. However, the FG candidates in all other constituencies should bow out in favour of the PS candidates. In the 93, the deal has been signed (and the PS is backing Asensi and Buffet) while Amiable has also pulled out, leaving the PS alone against the NC.

In Seine-Maritime-8, despite being almost tailor-made for the PCF’s Jean-Paul Lecoq, the incumbent narrowly lost to the PS, with 30.3% against 30.5% for the PS. In this case like in all other cases noted in Paris, there was a stark divide in the PS vs FG results between municipalities which remain PCF strongholds to this day and other municipalities where the PS is stronger. The race in Seine-Maritime-8 opposes PS and FG, but Lecoq should pull out.

In Rhône-14, the FG had no chance at holding this open seat (and redistricted in a way favourable to the PS, not the FG). Indeed, its candidate won fourth place with only 13.7%. The PS will be alone against the FN in the runoff. The FG narrowly managed to save two open seats, in Cher-2 (28.9 vs 27 for the PS) and Bouches-du-Rhône-13 (27 vs 24.8 for the PS and 21.7 for the FN). Otherwise, the FG can be thankful to strong incumbents like Alain Bocquet, André Chassaigne, Marc Dolez or Jean-Jacques Candelier in its remaining seats.

The FG stands a chance at gaining a seat only in Oise-6, where it won 23.1% against 28.5% for the UMP and 22.2% for the FN, which is qualified for the runoff. The FG candidate had held this seat for the PCF between 1997 and 2002, when he had won in a triangulaire. This year, he is in a strong position to repeat his 1997 success. But this will be the only major success of the FG in a seat where it went offensive.

Indeed, the FG’s targets turned out, in general, to be unmitigated disasters or at least poor performances. For example: only 16.6% for Sébastien Jumel (the popular rising-star FG mayor of Dieppe) in Seine-Maritime-6, 24.6% in Seine-Maritime-2, 24.2% (vs 32.8% for the PS) in Nord-19, 14.7% for Jacky Hénin (the former PCF mayor of Calais) in Pas-de-Calais-7, 16.7% in Essonne-10, 11.7% in Somme-1, 18.4% in Meurthe-et-Moselle-3, 14.7% in Jura-3, 16.5% in Gard-5, 15.3% in Gard-4, and 9.2% in Ardèche-2. And, of course, Mélenchon’s much talked about defeat in Pas-de-Calais-11.

EELV

EELV stands a chance at forming an independent parliamentary group, with a wide range between 10 and 20 seats, although I think they could narrowly break the 15 seat threshold needed to form a group. Of course, this will in large part be thanks to the deal with the PS, which, as I said above, is something which the PS is likely regretting now.

In Gironde-3, Noël Mamère, who has held the seat since 1997, won 52% by the first round, so he is easily reelected. In Loire-Atlantique-1, François de Rugy, who gained the seat for the Greens in 2007, will certainly be reelected. In Paris-6, cabinet minister and EELV leader Cécile Duflot won 48.7% against 18.3% for the UMP and will win this seat, but as a cabinet minister, she will be forced to give up her seat in favour of her suppléant, who is the PS incumbent (so, in reality, one less seat for the Greens when we calculate group formation…). In Paris-10, Denis Baupin won 43% and will easily win the runoff. EELV is also favoured in Isère-10, Haute-Garonne-3 (the UMP came out first, but the PS dissident who placed third has withdrawn in favour of the EELV candidate who will likely win the runoff), Puy-de-Dôme-3 (against Giscard’s son, the UMP incumbent), Dordogne-2 (a hilariously divided race, with 6 candidates polling over 10% – the incumbent DVD placing sixth, but EELV should win), Loire-3 (a triangulaire with the FN, the FG won 17.2% and this should help EELV), Hérault-1 (assuming the PS dissident’s votes transfers well to EELV) and Gard-6 (a triangulaire). The contest in Essonne-7, Val-d’Oise-2, Val-de-Marne-6, Bouches-du-Rhône-10, Vienne-4, Morbihan-4, Aveyron-3 and even Yvelines-11 (a EELV incumbent since a by-election) are closer but EELV has a shot in all of them.

Other results, against PS dissidents, were heart-breakers for the Greens. In the Nord-8, Slimane Tir (EELV backed by the PS) won only 21% against 36.5% for the PS dissident Dominique Baert (who is the incumbent). Tir may maintain his candidacy, but he faces the FN’s ire (the FN won 20.7%) and will lose. In Rhône-1, a very high-profile contest, the PRG candidate Thierry Braillard, backed by the PS mayor of Lyon over the commands of his party, took 26.4% against only 18.4% for Philippe Meirieu, the EELV-PS candidate. Braillard should go on to defeat the UMP incumbent easily in the runoff. In Finistère-3, EELV placed a very close third with 20.8% against 21% for the PS dissident, who should win this seat from the UMP with the EELV candidate withdrawing.

MoDem

François Bayrou was not thought to be in any trouble in his old seat in Pyrénées-Atlantiques-2, which he has held since 1988 with little trouble. In 2007, after his break from the right, he won 61.2% in the runoff against the PS, benefiting from the bulk of the UMP’s votes. This year, he is not only personally weakened, but faces the ire of the UMP after his endorsement of Hollande – an endorsement which did not keep the PS from running a candidate against him. Polls showed him in trouble, the results confirm that. With 23.6% – an extremely poor showing – he trails the PS by over ten points (34.9%) and is only narrowly ahead of the UMP (21.7%) which is qualified for the runoff as well. The UMP has ultimately decided to go all out against him, so they are not withdrawing their candidate in his favour (unlike in 2007), meaning that any chance he had of taking UMP voters as a strategic anti-PS vote is  basically gone. He could theoretically win, but it would be a major underdog win.

In the Pyrénées-Atlantiques-4, the other MoDem incumbent, Jean Lassalle, placed second behind the PS as well, with 26.3% against 32% for the PS. But he is in a better position, because the UMP (17.6%) will likely support him, a little thank you for his silent endorsement of Sarkozy over Hollande. And Lassalle, with a fairly regionalist style, can also perform well with the 6.8% who supported the Basque regionalist candidate.

Otherwise, the MoDem has a solid chance in La Réunion-7, where Thierry Robert topped the poll with 37.8% against 22% for the UMP, and will most likely prevail in the runoff, probably with left-wing support. Nassimah Dindar, the former UMP-turned-MoDem president of the general council (but elected with a left-wing coalition) is qualified for the runoff in Réunion-1, but with 21% against nearly 40% for the PS, she will not win.

In metropolitan France, the MoDem qualified in Calvados-2 (20.7% for the former UDF deputy Rodolphe Thomas, which is a rather poor result for him) and Loire-1 (25.6% for Gilles Artigues, a former UDF deputy defeated in 2007, backed by the UMP). Both of them will lose heavily to the PS. These are, basically, the only good results for the MoDem.

[...]

I have not yet compiled my predictions, by party, for the second round(s), but once again, the first round results are favourable to the left and everything seems to indicate that the left as a whole will easily win an absolute majority and there is a good chance that the PS and its closest allies will win more than 289 seats, the absolute majority threshold.

Unfortunately, this post (while long enough!) is far from being thorough in a way that I would like. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or the data available to throw together some nice fancy maps and delve into sociodemographic details – but don’t worry, there will be plenty of time later in the summer for us to do that (and it will certainly be interesting for all involved). Rather, this post aims at giving a general impression of the first round and presenting the most interesting or important results, by constituency. I am certainly open to discussing any constituency in more detail, in whatever kind of detail is requested. Similarly, I will post my predictions (so you can laugh at them on June 18…) once I have run through each seat.

Mini-Guide to the 2012 French legislative elections

The first round of legislative elections will be held in France on June 10, 2012; with a second round being held on June 17, 2012. All 577 seats in the French National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), the lower house of France’s Parliament, are up for reelection. These elections directly follow the presidential elections held on April 22 and May 6. Since the electoral calendar was shuffled up in 2000, the legislative elections have lost much of their importance and attractiveness as they are perceived as being mere confirmations by voters of their presidential vote a few weeks earlier. However, in constitutional terms, legislative elections remain extremely important for the President and his party, because, in the absence of a working majority for the president’s party, he is compelled to a cohabitation with the opposition, where the legislative majority and government is formed by the opposition.

Electoral system

The French National Assembly is composed of 577 members elected for five-year terms in 577 single-member constituencies. Somewhat at odds with the FPTP custom for legislative elections in countries with single-member constituencies, France has long used a modified form of runoff voting for legislative elections.

In each constituency, a candidate must win over 50% of valid votes cast (these are called suffrages exprimés) and over 25% of ‘potential votes’ or total registered voters (in French, we say 25% des inscrits) to win by the first round of voting. This means that is possible for a candidate to win over 50% of votes cast but not be deemed elected because he/she has not won over 25% of all potential votes due to high abstention. In 2007, an abnormally high number of deputies (110) won by the first round. Usually, only 10-20 deputies win by the first round.

In the event that no candidate has been elected by the first round, a runoff is held a week later opposing all candidates who won over 12.5% of registered voters (potential votes), or, in the case that only one or no candidate has won over 12.5% of registered voters, the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate winning a plurality of the votes is elected. In case of a perfect tie, the oldest candidate is elected. Traditionally, runoffs usually oppose the top two contenders. The rising abstention in legislative elections, reaching 40% in 2007, means that it is increasingly hard for over two candidates to win over 12.5% of all registered voters. However, triangulaires opposing three candidates are quite possible. In 2007, there was only one triangulaire, largely because the far-right National Front (FN), usually the third party which partook in most triangulaires in the past, was crushed at the polls. In 2002, there were 10 triangulaires but in 1997, 79 of runoffs were triangulaires. It is possible and often quite common for potential triangulaires or even duels (normal runoffs) to feature either two or one candidate. This happens when dissident or allied candidates from either left or right qualify for the runoff, but choose to drop out of the runoff in favour of a stronger candidate from their political family.

This 12.5% threshold has been used since 1978. Since the 1978 elections, there have been no quadrangulaires (runoffs opposing four candidates). In 1958, when the legal threshold was only 5% of votes cast, only 20% of runoffs opposed two candidates – the rest involved three or more (up to six!) candidates.

It is important to point out that candidates in these legislative elections form a duo – there is the official candidate, but each candidate also has a suppléant (or substitute). A suppléant is a kind of alternate, elected alongside the candidate (in a sort of ‘ticket’), who will take up the deputy’s seat in the event that the deputy dies in office, is named to government (a member of cabinet cannot simultaneously be a lawmaker) or receives a public mission lasting over six months. In the case that a deputy resigns from office, for whatever reason, a by-election is held.

As per the constitution and Gaullist ideological tradition, the deputy is said to represent not his constituency or geographic region but rather “the nation” as a whole. In this vein, it is legal for a candidate to run for office in a constituency where he or she is not a registered voter. Voters might respond unfavourably to carpetbaggers, but no law prevents carpetbagging.

Redistricting remains a partisan government’s prerogative. Unlike in the United States, where redistricting is often done in a similarly partisan fashion, there is no law requiring redistricting to be done after a set amount of time or under a fixed schedule. Unlike in Canada or the United Kingdom, there is no independent electoral commission responsible for drawing constituencies. It is the prerogative of a political official – the Minister of the Interior – and of the government in power. The government decides whether there should be a redistricting or not. Since the single-member constituencies were first drawn up in 1958, there have been two rounds of redistricting: a nearly total revamp of the map in 1986, under right-wing Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, and a smaller but still significant redistricting in 2009, under Sarkozy’s then-secretary of state for territorial collectivities, Alain Marleix, who is, incidentally, the ‘electoral expert’ of the UMP. Hence, the map is a political creation of right-wing governments, who have not shied away from blatant gerrymandering to shore up their strongholds or limit opposition gains. The left can complain on some matters, but considering that no left-wing government has had the willpower to redistrict on its own terms, it should not complain too much.

Pasqua and Marleix’s redistrictings have been decried for the blatant gerrymandering. Not all departments are gerrymandered, but a good number of departments have constituencies which either poorly reflect geographic, social, economic and historical local realities or are blatant partisan gerrymanders. “Work of art” constituencies which are so common in the US are not very common in France, but Marleix drew a few ‘nice’ ones too in 2009.

A novelty in the 2009 Marleix redistricting was the creation of eleven constituencies for French citizens living abroad. In the past, French citizens living abroad could only vote in legislative elections if they maintained legal residence in French territory. The government opted to create eleven seats which would be elected directly by French citizens living abroad (who already have indirectly elected senators). There was a clear partisan motive behind this: French citizens living abroad are known for being (slightly) to the right of their compatriots in French territory. The right hoped that it could conquer about eight of the eleven new seats, crucial in the case of a tied game in France. In these elections, French citizens living abroad had the option of voting by internet – around 14% of registered voters did so. The election in these eleven seats plus the three constituencies in French Polynesia took place a week ahead of the rest: on June 2 or 3.

Context and Campaign

The presidential election on April 22 and May 6 resulted in the victory of the Socialist Party (PS)’s François Hollande, who defeated incumbent right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy. The left’s victory ended ten years of executive and legislative dominance of the right. However, Hollande and his presidential majority need to win the legislative elections – and control of the National Assembly – in order to “wrap up” the victory on May 6 and control an absolute majority in the legislature. A parliamentary majority is crucial for any president who wants to have the means to pass key pieces of legislation.

As per custom, the President-elected named a Prime Minister and government who, despite lacking the confidence of a parliamentary majority per se, act as the full government of the country in the timeframe between the election of the President and the new legislature. Hollande named Jean-Marc Ayrault, a close ally and former parliamentary leader of the PS in the National Assembly, as Prime Minister. Hollande seemingly preferred the close ally, also a calm, reserved and competent ‘bureaucrat’, to a rival like Martine Aubry, the first-secretary of the PS. Ayrault’s government was certainly meant to reassure financial markets and moderate voters. The choice of a moderate social democrat, Pierre Moscovici, as Finance Minister, and a budget hawk, Jérôme Cahuzac as junior minister for the budget, reassured many. This was, after all, in part an ‘electoral’ government whose composition and actions would have some impact on the campaign and result for the legislature.

Hollande and his government have erred safe in this second electoral period, keeping away from the touchy subjects (like the budget and future spending cuts which will be needed) and going to great lengths to not alienate anybody while motivating the left-wing base. The government is aware that it cannot really begin to govern, so its first acts of governance have been largely symbolic measures like a 30% reduction in the salaries of the President and his cabinet or photo-op type sorties like those made by the flamboyant “minister for productive recovery” (the French left loves to give fabulous names to cabinet departments!) Arnaud Montebourg.

The inversion of the electoral calendar, established in 2000, set in stone the political primacy of the presidential election while reducing the importance of the legislative election. Indeed, being held only a few short weeks after the presidential election, during the honeymoon period, the legislative elections became confirmations of the presidential election result. In 2002, fresh from Chirac’s victory, the newly united right – the UMP – won a very ample parliamentary majority, ousting the incumbent left-wing majority which had just suffered an historic defeat in the presidential elections. In 2007, on the heels of Sarkozy’s comfortable victory, the UMP retained a large majority though the second round saw a very strong left-wing resistance and even offense. The inversion of the electoral calendar, by setting in stone the primacy of the presidential election, reinforced executive authority and presidential powers, in part at the expense of the legislature and the government which is responsible to it. Its rationale for doing so was to render extremely unlikely any future cohabitations, by assuming that voters would use the legislative elections to confirm their verdict in the big contest a month earlier. Since 2002, they have proven their political leaders. While anything is possible in politics, it would be the epitome of voters’ irrationality if they elected a new president but, a month later, turned around and denied him a majority. Of course, turnout differentials from one election to another renders it less totally illogical, but it remains that, when a majority of voters have chosen the representative of one political family over another, it is not very rational or logical for them to elect a government from the opposite political family.

The Parties and Hot Seats

The new presidential majority goes into these elections as the favourite. Hollande’s victory was narrower than expected and this underperformance will have its effect. It might even have its effect on the legislative elections. But for the time being, the government has a mini-honeymoon (though not a very festive one), and the general mood is one of anticipation of a left-wing victory in the legislative elections. Saying that voters do not favour a cohabitation is not entirely correct; right-wing voters would still very much like to have a cohabitation. But centrist voters – those who voted for Bayrou (but not only them) – would prefer a left-wing victory, though not a blank cheque like that granted by voters to the PS in June 1981 after Mitterrand’s first election.

The right does not hold much illusion about its chances. Like in 1981, the mood is defensive at best and salvage-what-can-be-salvaged at worst. The narrative about the UMP has moved beyond June to the upcoming fight for the presidency of the party, later this year, and the announced showdown between incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and outgoing Prime Minister François Fillon. There are extremely few left-wing held seats where the UMP is in a realistic position to win the seat, therefore its entire campaign has been defensive, defending even what are either traditional strongholds (Lozère) or seats held by high-profile incumbents (Copé, Morano, Courtial, Novelli, Joissains, Mariton, Rosso-Debord etc). The UMP averaged about 30-33% in national polls (which are almost entirely useless and are awful creations of a media incapable of understanding legislative elections), which is roughly what the PS averaged (albeit the PS narrowly led most polls).

However, the UMP and PS have an unequal relationship with the fronts to their right and left respectively.

The far-right National Front (FN), whose charismatic leader Marine Le Pen won a record high 17.9% on April 22, is certainly looking to the legislative elections as a chance to confirm its result. In June 2007, a month or so after Jean-Marie Le Pen won a disappointing 10.4% in the presidential election, the FN suffered from mass demobilization and its candidate won less than 5% on average – truly rock-bottom for the FN, used to 8-10% at minimum since 1984. The FN clearly hopes to to follow up on its success on April 22 with another success in the legislative elections. However, traditionally, legislative elections have tended to be unfavourable for the FN, which, being very much a family business, suffers from a lack of high-profile local candidates and strong local grassroots. There are a good number of voters who vote for the FN only in presidential elections – I guess that comes along with the type of party it is – but despite the FN’s low-key paper candidates and its lack of solid institutional roots outside all but a handful of areas, it has managed to retain, especially since 1997, a strong vote in legislative and local (cantonal) elections. That being said, in 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen won 17.8% in the runoff against Chirac but in the June legislative election, FN candidates won only 11.3% of the votes. In recent years, with abstention in these elections reaching new highs, a part of the FN’s wider base usually tends to abstain.

The FN cannot realistically hope to win more than 2 or 3 even in the best of scenarios, but it can certainly play a kingmakers’ role. The FN’s secret strategic objective is likely the defeat of the UMP, which it hopes to participate in by qualifying its candidates for as many triangulaires as possible. In 1997, when the party won a record 14.9% of the vote, 76 FN candidates qualified for three-way runoffs against left-wing and right-wing candidates, and in about six in ten of these cases, these triangulaires proved fatal for the right, and certainly contributed to the left’s victory. Therein lays the main threat of the FN in these elections, especially for the UMP.

The FN has taken on the etiquette “Rassemblement Bleu Marine” for these elections, a cheap rebranding effort (and play on their leader’s name) which officially aims to be a wider alliance of all nationalists but is in practice FN candidates with the addition of a few sidekicks. The FN is targeting a handful of constituencies with some high-profile star candidates, though it is an uphill battle for any of these star candidates. Besides Marine Le Pen in the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais (Hénin-Beaumont), other star candidates include the former Eurosceptic MEP Paul-Marie Coûteaux in the Haute-Marne (2nd), Marine’s campaign director Florian Philippot in Moselle (6th), well-known lawyer Gilbert Collard in the Gard (2nd), Marine’s leadership rival and FN MEP Bruno Gollnisch in the Var (3rd), the former FN-turned-UMP mayor of Nice Jacques Peyrat in the Alpes-Maritimes (1st, though he is only supported by the FN and not a candidate of the RBM) and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 22-year old grand-daughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the Vaucluse (3rd).

The FN’s aim would obviously be to win a single seat, and though it has a lot of targets and a handful of seats which it could potentially take, it is an uphill battle in practically every constituency. Very much disadvantaged by the electoral system, the FN won only a single seat in 1988 and in 1997. However, the FN’s secret objective, again, is probably the defeat of the UMP, hoping to cash in on the internal chaos a very bad result would create and slowly take up the role of main right-wing opposition (a goal which is much more difficult to attain, clearly). The mariniste FN is playing very much on the anti-system, neither-left-nor-right line rather than the older mégretiste line of technocratic alliances with the parliamentary right. It will have no reluctance in going out to defeat UMP incumbents, even if the left would be the sole beneficiary of that, because it brands the UMP and PS as one and the same in a homogeneous political establishment.

The FN’s nuisance power depends on the amount of loses it suffers to other parties vis-à-vis Marine’s April 22 performance, and also on the overall turnout level. The FN is currently polling 14 to 16%, but it is quite possible that it is suffering the heaviest loses compared to April 22 in the regions of the country where it is weak and where Marine was more likely to touch an ephemeral, non-partisan protest vote than an engrained traditionally frontiste vote. If this proved to be the case on June 10, the FN’s nuisance power would be fairly significant because the regions where it is most dangerous for the UMP are those regions where it is traditionally strong and well implanted. However, in order to stage the most three-way battles as possible, turnout must be fairly strong – at least over 60% (the 2007 level). In a 60% turnout hypothesis, the FN would need about 20% of votes cast in order to qualify for the runoff. If it polls only 14% nationally, it will be hard to attain this level in a large number of constituencies. 100 appears to be the maximum number of possible three-way runoffs with the FN, 50-70 appears like a reasonable estimate while 30 is likely the most conservative estimate for the number of three-way runoffs with the FN.

On the other hand, the other front – the Left Front (FG), whose fiery leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11% in the presidential election – has a much calmer relationship with the PS. Even though the FG is running independent candidates in all but two metropolitan constituencies (after a potential deal on common PS-FG candidates in shaky constituencies collapsed), which has traditionally been the norm for the PCF, the unwritten tradition would call for the FG (or the PS, depending on the case) to drop out and/or endorse the first-placed left-wing candidate in each constituency. Mélenchon might play hardball way more than the PCF did in recent years, but when push comes to shove, he can be counted on being a good soldier and line up behind the wider presidential majority without too much trouble. Unlike the FN which, it believes, has something to gain from the defeat of the right; the FG certainly has nothing to gain at this point from a defeat of the left. FG candidates and their voters will line up behind the first-placed left-wing candidate in practically all cases, and triangulaires opposing a FG and presidential majority candidates are very unlikely. The FG is part of the wider plural left, the FN cannot even be counted as part of the wider parliamentary right with the UMP and its smaller allies.

Thus, while the UMP cannot count on a smooth transfer of FN vote even in traditional runoffs and must fear the prospect of three-way battles, the PS and its close allies can count on the smooth transfer of a vast majority of FG votes, quantified at 6-9% in most national polling, in almost all constituencies.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon became known during the presidential campaign for his frontal opposition to the FN and Marine Le Pen, and the two have developed mutual hatred (this is no exaggeration) of one another. In part to annoy her, in part to keep himself in the spotlight and in part to actually win, Mélenchon himself opted to run in the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais, against Marine Le Pen in her own backyard. Though Mélenchon has no roots in the area, he aims to benefit from the local divisions of the PS in Hénin-Beaumont and the department in general. Indeed, despite the weak implantation of the PCF in this area, he could hardly have chosen a better place to land in. The local PS has been in shambles since 2009, and the PS nomination fight in the constituency was marked by intense divisions, personal feuds and much recriminations. The PS candidate, Philippe Kemel, won a contested primary, but his support from the old leadership and local base is limited at best. The retiring incumbent’s silence likely amounts to backhanded support for Mélenchon and the DVG mayor of Hénin-Beaumont is almost public in his support for Mélenchon. The bitter and nasty contest in the 11th constituency has been nationalized by the candidacy of the two fronts‘ respective leaders.

Outside Mélenchon’s race, the FG hopes to pick up a few seats in departments such as Seine-Maritime (6th), Ardèche (3rd), Bouches-du-Rhône (7th, 10th), Pas-de-Calais (7th), Nord (19th) or Jura (3rd).

The FG’s aim in this election is to win a significant number of seats (at least 20) in order to weigh more heavily on the wider parliamentary left. A 1988-like scenario where the PS, the Greens and its other allies and dissidents hold only a minority of seats (but a plurality over the right) would wet the FG’s appetite as they would be necessary legislative partners for the PS (especially with the upcoming annihilation of the MoDem) and could throw their weight around with much more impact than if the PS and its allies won an absolute majority on their own.

The FG will find itself divided after the elections over the question of potential cabinet participation. The present cabinet, besides two Greens and two Left Radicals, is a unicolour PS government. The PCF, whose leadership has since 1997 been keen on the plural left, is open to cabinet participation under certain conditions. On the other hand, Mélenchon and the PG are very hostile to any cabinet participation and much prefer to play the role of picky legislative ally for a PS (minority) government that the PCF played between 1988 and 1993 with the PS.

The PS’ goal is obviously to win an absolute majority alongside its closest allies, the PRG, the miscellaneous and dissident lefties and the Greens (EELV). This goal is quite attainable.

However, the PS has been marked by a very large number of dissidences throughout the country. The root of the problem is the November 2011 deal with EELV, in which the PS conceded (meaning that the PS officially backed a EELV candidate) about 63 constituencies, with 20 of them winnable, to EELV. This deal was often done over the heads of local PS federations and caused much controversy on the ground, given that a lot of the EELV candidates in these conceded constituencies had little to no local political implantation, while the local PS often had fairly strong benches of local mayors, general councillors and so forth. The fact that EELV gave almost nothing away in return – running candidates against official PS candidates in other seats – caused more controversy.

As a result, almost all constituencies given to EELV in the November deal have one or more PS dissident candidates, candidates who were promptly excluded from the party by the national leadership. The most high-profile dissidences include the 1st constituency of the Rhône (where the PRG’s Thierry Braillard, backed by Lyon PS mayor Gérard Collomb, is running against a EELV candidate backed by the PS), the Côtes-d’Armor (4th) and the Nord (8th, where the PS incumbent is running as a dissident against a EELV candidate endorsed by the PS). In Paris’ 6th constituency, the PS incumbent who got shafted by the deal ultimately bowed down to pressure and accepted to become the suppléant of the EELV candidate… Cécile Duflot, the party’s leader and cabinet minister (in the end, Duflot will win but her PS suppléant will ‘hold’ the seat…). The dissidents have a strong argument on their side: the deal in November was signed when EELV was polling 5-6%. On April 22, EELV won less than 2% of the vote.

EELV will still hope to get at least 15 seats this election, the minimum required to form a parliamentary group. But with the presence of stronger PS dissidents in almost all constituencies, it could end up winning as few as 10 seats. Still, it is hard to say whether voters will vote in a “legitimist” fashion and backed the EELV candidate who is officially backed by the PS (and this mention likely features prominently on their ballots…), or if they will prefer voting for a well-known locally based dissident. If EELV fails to win a parliamentary group even after a generous deal with the PS, it will be thrown back into its old state of utter dependence on the PS, making the 2009-2011 episode seem like a distant wet dream.

The PS dissidents, often way better locally implanted than the official EELV-PS candidate, will probably far outrun the EELV candidate. In the end, however, as always, the PS dissidents will soon find their way back to their native party and be active members of the presidential majority. There are other cases where a strong local PS dissident is running against a PS canddiate. Most notably, there is Olivier Falorni in La Rochelle, a local dissident against Ségolène Royal, the 2007 presidential candidate and open candidate for the presidency of the National Assembly, who was endorsed by the PS in the solidly left-wing constituency of La Rochelle, despite being from the neighboring Deux-Sèvres. The other main PS vs. PS fight is in the Aude (2nd), where the frêchiste Didier Codorniou, excluded from the PS since 2010, is running as a dissident against a candidate officially backed by the PS.

The traditional deal with the PRG created much less animosity. The PRG and PS have long been very close allies, to the point where the PRG has basically turned into an annex of the PS’ “right-wing”. The deal between the two gave 32 seats to the PRG, 20 of them deemed winnable. Few of these deals gave rise to major dissident candidacies, because the PRG’s candidates are often well implanted local officials (former deputies, local mayors, general councillors etc) unlike the majority of the EELV candidates backed by the PS (most of whom hold no other elective office). With this deal, which can secure an additional 5-10 seats for the PRG (which won 7 in 2007) the PRG can hope to form a parliamentary group on its own or with the possible addition of a few DVG and PS dissident candidates. Indeed, the PRG has often acted as a receptor for some wandering non-socialist leftists or unhappy ex-socialists.

The centre, as always since 2007, is a disunited mish-mash. François Bayrou’s MoDem is running candidates in a vast majority of constituencies, but under a new empty label, the Centre pour la France, which, like the FN’s RBM, is largely another label for what are, in large majority, MoDem candidates. However, the MoDem can hardly be playing offensive at this point in time (besides for a few strong high-profile candidates like Rodolphe Thomas or Gilles Artigues who are backed by the UMP in their respective PS-held constituencies) when their own leader, Bayrou, who personally endorsed Hollande between the two rounds, is facing his toughest race in years. Bayrou’s decision to back Hollande, like every other political decision he has made since 2007, has backfired badly on him. The UMP is angry with him, while the PS has taken to ignoring him by running a candidate against him in his constituency despite his endorsement of Hollande. Polls have shown that he is either neck-and-neck or narrowly trailing this PS candidate in his Pyrénées-Atlantiques (2nd). Bayrou had won only 19.9% and third place in his constituency on April 22, when he had taken over 39% in his home turf in the 2007 presidential election. His neighbor, the flamboyant Jean Lassalle, is also threatened by an aggressive local PS which fancies its chances of winning all constituencies in the increasingly pink Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

The MoDem’s candidates finds themselves marginalized in these elections, which have long been polarized betweeen left and right. A large number of Bayrou’s voters from April 22 prefer to vote either for the UMP or the PS, while the MoDem struggles to find a voice in this contest, not sure which way to play. It hesitates between the old neither-left-nor-right centrism which hasn’t worked and the vague indications of centre-leftist leanings which won’t work. Bayrou’s messy calls for some type of “constructive” force which is neither in the opposition nor in the majority have obviously been squashed in a polarized election.

On the centre-right, the NC has been compelled to its old state of unequal dependence on the UMP. All but two of its 20 something incumbents are unopposed by the UMP. While the situation is not as straightforward in all constituencies, for all intents and practices, the NC in this election is hardly distinguishable from its old big brother, the UMP. The NC is running just enough candidates of its own to save its public financing – a really big deal which is based on votes cast for your party in the legislative elections, but the NC will come out of these elections in its same state of subjection to the UMP’s diktat. With a sizable number of NC deputies in close races, there is a good chance that the party will emerge only marginalized and weakened from the elections. The fact that the NC’s parliamentarians (which are basically the only NC members of renown) will have been reelected or elected only thanks to the UMP’s support by the first round, will continue to complicate efforts at centrist re-foundation because NC deputies will be wary of cutting bridges with the party which allowed them to hold their seats!

Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radicals (PRV) are in a similar state, though showing more independence against the UMP. Though the PRV’s incumbents (including Borloo, himself in a marginal constituency in Valenciennes) are, in large part, unopposed by UMP candidates (a fact which explains why Borloo’s attempt at Radical independence were coolly received by a lot of PRV parliamentarians…); in a few constituencies it is running candidates against the UMP, candidates which are sometime clinging to the stillborn ‘ARES’ label. The most high-profile of these cases is in the Hauts-de-Seine (2nd) where Rama Yade, the former cabinet minister turned Borloo ally, is running against UMP incumbent Manuel Aeschlimann in a seat which will likely be won by the PS’ Sébastien Pietrasanta.

Legislative elections are big deals for all parties, because they decide the public funds each party receives. A party needs to run a set amount of candidates and receive a not-insignificant amount of votes to be eligible for public financing, so practically every party – ranging from the big ones to tiny ones you would never have known about – are running some candidates. In all but a few cases, only the major and ‘major minor’ parties will win seats or be remotely competitive in each constituency (in metropolitan France).

Predictions

I don’t often – if ever – do predictions on this site, largely by fear of being humiliated at how bad my predictions were. Pushed by the incompetence of the media in covering these elections, I’ve decided to take a big risk this time and build my own predictions of the final winner, constituency by constituency. Before the first round, to err safe, I have only done predictions on the basis of “political families” (left, right, centre, far-right) rather than by political party. I have examined each constituency and built a prediction based on qualitative personal factors such as local candidates, grassroots strengths of the various candidates and any personal knowledge of politics in the constituency; quantitative political factors such as the impact of redistricting (if any), the results of the presidential election (first and second round) and the results of the 1997 and 2007 legislative elections (if applicable). I am quite partial to the American way of classifying constituencies as “safe”, “favoured”, “lean” or “tossup” and have used those classifications here.

Safe seats for the left or right are seats where the chances of another political family (like the right in a left-held seat) of winning the seat are extremely low, nil or downright impossible. ‘Favoured’ seats indicates seats where a political family is ‘favoured’ to win the seat, and where it is quite or very unlikely that another political family will win the seat. ‘Lean’ seats indicates seats where one family has an edge or significant advantage over another political family, though it is not unfathomable to see the other side winning.

I came up with two classification of “tossup” seats, which could go any way without much swing. There are ‘edge’ tossups where, though the seat remains very disputed, a political family (the left, right, centre and so forth) has a narrow or consistent advantage, a marginally better chance of winning in the end. Pure tossups are those few seats where it is very much impossible for me to decide on a side which holds even a marginal edge, even less a final winner. Some pure tossups are three-way races including the far-right.

For French Polynesia and French citizens abroad, the map and numbers depicts my final prediction based on first round results.

My predictions give the following numbers, as of today, for the wider political families:

Safe left: 210
Left favoured: 42
Lean left: 30
Tossup – left edge: 43
Parliamentary Left (FG+PS+DVG+PRG+MRC+EELV): 325

Left-right pure tossups: 12
Left-right-far right pure tossups: 3
Right-far right pure tossups: 2
Pure tossups: 16

Tossup – centre edge: 2
Centre-MoDem: 2

Safe right: 85
Right favoured: 67
Lean right: 41
Tossup – right edge: 40
Parliamentary Right (AC+NC+PRV+UMP+DVD+DLR): 233

My predictions would give about 55% of the seats to the left overall, with an outside chance that the PS, DVG, PRC and EELV could hold an absolute majority (289 seats) on their own without the need for the FG’s votes.

You will notice the disparity in safe seats between left and right. I have simply been very reluctant to classify seats currently held by the left as anything other than “safe” in this climate, and similarly reluctant to grade too many seats held by the right as being completely “safe”. In seats where the right is only favoured, I feel as if there is a very/extremely remote chance for there to be surprises or even an upset, though I certainly do not expect any. We can never be too safe, especially when we do not yet know (for sure at least) whether the left’s likely victory will be a tsunami or only a normal little tide.

Based on my predictions, all Ayrault cabinet ministers who are candidates in these elections would be reelected – including Marie-Arlette Carlotti who is running against a UMP incumbent in Marseille, who is certainly the cabinet minister with the toughest fight. There is a chance that junior minister Kader Arif could be defeated, but by fellow left-wing dissidents rather than by the right – he is running in the Haute-Garonne. Stéphane Le Foll, the new agriculture minister, should conquer François Fillon’s old seat in the Sarthe.

According to my predictions, I feel as if Frédéric Lefebvre, Chantal Brunel, Guillaume Peltier, Valérie Rosso-Debord, Hervé Novelli, Eric Raoult, Georges Tron, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, Laurent Hénart, André Santini, Hervé Mariton and Maire-Anne Montchamp would be defeated. I still give a narrow edge to other contenders in very tough races, including Nadine Morano, Christian Vanneste, Yves Jégo, David Douillet, Jean-Louis Borloo, NKM, Xavier Bertrand, Laurent Wauquiez, Michèle Alliot-Marie and Patrick Devedjian. François Bayrou’s seat is rated as a “pure tossup”, not a very dangerous call…

I do not predict any far-right winner, though I feel as there are a maximum of five seats where the FN could realistically win. However, I have classified the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine is running, as a “tossup – left edge”, with Mélenchon the likely winner. I think that Jacques Bompard, the ex-FN mayor of Orange, who is not actually a FN candidate, is the far-right candidate with the biggest chance of winning (in Vaucluse’s 4th), with Paul-Marie Coûteaux standing a fairly good chance in a “pure tossup” race in Haute-Marne’s 2nd.

Besides Mélenchon in the Pas-de-Calais, some other “big winners” based on my predictions include Jack Lang (in the Vosges now…), Patrick Mennucci, François Fillon (in Paris’ 2nd instead of Sarthe this year), Cécile Duflot (in Paris’ 6th) and potentially Ségolène Royal.

My predictions remain, of course, subjective and based only on limited knowledge. I am open to justifying my calls in all constituencies, explaining my predictions further or receiving comments and feedback based on my calls in such and such constituency.

A big question mark ahead of June 10, and a question mark which has a very big impact on these predictions, is the issue of triangulaires with the FN. Nobody knows how many there will be, and estimates range from lows of 30 to highs of 100-110. It is quite hard to predict how many there will be, it is even harder to predict with much certainty where they will be. At any rate, 100-110 seems high (though more reasonable than the media’s sensational headlines on April 23 about ‘over 300 triangulaires’!), considering that in 1997, with 14.9% nationally and 67.9% turnout (which will not happens this year), the FN qualified for 76 three-way runoffs.

For my analysis, I have worked on the assumption of a national FN result around 15% and 60-63% turnout, and used Marine’s first round results as the basis everywhere. Of course, this is far from a perfect strategy to approach this problem. UNS is a myth which doesn’t exist and will never exist, so assuming that you can just subtract 3-4% from Marine’s vote everywhere and get a solid prediction of the FN vote on June 10 is pretty stupid. If the FN vote drops the most in constituencies where the FN has not traditionally been very strong but where Marine was able to win some “new” voters, but stays at solid April 22 levels in core FN territory, then the FN will be in a good position to qualify for many triangulaires.

The second issue, which will need to be examined in the wake of first round results, is how the FN will perform on June 17 in those constituencies where it is qualified for either duels or triangulaires. In the past, especially in 1997, the FN had tended to lose a fairly significant percentage of its first round vote in triangulaire runoffs (I’m not aware of a statistical study on this phenomenon, but in 1997 it was almost universal in all 76 FN triangulaires).

There was a tendency for a sizable minority of FN voters to vote for the FN in the first round but to either sit out the runoff or switch their vote to the left or right-wing candidate who has a stronger chance of winning. FN voters are not necessarily locked into a “all the others suck” mindset themselves, and some use the FN as a first round protest vote, but pragmatically support an electable candidate from either left or right in the runoff. Just because their party is isolated behind an old cordon sanitaire doesn’t mean that FN voters don’t conform to the old rule of “in the first round, you choose; in the second round, you eliminate”… even when they could still “choose” rather than “eliminate” in triangulaires.

In the 2010 regional elections, however, the FN gained votes compared to the first round in (I think) every region where it qualified for the runoff (all were, obviously, triangulaires). There were only very few triangulaires in the 2011 cantonals, so it is hard to see if this trend was ephemeral or if it is going to stick. If on June 17, the FN tends to lose votes compared to the first round in the triangulaires where it is qualified, the UMP candidates stuck in these triangulaires de la mort could hold out hope that some first round FN voters will pragmatically vote for the UMP over the FN in a runoff situation favourable to the left.

We will also need to look at how the FN performs, compared to the first round, in those constituencies where it is alone against either the left or right in the runoff. The myth is that left-FN runoffs are way more favourable to the FN than right-FN runoffs are. Besides the fact that the two cantons the FN won in 2011 were held by the left, there is little proof that this is actually true. In the 2011 cantonals, the FN gained an average of 10.6 percentage points in left-FN runoffs, while in right-FN runoffs, the FN gained 10.5 percentage points on average.

The theory that mainstream right voters are more likely to vote for the FN in left-FN runoffs than left-wingers are in right-FN runoff makes a good deal of sense, but I’m not sure if it has been proven quantitatively. The 2011 cantonal elections and the 2012 presidential elections showed that the FN attracts a very ideologically, socially and geographically diverse electorate. The 2011 (and even 2004) cantonal elections further showed that the FN was an attractive option for a sizable minority of left-wing voters in right-FN runoffs. This, plus the interesting trends noted in 2010 triangulaires is part of wider phenomenon of destigmatization of a FN vote, what is described in France as a lepénisation des esprits (a ‘Lepenization’ of mainstream political thought). The FN, for a good deal of voters, is not as repulsive as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of voters might (secretly) agree with some of the FN’s rhetoric and ideology, given the general conservatism of the wider electorate on law-and-order and immigration issues. For opponents of the FN and its politics, this is a very worrying trend, but as far as we are concerned, it explains why the FN has tended, since 2007, to perform increasingly well in runoff scenarios, including triangulaires. 

The results in the 11 new “foreign” seats have fallen, and they are very – surprisingly – favourable for the left. These elections, which included an option of voting through the internet, were marked by extremely low turnout – about 15-25% of registered voters turned out, a majority voting online. When turnout is this low, you open the door to weird results and very unpredictable elections. It appears as if demobilization was heavy on both sides, but right-wingers in these eleven ‘foreign’ seats were more demobilized than left-wingers. It is a logical pattern, which is nothing new (it happened in 1981), but it does not seem to have been picked up by pollsters in France, which do not report spectacular levels of right-wing demobilization. However, if these patterns of mobilization hold up in France on June 10, the PS and its allies can hope for a large victory – unless the runoff “corrects” the first round, like in 1967 or 2007.

In these seats, it appears as if the UMP’s tactic of ensuring itself at least 7-8 seats will backfire badly. Based on first round results and personal analysis, I predict that only three of the eleven constituencies will return UMP members – the rest will return left-wing members. The UMP suffered a lot from poor candidate selection, its preference of ‘metropolitan’ candidates perceived as carpetbaggers over locals (who often ran as dissidents) being a particularly poor strategic choice. This was the case in the first constituency, covering Canada and the United States. The UMP candidate, Frédéric Lefebvre, a Sarkozyst and former cabinet minister, found himself very contested on the right by high-profile dissident candidacies. In the end, Lefebvre, never a good candidate for anything, won 22.1% and distant second behind the PS candidate, Corinne Narassiguin, a strong local candidate, who won 39.7% in a seat usually favourable to the right. She is the likely winner in the runoff.

Another former cabinet minister running for the UMP, Marie-Anne Montchamp, will likely suffer a similar fate in another constituency which the right should have won easily (the Benelux, 4th). She won only 21.2%, distant second to the PS who won 30.4%. With transfers from the Greens, the PS will likely win this seat, again a seat which the UMP didn’t really have any business in losing. On the topic of this same constituency, Dominique Paillé, a former UMP deputy (defeated in 2007) who has since sided with Borloo’s PRV-ARES, ran in this seat and won… 2.79%. While Dodo has lost every election he has run in since 2007, this is a new low for him.

Most surprisingly, however, is the eight constituency, which covers Italy, Greece and Israel. Backed by over 90% in Israel, this constituency was Sarkozy’s best constituency out of these eleven new seats. Yet, due to very low turnout in Israel, the PS won first place with 30.5% against 22.5% for the UMP, in a very spot for the runoff. A likely left-wing victory in this constituency would be a perfect symbol for the right’s ghastly performance in these eleven new seats. Even stronger high-profile candidates for the UMP like former judge Alain Marsaud and former cabinet minister Thierry Mariani are not fully certain of winning their own seats.

For those looking for a guide of seats to follow when results flow in on June 10, I have prepared this little colourful guide of constituencies which will be of some interest on June 10 (omitting some, naturally).

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