South Africa 2014

In the next three weeks, expect posts (time depending) on the EU, India, Colombia, Ukraine and Belgium. I am still welcoming any contributions from readers who wish to help out with the coverage of this avalanche of elections by submitting guest posts.

National and provincial legislative elections were held in South Africa on May 7, 2014. All 400 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa, and all members of South Africa’s nine provincial legislatures (a total of 430 seats) were up for reelection.

This post on the South African election is my longest one yet – it is meant to complete the relevant sections of my incomplete pre-election Guide. Good reading!

Electoral system

I covered South Africa’s political system in extensive detail in the first section of my (unfortunately) incomplete Guide, with details on the electoral system and constitutional framework.

South Africa’s system of government may be defined as being a parliamentary system, but it has elements which make it a hybrid between a parliamentary and presidential system.

The National Assembly, the lower house, is made up of 400 directly-elected MPs who serve a five-year term and are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Voters cast a vote for a party in the national election, but the allocation process once votes have been cast is fairly complex. In theory, half of the seats are filled from regional lists and the other half is filled from a party’s national list, although parties are under no obligation to submit both regional lists and a national list. In the first stage of allocation, the seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region (province), a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the Electoral Commission determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region. To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level, to obtain the number of regional list seats allocated to each party.

The second stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the National Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is again determined by dividing the total number of votes cast across the nation by the number of seats in the National Assembly, plus one. The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of seats in the National Assembly, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.

The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party’s list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

The upper house, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is made up of 90 members, with each of South Africa’s nine provinces sending a single delegation made up of ten members. Six of the ten delegates are ‘permanent delegates’, serving for the duration of the legislature and elected by the provincial legislatures, proportionally in accordance to the strength of the parties represented in the provincial legislature. The other four delegates are ‘special delegates’ – the provincial Premier, and three other special delegates elected by the provincial legislature, again proportionally to each party’s strength. The special delegates rotate based on the matter being discussed by the NCOP. According to the Constitution, while the National Assembly “is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people” (Section 42.3), the NCOP represents the provinces, “to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government” (Section 42.4).

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, the NCOP’s members vote as delegations, with each province having one vote and the vote is carried with five provinces voting in favour. Legally, a delegation must vote in accordance with a mandate approved by the provincial legislature it represents. On ordinary bills not affecting the provinces, the NCOP votes individually, each delegate having one vote.

The National Assembly has full legislative powers on most matters, and its members as well as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, may introduce any piece of legislation. The NCOP considers ordinary bills not affecting the provinces and it may approve it, amend it or reject it but the National Assembly can pass the bill again with a regular majority. The NCOP has significant power on legislation affecting the provinces (Section 76 bills), with the power to introduce a certain category of such legislation (Section 76.3 bills) and it must approve all Section 76 bills. If there is a disagreement on a Section 76 bill, it is sent to a Mediation Committee which then produces a compromise bill which is sent to both houses; if that bill has originated in the National Assembly, the National Assembly has the power to override NCOP opposition and the Mediation Committee (but with a two-thirds majority). The NCOP must also approve some constitutional amendments (amendments to Chapter 1, the Bill of Rights or any amendment dealing with the NCOP or provinces), in such cases, the amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly (three-fourths for amendments to Chapter 1) and the support of six out of nine provinces in the NCOP.

The President of South Africa is the head of state and government and is elected by the members of the National Assembly at its first sitting. The President may not serve more than two terms, and he may be removed from office with a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly (for ‘a serious violation of the Constitution or the law’, ‘serious misconduct’ and ‘inability to perform the functions of office’). The National Assembly may pass, with a regular majority, a motion of no confidence in the President. If carried, the entire cabinet and the President must resign. The President assents to and signs bills, refers bills to the National Assembly for reconsideration (if he/she so chooses) and chooses members of the cabinet.

South Africa has nine provinces with significant devolved powers and their own provincial legislatures and Premier, a framework similar to that of the national government (except that legislatures are unicameral). The provincial legislatures, which consist of between 30 and 80 members – the exact number of seats, except for the Western Cape, is set by the IEC based on provincial populations, are elected by closed-list proportional representation (largest remainder method). The provincial Premier is elected by the provincial legislature, and appoints a cabinet (Executive Council). Concurrent powers shared between both levels of government include, among others, agriculture, environment, health services, housing, public transport, tourism and trade. Exclusive provincial powers include local archives, libraries, museums, provincial planning, provincial cultural matters and provincial roads and traffic. The provincial executives are responsible for implementing provincial and appropriate national legislation, administering national legislation, developing and implementing provincial policy and preparing and initiating provincial legislation. The national Parliament, may, however, under certain circumstances, intervene in exclusive provincial powers.

Registration and voting is voluntary. All South African citizens over the age of 16 with a valid identity document may register to vote, although only registered voters above the age of 18 are eligible to vote. Elections for all levels of government are managed by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), a chapter nine independent state institution.

20 years of democracy (and ANC rule)

South Africa’s 2014 general election, the fifth since 1994, is a landmark election in the country’s young democracy. 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of multi-racial democracy – the first free elections open to all races were held on April 27, 1994. 2014 is the first election in which the “born-free” generation – young South Africans born after the end of apartheid (1994) – are eligible to vote. 2014 is the first election to be held after the death, in December 2013, of South Africa’s first black President, the legendary Nelson Mandela.

Since 1994, South Africa has been a one-party dominant system ruled by the African National Congress (ANC), the historic liberation movement. The ANC has won every election since 1994 with over 62% of the vote, peaking at 69.7% in 2004 and winning 65.9% in the most recent election, in 2009. The ANC also governs eight of South Africa’s nine provinces and all of the country’s major cities, except for Cape Town.

Much can be said – good and bad – about the ANC’s record in the last twenty years, and a lot depends on one’s perspective. It is important to recognize both the good and the bad which has come with 20 years of ANC rule in South Africa.

South Africa is now a liberal democracy, with a constitution which is often said to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world – especially thanks to its Bill of Rights. Although two decades of ANC rule have eroded the independence of independent institutions and has hampered Parliament’s constitutional mandate to hold the government accountable to the people, South Africa remains an electoral democracy with free and fair regular elections. Despite cases of judicial and political misconduct, South Africa’s judiciary remains independents and the courts have rendered judgements against the government or its policies. Even if impunity for corruption remains a huge problem, a number of politicians – including members of the ANC – have been convicted and served prison time for corruption. Since 1994, the courts’ interpretation of the Bill of Rights have resulted in landmark judicial decisions, which notably abolished capital punishment (1995), upheld the country’s liberal abortion laws (1998) and ordered the legalization of same-sex marriage (2005). The Constitution guarantees a wide range of freedoms, including the freedom of speech, assembly, freedom and security of the person and conscience; these rights are generally respected and protected in practice. Although the public broadcaster, the SABC, is often accussed of being biased in favour of the ANC, South Africa has a large array of private media sources which may often be critical of the government and investigate corruption scandals. The country has a vibrant civil society with a large number of NGOs and community organizations which can be influential on government policy.

Above all, institutionalized racism is a thing of the past. All South Africans – regardless of their race/ethnicity - have the right to vote, live and work wherever they wish, move freely across the country, love and marry who they want, engage in political activities unimpeded, protest the government within the limits of the law and are equal before and under the law. Races mix and intermingle freely, especially in the middle-class suburbs of urban centres.It is a lasting and significant achievement, whose importance should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, twenty years is a short period of time to erase the legacy of hundreds of years of segregation and racism from popular culture, individual mindsets, society, the economy and politics. Racial antagonisms, stereotypes or misconceptions remain deeply rooted in individual mindsets, meaning that the slogan of a ‘rainbow nation’ remains far more of a dream than a reality.

It is clear that poverty, inequality, unemployment and high criminality remain huge and daunting challenges for South Africa and it is also clear that the ANC has failed on a number of fronts in tackling these issues adequately. Nevertheless, it is necessary to recognize that there have been significant improvements in the standard of living of many South Africans. According to the World Bank, the percentage of the population living below the national poverty line declined from 31% in 1995 to 23% in 2006. According to a recent publication by Stats SA, the percentage of people living under the upper-bound poverty line declined from 57% to 45.5% between 2006 and 2011. Between 1996 and 2011, according to the respective censuses, the percentage of the population (20+) with no schooling declined from 19% to 8.6% while the population who had graduated Grade 12 and/or had higher education increased from 23.4% to 40.7%. The percentage of formal housing increased from 65% to 77.6% in the same time period, and more houses gained access to piped water (61% to 73%), flush toilets (49% to 57%), electricity for lighting (58% to 85%) and basic household amenities.

Since 1994, a black middle-class has emerged – a much larger number of black South Africans now attend universities alongside white students, live in historically lily-white middle-class suburbs and hold professional or managerial positions in the economy, although major racial inequalities remain in the makeup of the country’s moneyed elites and economic power-holders. Although blacks remain significantly poorer and more disadvantaged than whites and other racial minorities, many have nevertheless seen their standards of living improve in the past 20 years.

A reason for the increase in the standards of living and a decrease in the poverty of the South African population, especially the black majority, has been the social grants created by ANC governments. In 2011, about 15 million South Africans received social grants.

Homicide rates in the RSA  since 1995 (source: UNODC)

Homicide rates in the RSA since 1995 (source: UNODC)

South Africa remains one of the world’s most violent and crime-ridden societies, with a homicide rate of 31.1 in 2012/2013 according to police (SAPS) statistics – representing a total of over 16,000 murders in twelve months. Other crimes are extremely common as well – according to the SAPS’s latest crime statistics, the other most common types of crime included theft, burglaries in residential premises, drug-related crimes and assault. South Africa is tragically notorious for very high levels of sexual violence – the SAPS reported over 66,000 sexual offences in 2012/2013 (an extremely high rate, representing 127 per 100,000 inhabitants) and everything indicates that the actual rate may be much higher because only a minority of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the SAPS. Some surveys have found that about a quarter of men in two provinces admitted that they had raped someone. Thousands of children and newborn infants have been raped in the past decade (often by relatives or guardians), an horrendous phenomenon attributed to the ‘virgin cleansing myth’ which holds that someone may be ‘cured’ of HIV/AIDS if they sex with a virgin. Despite very progressive legislation on gay rights, homosexuals in South Africa face the threat of ‘corrective rape’ (to ‘convert’ them to heterosexuality). Crime-fighting efforts are hurt by the poor reputation of the SAPS, which has been hit by numerous cases of police corruption, incompetence and insensitivity up to the highest levels of the force.

Nevertheless, violence and murder in South Africa has declined since 1994 and the waning days of apartheid. In 1995, the homicide rate in the country stood at 64.9 and has fallen by 18% in the last ten years. According to SAPS statistics, most types of crime have also decreased in this period, except for robberies, drug-related crimes and commercial crime. Nevertheless, there was a slight increase in most crimes – included murder – between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013. During the negotiations to end apartheid and the pre-electoral period in 1994, several regions of South Africa were in a state of quasi-civil war due to political violence between warring parties (notably the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, or IFP) and the serious threat of terrorism from white supremacist groups such as the AWB. Today, political violence between supporters of different parties has been nearly eliminated, with only limited incidents during election periods in a handful of hot zones. Similarly, white supremacist terrorist organizations have almost all faded from view and pose no threat to the state.

Economic policy and socioeconomic challenges

The ANC, in general, has often prided itself on its sound management of the economy. Indeed, existing (and mostly white-owned) businesses in the country and foreign investors were fairly enthusiastic or at least positive about the ANC’s management of the economy in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The ANC was born as a small, moderate black ‘bourgeois’ movement, but the radicalization of the movement after 1948, the influence of the alliance with the Communist Party (SACP), ties with the Eastern Bloc and the socioeconomic effects of segregation and apartheid on the black population meant that the ANC moved firmly to the left during the struggle against apartheid and found its allies mainly on the left. To this day, the ANC governs in a ‘Tripartite Alliance’ with the South African Communist Party (SACP) – an historic ally of the ANC and the liberation movement – and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest trade union federation founded in 1985 and a major player in the liberation movement in the late 1980s. The apartheid government, under PW Botha’s ‘total onslaught’ strategy, sold the notion of the ANC as a dangerous communist movement and the ‘red danger’ (rooi gevaar, combined with the old and explicitly racist black danger or swart gevaar) to the Western world and his white constituents in South Africa.

In the Freedom Charter, a landmark document adopted by the ANC and its Indian, Coloured and white communist allies in 1955, it is stated that subsoil minerals, banks and monopoly industry shall be owned by the people (state), that the wealth of the country be ‘restored to the people’ and that the land ‘redivided amongst those who work it’. The Charter’s vision was reiterated by the ANC during the duration of the struggle, by the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s and the ANC still refers to it as a foundational document. In documents issued by the ANC during the negotiations to end apartheid, the party enunciated a ‘developmentalist’ perspective arguing for a mixed economy with some state intervention in the economy with the aim of a more equal distribution of wealth, the development and reconstruction of the economy. In 1994, the ANC and its allies adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which served as the basis for the ANC’s platform in the 1994 election. The RDP largely remained in the Charter’s tradition, aimed at the democratization of the economy, alleviating poverty, addressing the catastrophic state of social services and human development for the majority of South Africans, the broader development of the economy and economic growth. Although the RDP included some economically liberal measures, the gist of it still accorded a leading role to the state in restructuring the economy. Indeed, under the guises of the RDP, the ANC government spearheaded a major infrastructure program in the 1990s which built over a million cheap houses (so-called ‘RDP houses’, often criticized for being dreary and bleak pillbox-like mass building structures), a major expansion in access to piped water, electrification, the construction of 500 new clinics and a public works program.

When it took office the ANC quickly signaled that it would not take any revolutionary or radical decisions, and instead began arguing for a fairly liberal economic policy. In June 1996, the ANC’s new finance minister, Trevor Manuel, unveiled the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) plan as the government’s macroeconomic framework. GEAR aimed to achieve a ‘competitive fast-growing economy’ (at a rate of 6% by 2000) which would create 400,000 jobs by 2000; to reach these targets, GEAR called for the reduction of the budget deficit (to 3% by 2000), reducing inflation, a relaxation of exchange controls, a reduction in tariffs, policies to stimulate private and foreign investment, the acceleration of non-gold exports, privatization and labour market ‘flexibility’. Although GEAR still talked of income redistribution, poverty reduction and infrastructure development by the state, the general theme of the new government’s macro-economic framework was very clearly liberal and destined to please the business community and international financial institutions. The ANC - led by Trevor Manuel, labour minister Tito Mboweni (who later became Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, from 1999 to 2009), then-Deputy President (later President) Thabo Mbeki, trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and Mbeki’s right-hand man Essop Pahad - defended GEAR as necessary for sound economic growth and job creation while claiming that GEAR nevertheless remained in the tradition of the Charter and GEAR (although, in 2002, President Mbeki would claim that the ANC had never been and would never be a socialist party). The ANC, since 1994-5, had been preparing the ground for a shift away from its interventionist and ‘developmentalist’ orientations by arguing that the National Party (NP) government had left it with a huge debt and deficit – indeed, South Africa’s economy had gone down the drain due to a wide host of factors since the 1980s.

GEAR, however, was strongly criticized by the left of the movement – namely COSATU and the SACP – as being a betrayal of the Charter and RDP values and a home-grown version of the ‘structural adjustment programs’ which would be unable to address the issue of massive income inequality. In short, the left saw GEAR as ‘growth without development’, whereas the RDP sought ‘growth with/and development’.

GEAR was largely unsuccessful in meeting its targets. Economic growth never did hit 6%, and growth from 1995 to 2000 was generally weak. However, the early 2000s saw strong economic growth, under Mbeki’s cautious orthodox fiscal and monetary policies – South Africa’s economy reached growth rates over 5% between 2005 and 2007. Under Mbeki’s presidency, the domestic and foreign business community and international finance generally praised the ANC’s sound and competent handling of the economy. GEAR’s major failure, however, was jobs: the official unemployment rate grew from about 19% in 1996 to nearly 30% in 2002. Since then, unemployment and jobs has remained South Africa’s leading economic and social problem, remaining stuck at frustratingly high levels between 21% and 25% (at the official, and conservative, definition – under the expanded definition, over 35% of South Africans are unemployed). Instead of creating jobs, the policies of government and business following GEAR led to major job loses.

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

In Stats SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q1 of 2014, the official unemployment rate stood at 25.2% – a 1.1% quarter-to-quarter increase and 0.2% year-to-year increase. Under the expanded definition of unemployment, the figure was 35%. Only 42.8% of the population aged 15 to 64 has a job. Unemployment, like almost all social and economic indicators, is conditioned by race. Under the expanded definition, 39.9% of blacks, 27.6% of Coloureds, 17.6% of Indians and 8% of whites were unemployed. There is also an even more extreme age factor: young South Africans, especially young blacks, face extremely high levels of unemployment – across all races and using the expanded definition, 66% of those 15-24 and 39% of those 25 to 34 were unemployed against 14.4% of those 55 to 64.

A 2006 study said that while the proximate cause of high unemployment was that “prevailing South African wages are too high compared to real wage levels that would clear labor markets at lower levels of unemployment”, the structural cause was the weakness of export-oriented manufacturing since the 1990s; the relative shrinkage of which led to a fall in demand for low-skilled or unskilled labour. In 2013, only 25.6% of employees in all industries were considered skilled, compared to 46.1% who were semi-skilled and 28% who were unskilled. Even in tertiary industries, only 29% were skilled and 43% had less than the Matric (South Africa’s high school graduation exam).

However, despite fairly neoliberal fiscal and monetary policies, the ANC also retains interventionist pulses – the public sector remains a major employer, the government still owns many industries and utilities, labour laws are criticized by some as being restrictive, some regulations and laws still deter private and foreign investors, employment equity laws impose increasingly strict guidelines on businesses and subject them to fines if they break them, corruption is a major problem and the new dispensation since 1994 has been used by a lot of ANC cadres to enrich themselves in business, creating a crony capitalist system.

It is also worth pointing out that despite an economic record which is very far removed from traditional socialism, the ANC ‘talks left, walks right’ with leftist rhetoric which still talks of the ANC as a ‘revolutionary liberation movement’, an ‘economic revolution’ and the ANC styles its ideology and policies as the ‘National Democratic Revolution’.(

For a party which had an ostensibly ‘radical’ economic platform prior to winning office, why did the ANC shift towards neoliberal policies? The negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa are sometimes referred to in the literature as an ‘elite pact’ – the elite of the old ruling party, the NP, reaching a compromise and agreement with the elites of the opposition liberation movement, the ANC. In these negotiations, the NP conceded a number of important issues to the ANC – it abandoned all previous demands for entrenched group rights, ‘minority vetoes’, consociational government, special legislative and executive representation for races and effectively accepted the ANC’s maximalist demands of majority rule, one man one vote, centralized devolved government and a Bill of Rights based on individual rather than group rights. In return, the ANC adopted a liberal democratic constitutional framework, the independence of the judiciary and some form of limited protections for linguistic and racial minorities. However, the most significant concession made by the ANC to the NP was its acceptance of a liberal, capitalist macroeconomic framework which guaranteed property rights, the continuation of orthodox fiscal and monetary policies and a general focus on growth and economic stability rather than redistribution.

The NP’s own evolution from defense of minority rights (and opposition to majority rule) to a more impassioned defense of the existing liberal capitalist economic model was a gradual process, whose roots were apparent beginning in the early 1970s. After HF Verwoerd’s assassination in 1966, the NP shifted from the Afrikaner nationalism of the 1940s – with its core tenets of republicanism, anti-imperialism, Calvinist mysticism and opposition to ‘English’ (or ‘Jewish’) monopoly capitalism – towards pan-white nationalism, which sought alliance and conciliation with the English-speaking whites (the traditional opponent of the Afrikaner) in the context of shared opposition to black majority rule, ‘communism’ and the defense of capitalism. This shift was facilitated by the settlement of the republican question in 1961 and the economic advance of the Afrikaner since 1948 as a result of NP policies; under the prime ministership of BJ Vorster (1966-1978), apartheid was increasingly subordinated to economic concerns when the two clashed (but, at the time, white supremacy remained beneficial to the South African capitalist economy). Radical white supremacists – such as Albert Hertzog and his followers, who were expelled from the NP in 1969 – challenged this new paradigm, defending a dogmatic and bygone vision of ‘Verwoerdian apartheid’, but the NP remained firmly in control. Within the NP, the verligte (enlightened) faction emerged, grouping well-connected economically liberal individuals in the party who placed capitalism above rigid defense of apartheid and were willing to compromise on some aspects of white supremacy in order to protect white minority rule. The verligte, in contrast to the conservative verkrampte, were pragmatic, flexible, open to compromise and eventually evolved towards neoliberal capitalism in the 1980s.

Under PW Botha (1978-1989), the priority of the NP government became the defense of white minority rule against an upswell of black resistance following the strikes in 1973 and the Soweto riots in 1976. To achieve this aim, Botha used several tactics – mixing reform with repression. Botha enjoyed close ties with the traditional Afrikaner business elites in the Cape Province, and Botha’s economic team – with Barend du Plessis, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher’s policies in Britain, serving as his finance minister after 1984 – was clearly neoliberal in orientation (although Botha had no clearly defined economic views himself). He came into office when the apartheid system had contributed to an economic deterioration - because of the rigidity of influx control, a severe skills shortage and an artificially limited domestic consumer market. Faced with growing demands from big business and Afrikaner capital, Botha’s government acceded to some of their requests to adapt apartheid to the capitalist economy.  For example, Botha’s government adopted the recommendations of the Wiehahn and Riekert commissions (appointed by Vorster), which had called for the legalization of black unionization within limits, the regularization of urban blacks by granting them property rights and the relaxation of influx control (all the while tightening the screws on blacks outside urban areas or illegal black migrants from the ‘homelands’) – in a nutshell, the NP finally admitted what had been obvious since the 1940s – black urbanization was a permanent reality (accepted by the United Party’s Fagan Commission in 1948, but rejected by the NP’s Sauer Commission). Under Botha, the aim of his ‘reforms’ were to coopt pliable non-white elites into the system in order to perpetuate white minority rule and domination. The business sector saw the lack of a black middle-class as an obstacle to the survival of capitalism, and the NP realized that it would need to find black allies in order to maintain power. Botha’s attempts at cooptation of blacks, Coloureds and Indians (the latter two groups with the Tricameral Parliament) failed horribly, and by the second half of Botha’s stint in office, the focus shifted to repression and the consolidation of the ‘securocracy’ at the helm of the state. The economy collapsed even further under the weight of international sanctions, capital flight, growing indebtedness and a rapid increase in the levels of violence and political instability throughout the country (with states of quasi-civil war building up in KwaZulu-Natal and the PWV). However, Botha’s eclectic strategy of reform through cooptation and ‘total onslaught’ repression under an opaque and often extrajudicial securocracy signaled a major shift in the NP’s identity and class basis. With the split of Andries Treurnicht’s hardline faction to form the Conservative Party (KP) in 1982, the NP moved from being a cross-class Afrikaner nationalist alliance to a white-dominate elite alliance of whites (Anglo and Afrikaner) and pliable non-white tools. With the economic crisis, Pretoria had also become increasingly dependent on loans from the IMF and private lenders, and it had adopted neoliberal IMF-dictated policies (notably privatization.

During the negotiations to end apartheid under FW de Klerk’s presidency, the verligte faction – now represented by Roelf Meyer, a young technocrat who went on to become the NP’s lead negotiator alongside the ANC’s lead negotiator, trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa – gained the upper hand over the verkramptes, who were determined to fight till the end to protect minority rights or gain a ‘white veto’ under the new constitutional arrangement. Seeing that minority/group rights were unpalatable to the ANC and even the West, the verligte leaders compromised with the ANC and their interest became clinching an elite compromise to secure conditions for continued capital accumulation. To prod the ANC away from its interventionist and socialist inklings, the NP led a concerted effort along with business leaders, foreign investors and international financial institutions to move the ANC in the direction of free-market capitalism. South African business leaders had began meeting with ANC leaders in exile as early as 1986, and as the negotiations on a new constitution moved forward, parallel meetings were being held between ANC leaders and business leaders. Derek Keys, a former mining executive who was brought in as FW de Klerk’s technocratic finance minister, played a major role in these talks with ANC leaders (people including Manuel, Mbeki, Mboweni etc) and bringing them towards ‘pro-business’ viewpoints with guarantees to protect property rights and abandon any serious intentions of nationalization. These negotiations not only included the ANC but also COSATU, who agreed to tariff reductions and GATT/WTO membership. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the rising tide in favour of free market solutions were further impetuses on the ANC to move away from interventionist and socialist ideas. Unlike other African liberation movements, the ANC gained power in an era where there was no ‘alternative’ economic model to capitalism as there had been during the Cold War.

In the end, therefore, the NP had successfully pushed the ANC towards accepting the core tenets of the free-market economy and capitalism. After taking office in 1994, the ANC therefore honoured its part of the ‘elite pact’ with the NP – Derek Keys was kept on for a few months after the 1994 election and the incoming ANC government revised the original RDP (drafted in collaboration with COSATU and the SACP) with a White Paper which effectively laid the ground for GEAR in 1996.

Perhaps the best example of ‘elite pacting’ came in 2005, when the remnants of the NP (rebranded as the New National Party) merged with the ANC. Since the NP’s ill-advised decision to quit the national unity cabinet with the ANC in 1996 and FW de Klerk’s later resignation from the leadership (and his replacement by the incompetent Martinhus van Schalkwyk, who is now the ANC Minister of Tourism), the NP had lost its white supporters (in 2004, the bulk of the NP’s vote came from Coloureds – a group which the NP had disenfranchised in the 1950s) and was unable to become an opposition party. It waffled between frontal opposition to the ANC or cooperation with the ANC government, finally settling in favour of the latter. The ANC-NP merger certainly does appear quite contradictory given the party’s history, but by 2005 the hardliners had decamped and the NP had long since given up being an ethnic party. Already during the transition, the verligte leaders had been able to safeguard the interests of (predominantly white) capital and expand the ranks of the property-owning middle-classes to blacks. Unable to deal with the loss of power, the NP found the only way out of the hole and the only chance to share the spoils again: merging with the ANC. The merger aroused some opposition within the ANC, notably from the SACP (though mostly because it feared the NP was a Trojan Horse which would turn the ANC into a right-wing party); but Mbeki’s allies had actively supported a merger which went down on terms extremely favourable to the much stronger ANC.

Affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment

Instead of nationalization, the ANC government has implemented affirmative action policies – known as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE, or officially Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) and Employment Equity – to address apartheid’s economic legacies. The ‘designated groups’ who benefit from BEE and Employment Equity are blacks, Coloureds, Indians, women of all races and people with disabilities of all races.

Under Employment Equity, first adopted by law in 1998, all designated employers (firms with over 50 employees) are obliged to make their workforces racially representative through analysis of workforce demographics and employment practices and the yearly submission and implementation of an employment equity plan/report (including numerical goals to achieve equitable representation suitably qualified people from designated groups). In effect, employers must set and meet racial targets to make their workforce representative of the economically active population (so it must be 75% black), and they are subject to fines – made more onerous by a series of controversial amendments to the Act in 2013 – from the government if they fail to do so. The 2013 amendments also raised significant controversy and concerns over ‘racial quotas’ because it repealed provisions which forced the government to take into account skills shortage when evaluating employers’ compliance.

Although Coloureds and Indians are legally entitled to benefit from Employment Equity, the behaviour of the Department of Labour and the wording of proposed bills in recent years have raised controversy. The 2013 amendments ultimately retained the clause requiring the government to take into account national and regional workforce demographics when assessing employers, a prior 2010 bill had removed references to ‘regional’ demographics. Because the Coloured population are heavily concentrated in the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, and Indians are largely concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), there was significant concerns that Coloureds and Indians would struggle to find employment in their home provinces. The Director-General of Labour added fuel to the fire by stating that Coloureds were ‘over-concentrated’ in the WC.

BEE’s aim is to make the economy more broadly representative of the demographic makeup of South Africa, by promoting meaningful black ownership, management, employment, training and skills development in South African companies. Each company (with a turnover over R10 million) is evaluated by the government on a BEE scorecard, under which they are required to meet minimum requirements in a number of different areas (ownership, management, employment equity, skills development, procurement from BEE firms, supplier/enterprise development etc). To achieve the requirements of BEE, companies undertake a number of BEE initiatives – policies, practices and business transactions (for example, selling shares in a company to a company owned by blacks). The company’s score on the BEE scorecard increases or decreases their chances of winning government procurement contracts and insufficiently ‘empowered’ companies in regulated sectors may see their licences revoked. Responding to criticism that the first BEE scheme was heavily focused on enriching a select few, the Mbeki government adopted ‘Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment’ (B-BBEE) in 2003, which aimed to distribute wealth across a broader spectrum.

This text from the Institute of Race Relations gives a good overview of the EE and BEE laws and codes as they stand after the 2013 amendments, and explain the costs of both policies on small businesses.

BEE has been a highly divisive issue in South African politics. There has been the common criticism leveled against affirmative action policies in general, but there is broader criticism of the results of BEE. Instead of redistributing wealth and jobs to the black majority, BEE has been perceived as having helped a well-connected few – ANC cadres, black entrepreneurs and other black middle-class individuals on good terms with the ANC – while leaving the bulk of the black majority in continued poverty. Indeed, a lot of the BEE deals – valued at R600 billion according to the Institute of Race Relations – have benefited a small closed circle of black entrepreneurs, many of them with close indirect or direct (serving on party executive) links with the ANC, COSATU and the SACP. The ANC has been accused of using BEE as a means of providing patronage, meting out punishment and co-opting potential rivals within the Alliance and allowing them to make a buck. A number of ANC leaders from the struggle era have benefited quite handsomely from BEE and the new economic policies, joining the ranks of an increasingly deracialized business elite – people such as Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jay Naidoo and Saki Macozoma have become wealthy businessmen, even while keeping a foothold in politics. Sexwale, a former provincial premier and the Minister of Human Settlements from 2009 to 2013, sat on the boards of several important corporations and founded Mvelaphanda Group, a large holding firm which had interests in diamond mining and oil and which made Sexwale one of the top beneficiaries of BEE. Although Sexwale officially gave up most of his business interests and chairmanships when reentering in 2009, a lot of business empire (especially as it relates to mining) remains clouded in secrecy – with unclear secret dealings over mining deals in Guinea, for example. Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist (in the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, one of the main unions in COSATU) who was touted as one of Mandela’s potential successors in 1998-9 before being sidelined in favour of Mbeki, left active politics and became a multi-millionaire with several investments in mining and seats on the boards of mining firms, including Lonmin, which owns the infamous Marikana platinum mine.

The new black business elite has been negatively perceived as a clique of ‘crony capitalists’ who have enriched themselves, joined the ranks of the elite but given little attention to the plight of the black majority.

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

In general, BEE’s success has been rather limited. While it has succeeded in broadening and deracializing the ranks of the elite, which had been the goal of the ANC-NP ‘elite pact’ in 1994, BEE has not really radically altered the ownership structure of the South African economy. A number of companies complied with BEE solely on paper (officially defined as ‘fronting practices’ by a 2013 amendment to the B-BBEE Act, and now punishable by potential jail time), but actually limiting blacks from participating in the management or granting associated economic benefits. In 2010, The Economist reported that blacks served as the CEOs/CFOs of only 2-4% of the 295 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; they are present in larger numbers (but still far below the actual demographic makeup of the broader population) on the boards. Most of the economy remains controlled by white South Africans.

Generally, the larger white-owned corporations and big businesses have generally adapted to the new constraints of BEE and the new post-apartheid dispensation quite well. The ANC has made friends with leading businessmen (Anton Rupert and Harry Oppenheimer, two of South Africa’s most well-known business magnates of the 20th century, became friendly allies of the ANC after apartheid – a system which they had generally opposed but still benefited from), regardless of race, a friendly association for which the ANC has often been criticized. A lot of the larger businesses have not criticized BEE: they know that the ANC and BEE are here to stay, many understand the rationales and aims of BEE and they have the resources to adapt to the system. The costs of BEE have generally been less onerous for the larger corporations than for smaller businesses, who have tended to suffer most from the high costs associated with BEE transformations. The amendments to the BEE codes in 2013, which set even stricter requirements for black ownership, management control and procurement and which made achieving strong results on the BEE scorecard considerably more difficult, will likely hurt small businesses and family-owned companies (who also have to comply with mandatory EE laws, made more stringent by 2013 amendments). Critics of the EE and BEE legislation say that small businesses bear the heavy costs of meeting ‘unrealistic’ EE racial targets and complying with BEE guidelines (especially if they seek to keep the government as a potential customer); the pressures may in turn force them out of business, adding to the crisis of unemployment.

Instead of alleviating the problem of income inequality in one of the world’s most unequal societies, BEE and other government policies may have instead aggravated the problem. South Africa’s Gini coefficient has actually increased since the fall of apartheid, and has stabilized at about 0.7 in the last decade, making South Africa one of the world’s most unequal countries. Existing income inequalities between the races have been worsened by growing income inequalities within racial groups: for black South Africans, the Gini coefficient increased from about 0.5 to over 0.6 since the fall of apartheid. Today, over half of the black population remains poor, while less than 1% of whites lives under under the upper-bound poverty line.

Land reform

Land reform has been another legacy of apartheid which the government has struggled to address. The years between 1870 and 1920, especially the post-Boer War years, saw the growth of commercial and capitalist (white) agriculture in South Africa (especially in the British colonies of Natal and the Cape), with the consolidation of land in the hands of powerful large landowners at the expense of poor white landless tenant farmers (bywoners) and black tenant farmers and squatters. This transformation was accompanied by a succession of legislation which aimed to disposes Africans peasants of their relative independence and/or their access to white-owned land, ultimately culminating in the 1913 Natives Land Act. The Natives Land Act confined black land ownership (in a communal framework) to the ‘native reserves’ – rural areas which made up 7% of the country’s territory (increased to 13.5% with the Native Trust and Land Act, 1936) and which would form the basis for the apartheid-era homelands or Bantustans. In ‘white South Africa’, blacks were banned from buying or hiring land.With the Land Act, blacks were ‘proletarianized’, being forced to become cheap migrant labour for the mines and cities or farm workers dependent on a white landlord. NP rule in the 1960s and 1970s boosted larger farms, leading to an increase in the size of farms and a decrease in the number of farmers. The white-owned farms became mechanized agri-businesses, and beneficiaries of generous agricultural subsidies from the NP government. When apartheid ended in 1994, about 87% of privately-owned commercial farmland was owned by whites.

The Constitution adopted in 1996 guarantees property rights, although a clause of the Bill of Rights allows for expropriation with compensation “for a public purpose or in the public interest”, a term which explicitly includes land reform. The Bill of Rights also grants persons or communities dispossessed of property by the Land Act or other racially discriminatory laws the right to restitution of property or equitable redress.  The ANC government passed as Restitution of Land Rights Act in 1994 to govern the process of restitution or equitable redress envisaged by the Constitution, setting December 31, 1998 as the deadline for applications for land claims. A commission was created to resolve restitution claims, through negotiated settlements rather than expropriation. Under restitution, most claimants have settled for financial ‘redress’, although 2.6 million hectares had been redistributed by 2009.

The window for claims closed in 1998, but in 2013, about a quarter of claims registered with the government were not yet finalized and about 50% of the land acquired for restitution had not yet been transferred. In 2013, the ANC government passed a Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which reopened the window for restitution claims and extended the deadline to 2018. The law was criticized for undermining independent ownership rights in favour of traditional tribal leaders, the financial cost of reopening restitution (R129-R179 billion), limits on land restoration made dependent to ‘productivity’ and confusion around pre-1913 claims (for example, the Khoisan people dispossessed of their land prior to 1913).

On the separate issue of land reform (redistribution), the ANC adopted a policy of “willing buyer, willing seller” at market price, similar to the British-funded scheme in Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1992 and policies promoted by the World Bank, and set an initial target of redistribute 30% (26m ha) of land to black people by 2014. However, twenty years later, only 6-7% (less than 3m ha) of land has been redistributed – pushing the government to push back the ‘deadline’ to 2025, although it is estimated that if current performance continues, the likelihood of reaching that target by 2025 is low. Furthermore, a lot of the land which has been redistributed lies unused because of a lack of capital, skills shortage, the poor quality of a lot of the redistributed land (the high-quality land is often beyond the means of those black farmers who can acquire land), the government’s excessive focus on commercial agriculture and a lack of support services from the state. The land redistribution process has been hampered not only by intransigent white landowners as the ANC likes to claim, but also by insufficient budgets – it has already cost the government $6 billion, and the extension of the deadline to 2025 could cost it another $9.4 billion.

The ANC has been criticized for having chosen a very cautious and conservative path, and interpreting that property rights language of the Bill of Rights in a way which limits the government’s ability to intervene. The Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform between 1996 and 1999, Derek Hanekom, a white Afrikaner ANC member, took a fairly activist and pro-redistribution stance, but under Mbeki’s presidency, he was replaced by Thoko Didiza, whose ministry now tended to focus heavily on commercial farming by a new class of black commercial farmers rather than alleviating poverty.

Others, wary of radical land reform (such as the fast-track land reform/expropriation without compensation policies pushed forward, with disastrous results, by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe), have argued that the issue is one of land development and use rather than land tenure, and often warn that a Zimbabwe-like approach to land reform in South Africa would prove economically disastrous because a lot of white-owned farms are productive agri-businesses and major employers. Some point out that the government itself owns a lot of land which is currently unproductive. The general failure of land reform since 1994, the poor experience on redistributed land (for a variety of reasons) and tense relations between white owners and black farm workers or landless blacks has significantly heightened tensions in rural areas. Well publicized farm attacks – often by unemployment young black men against white farmers – have attracted a lot of attention in the West, although their numbers are hard to quantify and there have been numerous misconceptions or urban myths surrounding farm attacks (for example, there is little proof that the attacks are politically motivated).

Corruption and the arms deal

Corruption has been a major problem in post-apartheid South African politics, with a widespread perception both domestically and abroad that the government is extremely corrupt and ‘kleptocratic’. The reality isn’t that horrendous – while corruption is a reality, South Africa is actually one of Africa’s least corrupt countries – on the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa ranked 72nd in the world (placing it behind Botswana, Rwanda, Ghana and Lesotho) and actually is ranked as less corrupt than India, PR China and EU member-states Greece and Bulgaria. However, a lot of South Africans compare their country’s corruption problems with that of other G20 members, and, indeed, with such comparison, South Africa is considerably more corrupt. Two decades of ANC rule have worsened the problems of corruption and especially the impunity of politicians and public servants. The ANC has tended to fight tooth and nail to defend its corrupt MPs and cabinet ministers from prosecution, it has perverted independent state institutions (such as the SAPS, the Auditor General or the National Director of Public Prosecutions) to keep them from doing their constitutional job to investigate and punish corruption, and it has blocked Parliament and its own MPs therein from investigating corruption and holding the government to account as it is constitutionally mandated to. The electoral system contributes to the difficulty of Parliament to hold the ANC and government to account: all MPs are elected from a closed party list, and their ranking on the party list (and, hence, their chances of winning a seat) are determined solely by their party rather than by voters, so their actual accountability is with the party which got them there in the first place. It is no secret that an ANC MP (or an opposition MP) who has criticized the party’s leadership or acted contrary to leadership fiats are often forced to resign from office or are removed/downgraded from the list at the next election.

The largest scandal in post-apartheid South Africa – perhaps even in South African contemporary history – is the massive Arms Deal scandal which dates back to the last years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency but which continues to haunt the ANC to this day and his directly involved incumbent President Jacob Zuma and several ANC cabinet ministers past and present. In 1998-9, the ANC government announced its intention to modernize the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF)’s defense equipment with the purchase of frigates, marine helicopters, light fighter aircraft, submarines and battle tanks – the very idea of this deal was soon questioned, given the new government’s purported committment to reducing defense spending in favour of reducing poverty. The deal, finalized in 1999, involved about R50 billion (1999 rands) in purchase of new military equipment from German, British, Swedish and French arms firms. Beginning in 2000, the first allegations of corruption, bribery, gross conflicts of interest and fraud began to emerge, through the work of whistle-blower opposition MP Patricia de Lille and an investigation by the Auditor General. The first questions pertained to the decision to award the fighter jet contracts to BAe/SAAB – the costlier bid (in this big contract, the government decided to exclude cost as a criteria, despite a cheaper and technically equivalent bid by the Italians), the decision to grant the frigate deal to the German Frigate Consortium, the allocation of a naval sub-contract to a French company at substantial cost and inadequate offset guarantees from the successful bidders. The actual costs of the deal quickly ballooned out of proportion, far exceeding the government’s initial estimates.

The Minister of Defence at the time, former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, the ANC’s armed wing during the struggle) commander Joe Modise, was alleged to have received R5 million from BAe to the MK Veterans Asssociations, R10-35 million in bribes from various bidders and shares in a defense company (Conlog) which benefited from the arms deal (Modise would later become chair of Conlog after leaving office). The Director of Procurement in the SANDF, ‘Chippy’ Shaik, was accused of favouring his brother, Schabir Shaik, who was director of a company (partly owned by Thomson-CSF, a French contractor chosen by the German Frigate Consortium to provide the combat suits for the ships) bidding for sub-contracts. That naval suit contract had gone to Thomson-CSF over a local contractor favoured by the Navy itself; it was no coincidence that Schabir Shaik’s company was owned by Thomson-CSF and that its board included people linked to Chippy and Joe Modise. Altough Chippy, in a parliamentary hearing, claimed to have recused himself from meetings where his brother’s interests were discussed, it soon became clear that he had lied – he had participated and intervened in government meetings, to promote his brother’s business.

As Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) began an investigation, under the leadership of IFP MP Gavin Woods and ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, further details of corruption in the arms deal began to be uncovered. Contractors who had not been selected alleged that Chippy Shaik and men linked to Modise were expecting bribes if their bids were to be seriously considered by the government or to give a ‘push’ to their bids.

The ANC leadership in government (Deputy President Jacob Zuma) and in Parliament (the Speaker), as well as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) initially assured Scopa of their full support for the arms deal investigation. But as Scopa, spearheaded by Woods and Feinstein, began digging too deeply and sought to involve the Special Investigating Unit (SIU, an anti-corruption authority with the power to recover money lost to corruption and crime) in a wider investigation, the ANC leadership in government (led by Essop Pahad, President Mbeki’s ruthless enforcer) quickly moved to rein in the investigation, brought the ANC’s parliamentary leadership under the whip, undermined Scopa’s work and made sure that the SIU was not part of any investigation. Mbeki resisted pressure from the media and civil society, and refused to sign a proclamation for SIU to participate in the investigation. Scopa’s ANC members were turned against Feinstein and the investigation, and obediently obeyed the party line. The Auditor General, who had originally independently pursued the case, was bullied by the Presidency and the government into submission. As Andrew Feinstein, the maverick ANC MP defied orders from above, he was relieved of his chairmanship of the ANC component of Scopa and was finally compelled to resign from Parliament in August 2001.

The Auditor General’s report into the deal, in November 2001, included several serious accusations or comments (Modise’s behaviour with Conlog, Chippy’s conflict of interest, non-compliance with procedures) but ultimately avoided the issue of cabinet’s honesty on the costs and exonerated cabinet of any wrongdoing. It was later revealed by the media that the report had been doctored by the concerned ministers, the President and Chippy before publication. The published report absolved the cabinet of wrongdoing, whereas the original wording had said that Ministers could have influenced decisions during the process to select the costlier BAe/SAAB bid. That aircraft had not been the preferred option of the Air Force (SAAF), it was not of much greater technical capacity than Italy’s Aeromacchi jet but it was selected after the cabinet subcommittee decided to remove cost as a criteria. Nevertheless, Parliament (=the ANC) accepted the doctored report and quickly moved to close down Scopa’s investigation into the matter, with a report which expressed satisfaction with cabinet’s answers.

Tony Yengeni, the ANC Chief Whip (who had chaired the defense committee at time of the arms deal), was arrested and charged with receiving a luxury Mercedes 4×4 at a substantial discount from one of the bidders (EADS), in October 2001. He was ultimately convicted of defrauding Parliament in 2004, sentenced to a four-year sentence in 2006 but released on parole in January 2007. A few months later, Yengeni was triumphantly elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Throughout his ordeal, Yengeni was defended by the ANC, which resisted attempts to deepen the investigation into his case. Several politicians received discounted luxury cars from EADS. Yengeni’s prosecution was one of the few which the ANC accepted, to please the public, while still ensuring that Yengeni only got what amounted to a slap on the wrist.

In November 2001, Schabir Shaik was arrested. Schabir Shaik was Jacob Zuma’s business partner, giving him generous loans to pay for Zuma’s debts, expensive lifestyle and financial problems at the time. In return, Shaik was using the money to buy influence as Zuma rose through the ranks of the ANC after 1994. In March 2000, Shaik had met with French bidder Thomson-CSF and both agreed that Thomson would pay annual bribes of R500,000 to Zuma (who was having trouble covering the costs of the construction of his new residence/compound at Nkandla, in rural KZN); in return, Zuma would protect the French company from judicial investigations in South Africa and promote their interests on future bids. However, no money was forthcoming until February 2001, after Shaik had pressured Thomson-CSF into honouring their deal. The NPA charged Schabir Shaik with corruption (the payment of a R1 million bribe to Zuma, plus the solicitation of the Thomson bribe) and fraud, and in June 2005 a High Court in Durban sentenced Shaik to 15 years in jail for fraud and corruption (he was released in March 2009, on medical parole). Most significantly, the judge’s ruling described the relationship between Zuma and Shaik as one of ‘mutually beneficial symbiosis’.

That bombshell judgement had major political fallout, as the opposition and the media called on Zuma to resign as Deputy President. On June 14, only some two weeks after the Shaik judgement, President Mbeki dismissed Zuma as Deputy President. Zuma’s dismissal from government would mark the beginning of a bloody power struggle in the ANC between Zuma and Mbeki’s clans, and the beginning of long judicial procedures against Zuma which would last until 2009. The NPA wanted to and could have charged Zuma alongside Shaik in 2003, but Bulelani Ngcuka, the boss of the NPA, opted not to after the government (Mbeki’s Minister of Justice, Penuell Maduna, either as a favour to Zuma or to shield the whole cabinet and Mbeki). However, only six days after he was dismissed in June 2005, the NPA’s boss, Vusi Pikoli, charged Zuma with corruption. The details of Zuma’s trials are covered in a later section on the Zuma-Mbeki conflict.

Zuma was not the only top politician involved in the arms deal. Mbeki, who was Deputy President at the time of the deal and played a major role in guiding and supervising the deal, had also met with Thomson-CSF more than once. Although the ANC successfully stifled and politicized Scopa, foreign investigations into other aspects of the arms deal continued despite the ANC’s best attempts to shut them down by being uncooperative with foreign authorities. In Britain, the Serious Fraud Office unearthed a web of front companies which channeled over 100 million pounds to South African politicians, and looked into allegations that BAe had paid bribes to the ANC, Modise and Chippy. In Germany, prosecutors looked into millions of dollars in bribes paid by ThyssenKrupp (the main member of the winning German Frigate Consortium) to Chippy. The South African government – led by the Department of Justice – obstinately refused to cooperate with the British and German investigations, In 2007, a rogue ex-spy died in a mysterious car crash after he had leaked details of an alleged R30 million bribe to Mbeki himself from a submarine contractor.

Many questions remain unanswered, but the arms deal continues to haunt the ANC. Overall, Andrew Feinstein estimated the total costs of the deal to be in excess of R130 billion. His excellent book, After the Party, is a scathing account of the culture of corruption in the ANC and a detailed investigation into the huge scandal which is the arms deal. In August 2013, another investigation into the arms deal opened and has already face concerns of political meddling.

Mbeki’s presidency was marred by other scandals. These include ‘Cellgate’ – political meddling to ensure a Saudi cell company received a cellphone license amidst claims of massive contributions to ANC coffers; ‘Oilgate’ – a BEE company channeling millions of rands worth of public money to the state oil company to pay for the ANC’s 2004 electoral campaign; ‘Travelgate’ – MPs who misused or sold their parliamentary travel allowance for private ends and various other (uninvestigated, naturally) allegations of illegal party financing through BEE deals. The ANC has often cashed in on on BEE deals or public works contracts, ANC politicians have become increasingly disconnected from the plight of their poor constituents and taken to their new lavish lifestyles on the public purse or public officials being woefully incompetent or corrupt.

The best example of the latter comes with the Jackie Selebi/Vusi Pikoli scandal, at the end of Mbeki’s ill-fated second term. Jackie Selebi, the SAPS commissioner and Mbeki ally, was openly associated with Glenn Agliotti – one of South Africa’s biggest crime bosses, who was suspected of being behind the murder of controversial bankrupted businessman Brett Kebble, a generous contributor to various ANC factions including Zuma. In September 2007, the NPA issued a warrant for Selebi’s arrest, but Mbeki refused to dismiss him. Instead, Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli, the independent head of the NPA, for pursuing charges against Selebi. A compliant parliamentary inquiry led by former Speaker Frene Ginwala, controversial for having participated in the shut-down of meaningful independent thought at Scopa during the arms deal, exonerated Mbeki of any wrongdoing. Although Ginwala conceded that Pikoli was fit to lead the NPA, President Kgalema Motlanthe chose to dismiss Pikoli in December 2008. Selebi was arrested in early 2008, forcing Mbeki to give him an extended leave of absence – but he nevertheless renewed his contract a few months later. Selebi was finally replaced in July 2009, and went on trial in 2010. Selebi was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in jail (after appeal), after Agliotti had revealed that he had bribed Selebi and that the two had been close friends. In July 2012, Selebi was released on medical parole after serving only 200 or so days in jail.

Scandals under the current presidency, including Nkandlagate, are discussed further in the post.

HIV/AIDS policy

HIV/AIDS is the leading public health issue in South Africa. In 2011, the adult prevalence rate of HIV was estimated to be 17% – the fourth highest in the world behind the neighboring countries of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, but with over 5.6 million people living with HIV in the country, South Africa has the highest number of infected individuals. Stats SA in 2013 estimated that 16% of adults 15-49 are HIV-positive, continuing a slow increase in the infection rate from 15% in 2002. About 5.3 million people are HIV-positive, up from 4 million 12 years ago. AVERT has more detailed statistics, which show that women – especially young and middle-aged adult women – and blacks are the most affected by the tragedy. In Africa, the pandemic is characterized by heterosexual transmission and exacerbated by poverty and internal mobility (migrant labour).

HIV/AIDS began in the 1980s, under the apartheid government, which had little interest in black public health issues and chose to mostly ignore the question. The first ANC government with President Nelson Mandela took a much more assertive stance and active interest in the issue, which became one of the RDP’s lead projects, but initial optimism soon petered out as the government failed to take strong leadership on HIV. In the Sarafina II public awareness campaign, the government ended up wasting millions of rands into a bungled and mismanaged PR disaster. In 1997, the government took an active interest in Virodene, a local drug banned by the Medicines Control Council (MCC) for being based on a toxic industrial solvent; Mbeki, the Deputy President, was interested by the issue and unsuccessfully pressured the MCC into changing its policy. The ANC government rejected the distribution of AZT, an ARV drug, claiming that it was too expensive.

If Mandela’s response to HIV was underwhelming, Mbeki’s response – or lack thereof – to the crisis proved disastrous and fatal. Mbeki denied that HIV caused AIDS, arguing that socioeconomic factors such as poverty were behind it. Additionally, Mbeki, a paranoid person by nature, often alleged that the HIV/AIDS linked was a conspiracy concocted by international pharmaceutical companies to make profits by selling drugs to poor Africans. A big fan of calling anybody who disagreed with him a ‘racist’, Mbeki ranted that the disease was being used to smear black people as ‘promiscuous’ and ‘sex-crazy’.

In less conspiratorial moments, the ANC government – led by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Minister of Health, argued that ARVs were far too expensive and would bankrupt the country (a ridiculous assertion, especially if you consider the money the ANC wasted on the arms deal) or that they were toxic. The cost argument was only a respectable cover for Mbeki’s denialism, given that in 2000, the German manufacturer of Nevirapine offered to provide it for free but the Minister rejected the offer. In 2001, the government won a case against the international pharmaceutics producers who had challenged a 1997 decision to enable domestic production of generic drugs. The government then denied that its victory in court allowed it to introduce an ARV program.

The government’s policy was criticized by civil society, the media and sectors of the ruling coalitions. Zackie Achmat, a former ANC supporter who is HIV-positive, founded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in 1998 to campaign for an ARV program and became the most active and vocal opponent of Mbeki and the ANC’s denialist stance on HIV/AIDS. Achmat refused to take ARVs until all who needed them gained access to them. Mandela, who regretted his government’s lack of leadership on the issue, was privately annoyed with Mbeki’s position and publicly called for action (and stated that HIV causes AIDS). Within the alliance, the SACP and COSATU registered their disapproval of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang’s policies. Many within the ANC and cabinet, however, once again bowed to the party line and obediently endorsed Mbeki’s unorthodox positions. In 2002, the TAC won a court case against the government, which was ordered by the High Court to implement a Mother to Child Treatment Plan, but the government slid its feet. Tshabalala-Msimang instead preached the values of ‘natural’, ‘African’ treatments such as lemons, garlic and beetroots, a position for which she was rightly mocked.

Ultimately, economic pressures (Mbeki’s policies, criticized internationally, were seen as potentially unsettling foreign investors) and pressure from TAC led the government adopt a timid roll-out of treatment, including ARVs, just prior to the 2004 elections. By 2005, however, after a slow and piecemeal roll-out, the number of people on ARVs remained below target. The reason was that, despite the rhetoric, Mbeki and his Minister remained uncommitted to the new policy and had no actual plan to fully implement it. During this time, Mbeki remained a denialist and Tshabalala-Msimang was preaching for beetroots and lemons. The government publicly associated with fellow denialist ‘dissident scientists’ (most of them charlatans and frauds) such as Matthias Rath. In 2006, the Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, temporarily replaced Tshabalala-Msimang while she was ill in the hospital. Madlala-Routledge, who had been critical of Mbeki and the government’s denialism and handling of the pandemic, reversed course and adopted an ambitious plan working in tandem with civil society (including TAC) to coherently tackle AIDS. In August 2007, Mbeki fired Madlala-Routledge on flimsy grounds and Tshabalala-Msimang, the widely despised Minister, returned.

Life expectancy declined from 62 years in 1992 to 51 in 2006, with a particularly steep decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s corresponding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the government’s atrocious response thereto. Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, the other countries hit by the pandemic, also saw their life expectancy decline during this period. A Harvard study estimated that over 330,000 people died unnecessarily during Mbeki’s presidency as a result of his denialist policies.

When Mbeki was removed from office in September 2008, and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe, Tshabalala-Msimang was demoted and Barbara Hogan, a ANC MP known for her independence, became health minister. This marked the final end of Mbeki and co’s denialism, and the adoption of a much more pro-active AIDS strategy focused on treatment with ARVs. In 2009, with Jacob Zuma’s election, the new Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi continued the government’s welcome shift in policy. Motsoaledi has presided over a successful ARV program, the biggest such program in the world providing treatment to over 2 million people.

Education, healthcare and service delivery

One of the biggest concerns for the majority of South Africans is ‘service delivery’ – the delivery, by the three levels of government, of basic services including housing, sanitation, water, waste removal, flush toilets, electricity, public education and healthcare. There has been a significant increase in ‘service delivery protests’ in recent years, caused by local residents – especially in informal settlements – who protest the poor record of service delivery, corruption and politicians’ little interest in their concerns. A lot of these protests, especially in recent years, have turned violent with allegations of police brutality and a total of 43 deaths in such protests between 2004 and 2014. A recent Mail & Guardian post had interesting data on protests.

When the ANC took office in 1994, it faced the challenge of building a single education and healthcare system. Under apartheid, education and healthcare had been segregated – for example, black education was adminstered by a separate government department. Black education was massively underfunded by the government, of terrible quality and with a poor curriculum. HF Verwoerd’s Bantu Education Act (1953) aimed to provide black education ‘in conformity with their own tradition and needs’ (read: to prepare them for the unskilled migrant labour market). Since 1994, public education and healthcare is desegregated. But major racial inequalities remain – traditional white public schools are of higher quality than black public schools, and whites have the resources to access higher-quality healthcare in the private sector.

Public schools are allowed to charge additional fees, although parents can apply for full or partial reduction of fees and public schools may not legally refuse admission to children living in the vicinity. South Africa spends a comparatively large share of its GDP on education, but it has poor results in global education rankings – notably with reports which have ranked math and science education as the second worst in the world. School infrastructure is bad, with some schools lacking electricity and water and most schools lacking a stocked library. Particularly in poorer, black areas, teachers are often unqualified or under-qualified - it is said that up to 20% of teachers are absent on Mondays and Fridays, yet the government has been reluctant or unable to hold teachers to stricter standards, in part because of unions.

The Department of Basic Education seeks to convey the idea of improvements in education and a high-performing system by reporting the Matric (high school graduation exam) pass rate. In 2014, the Matric pass rate was the highest ever at 78%, up from 61% in 2009. However, very few people take the Matric pass rate seriously (even the department’s website states that ‘the matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system’). To begin with, the standards for passing some subjects are extremely low – 30% in some classes. Secondly, between the time students enter school and the time that they sit from their Matric, it is estimated that about half of them will drop out before reaching Grade 12. The statistics obscure the fate of that half, which dropped out. Because few people take the Matric seriously, only about 15% of them have marks which allow them to enter universities (which are made even more restrictive by tuition fees), forcing them to join trade schools or – oftentimes – swell the ranks of the unemployed youths. Employers complain that universities do a poor job of training graduates and bemoan the lack of skilled manpower, yet they take little interest in taking on and training poor, young unskilled workers themselves.

In 2012, the Limpopo textbook crisis symbolized how under-funding, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and entrenched regional inequalities combine to degrade the quality of education. In January 2012, as the school year began, schools in the poor northern province of Limpopo reported that textbooks had not been delivered. The provincial department of education, in a state of total disrepair and financial crisis, had been placed under the administration over the Department of Basic Education in late 2011. Several deadlines and a first court order (after Section 27, a civil rights group, took the government to court demanding urgent delivery of textbooks) were not respected by the government, with the end result that by late June 2012, a lot/most of schools had not received their textbooks and full delivery was only completed by October 2012. The textbook saga was marred by allegations of fraud and corruption in the textbook procurement process, government mismanagement and incompetence in the delivery of textbooks and an campaign of misinformation and denialism by the Department (with Angie Motshekga, the Minister, denying that there was a crisis in education in the face of such damning evidence).

Healthcare remains marked by similar inequalities. Under the two-tiered healthcare system, the poorest 84% of the population relies on public healthcare while about 16% of South Africans have the financial resources necessary to attract a high-end, high quality private healthcare system. Although the private system covers only a small advantaged minority, it accounts for half of health expenditure in the country. The public system, for which most users pay user fees, faces issues including the lack of physicians, shortages of supplies and drugs and poor management between different administrative levels. Poorer South Africans, who rely on the public healthcare system which even the government admits works poorly, are also those most at risk for HIV, TB and infant mortality.

Foreign policy

South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy was to be based on the promotion of human rights, democracy, regional cooperation, poverty reduction in Africa and peacekeeping. While South Africa is no longer a pariah of international diplomacy and an increasingly major player on the global scene – with participation in the BRICS, the G20 and two terms as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the actual direction of Pretoria’s diplomacy has often fallen far short of rhetoric.

President Thabo Mbeki eloquently expressed grand dreams for the ‘African Renaissance’ and took an active interest in the promotion of continental cooperation based on the values of democracy, rule of law, justice, human rights and socioeconomic development. Along with the presidents of Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal, Mbeki launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a policy framework positing the need for good governance, robust economic management, regional integration and the development of social infrastructure with the aim of reducing poverty. However, NEPAD quickly ran into criticism that it achieved nothing while the local South African left criticized it as a neoliberal ‘GEAR for Africa’ scheme. Mbeki’s dreams of African Renaissance and his general pan-Africanist demeanour raised eyebrows in South Africa, with some critics viewing the new direction as contrary to the ANC’s traditional values of non-racialism and Mandela’s goal of national reconciliation across racial lines.

The grand rhetoric of African Renaissance was mostly fluff, it turned out, when South Africa was confronted with neighboring Zimbabwe’s descent into chaos under Mugabe after 2000. Throughout his presidency, Mbeki stuck to a controversial policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with Zimbabwe, consisting of friendly engagements with Mugabe and tame ‘commitments’ which Mugabe almost never respected. Mbeki resisted international criticism of his ineffective policy, and refused to condemn Mugabe’s authoritarian rule despite the economic collapse of the country, the collapse of democratic institutions, rigged elections, intimidation of the opposition and the plight of the thousands who suffered at the hangs of Mugabe’s regime. After the 2008 elections, which Mugabe actually lost, South Africa and the SADC negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and the opposition, with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai serving as Prime Minister of a national unity cabinet. But when it became evident that Mugabe was reneging on his end of the deal and effectively using the power-sharing agreement to undermine Tsvangirai, South Africa did nothing.

Mbeki and South Africa’s attitude towards Zimbabwe stemmed from their determination to ensure regional stability. About two million Zimbabweans immigrated to South Africa, joining the ranks of thousands of other African immigrants, placing strains on service delivery and creating major tensions with black South Africans. The end of Mbeki’s presidency, in 2008, was marred by violent xenophobic riots in the black townships in urban South Africa. Within the alliance, COSATU and the SACP were very critical of Mbeki’s position and advocated for a tougher stance. While Mbeki denounced the Zimbabwean opposition, the MDC, as being in the hands of the CIA, COSATU leaders met with MDC leaders on several occasions. Some have speculated that Mbeki’s anti-MDC and pro-Mugabe position stemmed from domestic strategic calculations – given that the MDC grew out of the Zimbabwean union movement, Mbeki might have believed that success for the MDC might embolden COSATU to follow a similar partisan route and break its alliance with the ANC.

Although Jacob Zuma was more critical of Mugabe, under his presidency since 2009, South Africa’s position towards Mugabe hardly changed. In 2013, South Africa was quick to congratulate Mugabe on his reelection and recognize the results of the vote.

Polokwane: Jacob Zuma vs. Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki, a Xhosa from the Transkei like Nelson Mandela, was the son of ANC-SACP activist Govan Mbeki, one of the Rivonia Trialists who spent 24 years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Thabo spent most of the struggle years in exile, after receiving his post-secondary degrees in Britain, and by the late 1980s he was one of the leading ANC negotiators who met with officials of the apartheid regime in secret meetings. After 1994, Mbeki, the leading Deputy President in Mandela’s cabinet, slowly imposed himself as the technocratic administrator of the country (Mandela taking a more symbolic role as the national re-conciliator) and later as Mandela’s heir apparent within the ANC – sidelining rivals such as Cyril Ramaphosa and Matthews Phosa (the Premier of Mpumalanga), both of whom would latter become leading opponents of Mbeki. In 1997, Mbeki was elected ANC President at the Mafikeng Conference of the ANC and in 1999, with the ANC’s landslide victory in the second democratic elections, Mbeki became President of the Republic.

Mbeki is a complex man – fairly cold, distant, aloof, suspicious, insecure and even paranoid. His presidency was marked by the centralization of powers in the office of the President, the rigid enforcement of party dogma and the party line in the ANC parliamentary caucus and a much weakened Parliament which lost most of its independence. Mbeki largely surrounded himself with nonthreatening yes-men, people like Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s top right-hand man and ‘enforcer’ in the office of the presidency. Mbeki, a fairly well-read and intelligent man (notwithstanding his AIDS denialism and tendency for paranoid rants), was uncomfortable in public setting – his image is that of a tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking Anglophile intellectual, but with ideological sympathies for pan-Africanism which differentiated him from the ANC’s Freedom Charter tradition of non-racialism. Clearly insecure and even paranoid, Mbeki saw plots all around him – he became famous for his diatribes and rants against white racists or other shady groups who conspired against South African democracy. Mbeki had little tolerance for dissent within the party, and as the episode of the arms deal inquiry reveals, any hint of dissent from party/cabinet dogma was quickly and ruthlessly dealt with. Ultimately, Mbeki’s policies (on AIDS, Zimbabwe, GEAR etc) style of governance alienated a large section of the ANC top brass and the party membership. COSATU and SACP, alienated from Mbeki due to disagreements over GEAR, AIDS and Zimbabwe, rallied against Mbeki, as did the traditionally radical ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Jacob Zuma is an opposite personality from Mbeki. A Zulu from rural KZN (Nkandla), Zuma received no formal education – unlike Mbeki, the British-educated academic – and joined the ANC in his teens. Zuma, active in MK (the ANC’s armed wing), spent ten years on Robben Island in the 1960s, continuing the armed struggle from exile in neighboring countries or underground in South Africa. After 1994, Zuma served as a provincial cabinet minister (MEC) in KZN but rose through the ranks of the national leadership to become ANC Deputy President in 1997 and Deputy President of South Africa in 1999.

Zuma is a friendlier and jovial man, who appears less insecure and paranoid than Mbeki and certainly far more at ease in public settings. Zuma is a chameleon, in that he can be different things to different audiences – donning a suit and tie and a more polished speech for a crowd of businessmen or white South Africans, or appearing either in traditional Zulu garb or in t-shirts preaching a more radical for a crowd of ANC supporters. In his personal life, Zuma is a polygamist who has been married six times and currently has four wives. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s second wife (divorced since 1998), is a prominent ANC politician who served as health minister under Mandela, foreign minister under Mbeki and home affairs minister until 2012 in her ex-husband’s cabinet. She is currently the chairperson of the African Union Commission. He married his most recent wife in 2012. Zuma has had at least 20 children with his wives, with rumours of more kids born out of wedlock. In 2010, when Zuma was President, the revelation that one of Zuma’s mistresses had given birth to a daughter caused a political scandal in South Africa.

Zuma is rather keen on his Zulu cultural heritage, appearing dressed in traditional Zulu attire for traditional dances or marriages. In his campaign for the leadership of the ANC, Zuma’s opponents drew attention to the heavy use of ethnic and ‘tribal’ rhetoric by Zuma’s supporters (Zuma as the ’100% Zulu boy’), in contradiction with the ANC’s traditions.

Between 2005 and 2007, the height of the Mbeki-Zuma civil war, the battle was often presented in ideological terms as a battle between the centre/right of the party under Mbeki and the left of the party, under a populist Zuma who had the backing of COSATU, the SACP and the fiery and controversial radical future head of the ANCYL, Julius Malema. Malema famously told supporters that he was ‘ready to kill’ for Zuma, and he was a fan of the controversial struggle song ‘Kill the Boer’. Zuma was, rhetorically, to the left of Mbeki and his style definitely made him the more populist leader of the two. However, a lot of the civil war boiled down to a complex clash of factions and personalities in a party which has always been a delicate coalition of different and unstable factions, provincial sections and personalities (in a way, not too dissimilar from the NP!). In 2007, there was also an ethnic element in the battle. One one of the ANC’s main achievements has been its ability to draw and hold together a coalition made up of different, distinct and sometime rival linguistic/ethnic groups (‘tribes’), something which has a lot to do with popular black rejection of the NP’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of emphasizing ‘tribalism’ and the ‘nations’ of the wider black population. Nevertheless, the ANC under Mandela and Mbeki, two Xhosa from the Eastern Cape (and the former Transkei homeland), sometimes irked non-Xhosa blacks – the ANC received the moniker ‘Xhosa Nostra’ to denote frustration with the EC/Xhosa’s extended hold on power and office. Zuma’s main power base was his native KZN, traditionally the black province which had been the ANC’s weakest link, but to style his coalition an ‘ethnic’ one, despite the ethnically-charged rhetoric of his supporters, would be wrong. He was supported by a majority of provincial branches at the 2007 Conference. Mbeki’s style had alienated a good deal of the ANC’s members and leaders from him, allowing Zuma to put together a strong coalition of the malcontents.

Mbeki’s decision (see above) to fire Jacob Zuma from his office as Deputy President of the country days after Zuma’s corrupt business partner, Schabir Shaik, had been convicted of taking bribes for Zuma from a French weapons firm, began a deep internal crisis within the ANC which led to Zuma’s election to the ANC presidency in 2007 and Mbeki’s removal from office by the ANC in September 2008. Although Mbeki was constitutionally ineligible for a third term as President in 2009, he fully intended to succeed himself as ANC President to ensure that he could pick a loyal ally to replace him as President in 2009.

Zapiro cartoon of Jacob Zuma and his showerhead

Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption by the NPA in June 2005. In December 2005, Zuma faced another scandal – he was charged with raping a 31-year old woman, the daughter of a deceased ANC comrade, at Zuma’s home in the Johannesburg area. Zuma admitted that he had had sex with her, but claimed that it was consensual. Zuma’s supporters claimed that their man was victim of a judicial persecution organized by Mbeki, a claim lent some credence when the young woman’s credibility was called into question during the trial. Nevertheless, Zuma and his supporters drew controversy to themselves. Zuma, who had unprotected sex with the woman, claimed that he had protected himself from contracting HIV by ‘vigorously showering’ afterwards, a comment which drew both criticism and derision. Zapiro, one of South Africa’s leading cartoonists, continues to depict Zuma with a shower attached to his head. Zuma’s supporters strongly defended his innocence, using disturbing rhetoric which was often misogynistic, vilifying Zuma’s accuser, burning effigies of her and shouting abuse. Zuma aptly made use of Zulu traditions to add an element of cultural sensitivity to the trial, which was presided by a white judge. Zuma claimed that he knew she wanted to have sex because she wore only a wrap and allowed Zuma to massage her, and concluded by saying that, in Zulu culture, it is not acceptable to leave a woman aroused without having sex with her. During the trial, Zuma spoke in his native isiZulu and addressed his supporters in isiZulu, and excited them with his rendition of the struggle song Umshini wami (bring me my machine gun). In May 2006, Zuma was found not guilty in a controversial trial.

Zuma’s corruption-arms deal trial was a roller-coaster ride. In September 2006, a High Court struck the NPA’s case against Zuma from the roll, after the NPA had asked for more time to prepare their case (after years of preparation). Zuma proclaimed himself an innocent man, and suddenly found new appreciation for the judiciary, after accusing it of being part of a witch-hunt against him.

In December 2007, at a tense ANC Conference in Polokwane, Jacob Zuma was elected President of the ANC, winning 60.2% of the vote against 39.3% for Mbeki. Zuma’s list swept the races for the four other executive positions – Kgalema Motlanthe became ANC Deputy President, Baleka Mbete became ANC National Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe became ANC Secretary-General (defeating Mbeki ally and defence minister, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota), Thandi Modise became ANC Deputy Secretary-General and Matthews Phosa became ANC Treasurer (defeating Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka). The Mbeki camarilla was trounced in elections for the ANC’s National Executive Council (NEC), which was topped by Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. From the Mbeki list for the NEC, only Ramaphosa (not clear why he was on the Mbeki list, given his 1997 and 2001 conflicts with him), Trevor Manuel and three other names were elected to the NEC. Essop Pahad, Alec Erwin, Jabu Moleketi and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were defeated. Zuma supporters such as Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Tokyo Sexwale, Blade Nzimande (from the SACP), Ace Magashule, Valli Moosa, Tony Yengeni, Siphiwe Nyanda (like Yengeni, a beneficiary of EADS bribes), Derek Hanekom and Bheki Cele (later appointed as police commissioner) were all elected.

The national battle at Polokwane also unfolded at the provincial level, with ugly battles for control of the provincial branches of the ANC in nearly every province. The conflict was particularly brutal in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, two provinces whose delegates to Polokwane had backed Mbeki. In the EC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Nosimo Balindlela, was ousted from office thanks to pressures from COSATU and the SACP, although she was replaced by another Mbeki supporter, suggesting other issues were important. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Ebrahim Rasool, who had already struggled with a local ANC divided between blacks and Coloureds, was removed from office by the NEC in July 2008. In most other provinces, there were factional conflicts for the control of the provincial executive.

Mbeki remained President of South Africa, but as even more of a lame-duck, having lost control of the party and being placed under very close watch by the Zuma-led ANC NEC. Mbeki lost interest in leading the country, devoting himself to the foreign trips he so enjoyed and the protection of Jackie Selebi (see above). In early 2008, South Africa was hit by power cuts which seriously weakened Mbeki’s image as the successful economic manager/technocrat. The power shortages owed to a major increase in the demand for electricity while the government refused to invest in expanding electricity infrastructure and corruption in Eskom, the state-owned electricity company. In May 2008, xenophobic riots against black African immigrants killed over 40 people, putting a terrible black eye on South Africa’s notion as the ‘rainbow nation’. Mbeki’s handling of the riots – he went off to a conference in Japan during the riots, and he dithered about calling in the army.

In late December 2007, only a week after Polokwane, the NPA recharged Zuma with fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering. As he had done in 2006, between 2007 and 2008, Zuma’s legal team did all it could to ensure that their client never appeared before a court and to prevent the NPA from gaining access to compromising evidence (centered around a fax in which Thomson agreed to the bribery deal with Shaik and Zuma). In September 2008, Judge Chris Nicholson ruled Zuma’s recharging to be null and void because the NPA had broken the constitution by denying Zuma the right to make representation. What retained attention, however, was Nicholson’s controversial statement that there had been political interference (by Mbeki) in the case against Zuma, alleging that Mbeki’s Ministers of Justice had influenced the independent NPA (citing the suspension of Pikoli and the timing of the new charges against Zuma, right on the heels of Polokwane). Nicholson did not rule Zuma to be guilty or innocent, and even called for a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. Mbeki applied to appeal the ruling, decrying the ‘improper, vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial findings’ against him.

For the ANC, the Nicholson ruling was too much. On September 19-20, days after Nicholson’s ruling on September 12, the ANC NEC met and voted to impeach Mbeki. Mbeki was under no constitutional obligation to resign, given that the President may only be removed from office by Parliament, but, as a loyal ANC member and committed to the country’s stability, Mbeki obediently bowed to the NEC’s decision to remove him from office – and very speedily at that – by September 21, he was announcing his resignation in a TV address and by September 25, Mbeki was out of office. The Parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe, the generally respected ANC Deputy President and ‘soft’ Zuma supporter, to the Presidency. It was understood that Motlanthe’s presidency would hold the chair warm for Zuma until the 2009 elections. He retained ministers like Trevor Manuel from Mbeki’s cabinet, while hardened Mbeki loyalists such as Pahad, Erwin, Moleketi (and his wife), Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Lekota left government.

In January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Nicholson had incorrectly interpreted the constitution in faulting the NPA for not allowing Zuma the right to make representation, and ruled that Nicholson’s allegations against Mbeki overstepped the limits of his authority. However, on April 6, 2009, less than a month before the 2009 election, the NPA announced that it was dropping all charges, after new revelations confirming political interference by then-NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka to favour Mbeki. However, the NPA reiterated that it felt that it had a strong case against Zuma and praised the behaviour of the prosecuting team.

President Jacob Zuma

In April 2009, the ANC was reelected in a landslide (with 65.9%), albeit the ANC’s vote share declined for the first time (down by about 4%). Zuma was elected President by Parliament in May. Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC’s Deputy President, became Deputy President of South Africa. Pravin Gordhan replaced Manuel as Minister of Finance, although Manuel was placed as Minister in charge of the National Planning Commission and Gordhan had similar macroeconomic views to his predecessor. Jeff Radebe became Minister of Justice, Siphiwe Nyanda obtained communications, Tokyo Sexwale became Minister of Human Settlements and the SACP’s Secretary-General Blade Nzimande became Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Zuma’s presidency began relatively well. Before his election, there had been major concerns that Zuma’s presidency would mean a further swing towards authoritarianism while the h0t-headed declarations of some ANC, SACP and ANCYL stalwarts about the judiciary led to concerns about the independence of the judiciary under a Zuma presidency. Although the new government quickly abolished the Scorpions, the investigative arm of the NPA which had played a major role in prosecuting Zuma, Yengeni and Shaik (the ANC members at Polokwane had adopted a plank calling for the Scorpions to be abolished), the worst fears about an authoritarian lurch did not really come true. For example, the controversial judge and Zuma ally John Hlophe (who had received payments from a firm while ruling on a case pertaining to said firm) was not placed on the President’s list of nominees for the Constitutional Court. Instead, Sandile Ngcobo, an independent justice, became Chief Justice. In 2011, however, the nomination of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice sparked controversy, mainly because of Mogoeng’s reputation as a Christian conservative. Zuma’s other appointments, for example to head the Reserve Bank, were also praised. On the other hand, Mo Shaik, the other brother of Chippy and Schabir, was named to head the secret service.

The incoming government also promised to be tough on corruption, but it quickly turned out that that was for show. S’bu Ndebele, a former Premier of KZN and the new Minister of Transport, was soon accused of having accepted bribes, gifts and trinklets from a group of road building contractors. In 2010, the wife of the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, was arrested and charged with drug-trafficking. The heads of parastatals such as Armscor (the arms procurement agency, which already has a bad rap from the arms deal) and Transnet (a large rail, port and pipeline management company) were sacked or suspended in corruption cases. Beginning in the summer of 2011, Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of the SAPS, was accused by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of unlawful conduct in a multi-million dollar deal with a business tycoon (and friend of Zuma) over lease deals and police stations. In December 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled invalid Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, a former Department of Justice top bureaucrat who had scuttled the arms deal investigations and was later humiliated in the Ginwala inquiry into the Pikoli dismissal (Ginwala’s report blamed him for misleading the Minister), to be National Director of Public Prosecutions (the NPA). In October 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld the lower court’s decision. In 2011, Sicelo Shiceka, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, was finally fired after Madonsela had found him guilty of spending over R1 million of public money on private first-class air travel and luxury hotel, reportedly visiting a convicted drug-dealing girlfriend in jail in Switzerland. In October 2011, Cele was suspended (and the Minister of Public Works, also involved in the lease scandal, was fired) and finally fired in June 2012 by President Zuma. Mac Maharaj, an ANC struggle veteran who fell into disgrace under Mbeki but returned as Zuma’s official spokesperson, has faced allegations that he and his wife took kickbacks from Schabir Shaik on a drivers’ license deal when he was Minister of Transport under Mandela. In 2012, Maharaj threatened Mail & Guardian journalists with criminal charges when they sought to publish details of a confidential interview which the Maharaj spouses gave to the Scorpions in 2003; in 2013, the same newspaper published details obtained from Maharaj’s estranged sister-in-law which added new evidence to confirm allegations that the two had received kickbacks from Shaik in 1996.

Special Investigation Unit (SIU) probes into corruption in the public sector uncovered a pitiful scene. The Social Security Agency, which handles the millions of grant payments, was found to be riddled with fraud. Top bureaucrats in the Passenger Rail Agency, the language board, the state communications regulator, the SAPS’s crime intelligence division and the postal service were suspended over allegations of corruption. The SIU estimated that about 30 billion rands are wasted annually through overpayment and corruption. Other investigations reported billions of rands’ worth of improperly awarded tenders, often awarded to friends and families.

Jacob Zuma has been in hot water over his ties to the Gupta brothers, three Indian businessmen who have built close ties with Zuma and his family (his son is in business with them). In April 2013, the Gupta controversy became ‘Guptagate’ when a plane filled with Gupta family friends and guests to a wedding (being held at Sun City, South Africa’s famous gaudy casino resort) landed at Waterkloof air force base, sparing them from customs and immigration but raising huge security risks. Officials and police officers were axed during investigations. Zuma did not personally authorize the landing, but a military officer under investigation claimed she facilitated the landing believing instructions allegedly emanating from Zuma and/or his office.

The Protection of State Information Bill, aka the secrecy bill, has been the subject of political controversy since 2010. The bill replaces a 1982 act on information protection, and controversially proposes to impose tough 25-year jail terms for leaking of classified documents and stiff penalties including jail terms for disclosure of other classified information. The bill defines ‘national interest’ very broadly and vaguely, although amendments by the NCOP in 2012 narrowed the definition and made other changes to protect with exemptions for the public interest and limited the bill’s scope. The lower house passed an amended bill in April 2013, but Zuma sent the bill back for reconsideration by the National Assembly in September 2013, which sent it back to Zuma in November 2013. The bill has been criticized by the opposition parties, COSATU and a wide range of civil society organizations. Since 2010, the bill has been vastly improved to respond to criticism, with a more limited scope (no longer covers commercial information, no longer overrides the Access to Information Act, limited to cabinet and security agencies) and narrower definitions of key terms (national security, national interest), but remains controversial with still open-ended definitions of national security, vague wording of ‘economic and technological secrets’ and major concerns over penalties for possession and disclosure of classified information. The bill is likely to end up in front of the Constitutional Court.

The economy and the NDP

Zuma’s election did not see a significant shift to the left in economic policy. When Zuma took power, South Africa’s robust economic growth were a thing of the past and the country was hit by the global recession in 2009, unlike most of Africa. South Africa’s economy, based partly on struggling manufacturing (notably cars) and mining sectors, is more closely connected to the global economy and is vulnerable to fluctuations in the European and North American economies. Once in office, much to the COSATU and SACP’s chagrin, Zuma did not signal any shift away from the pragmatic and orthodox policies followed by his predecessor. In the first budget in 2010, Gordhan resisted pressure from the left to drop inflation-targeting in favour of an economic policy based on growth and job creation. That budget’s only concession to COSATU was the extension of the age limit for child-support grants from 15 to 18, an ANC election promise in 2009.

COSATU’s recriminations against Zuma began as early in 2009, with an unsuccessful court challenge to an agreement to sell 15% of a subsidiary of the parastatal telecom operator Telkom to Vodafone. COSATU threatened strikes over wages and interest rates; in 2009 and 2010, the country was rocked by strikes in factories and the public sector demanding wage increases. In September 2010, the country was paralyzed by public sector strikes from employees, backed by COSATU, demanding higher wages.

While Mbeki had been autocratic in his management of government business, Zuma has largely tried to avoid confrontation and taking big decisions (or delaying them as long as possible). In doing so, Zuma has been accused of being vacillating, indecisive and certainly very un-innovative in his handling of the country.

Because of the economic crisis and wildcat strikes in many economic sectors, Zuma’s presidency has been marked by a deteriorating job situation, with an increase in the official unemployment numbers from 4.2 million in 2009 to over 5 million, or 24.4% to 25.2%. As noted above, the job situation is particularly catastrophic for young South Africans, well over half of whom are unemployed or discouraged. The government was widely accused of lacking a coherent plan to create jobs, until it gave in to the opposition’s demands in late 2013 and passed a bill creating a ‘youth wage subsidy’, which went into effect for New Year’s 2014 after being a issue of hot political debate between the ANC, COSATU and the opposition for over three years. The youth wage subsidy is, in essence, a tax break for employers to encourage them to take on young workers. The new law allows employers to claim back half the salary of a young employee (18-29) earning at least R2000 a month. COSATU has been strongly opposed to the youth wage subsidy; while its opposition may stem from grubby attempts to keep their older members from losing their jobs to young recruits, there is a strong case made against the new law which does not address the core issues of youth unemployment – the lack of training, and, arguably, the absence of flexible labour legislation.

At the end of the term, two bills dealing with mining and private security industries were criticized. A mining bill would allow the state to take a 20% stake in any new petroleum venture, and allows for the state to purchase a larger stake with an output sharing deal. The security bill would limit foreign ownership in private security firms to 49%, worrying two British security firms with large investment in what is a growing and profitable sector in South Africa. Taken with the 2013 amendments to the EE and BEE laws, detailed above, the government is accused of weakening property rights, reducing private sector autonomy, threatening businesses with draconian penalties and deterring foreign investment.

Led by Trevor Manuel, the National Planning Commission drafted a National Development Plan (NDP), a sort of roadmap for South Africa’s next 20 years until 2030 which has been championed by Zuma, the ANC, the SACP and some opposition parties. The NDP’s two main objectives are to reduce the number people living under the lower-bound poverty line (R419 per month, per person) from 39% to 0% and to reduce the Gini coefficient from 0.69 to 0.6. Other goals to be achieved by 2030 include reducing unemployment to 6%; increasing employment from 13 million to 24 million in 2030; raising per capita income from R50,000 to R120,000 by 2030; increasing the share of national income of the bottom 40% from 6% to 10%; ensuring that skilled, technical, professional and managerial posts better reflect the country’s demographic makeup; broadening ownership of assets to historically disadvantaged groups; increasing the quality of education; affordable access to quality health care; universal access to running water at home and a social security system covering all working people. It calls for annual GDP growth of 5.4%, and a particular emphasis is placed on education with calls for improved standards, universal access to education, measures to allow employers to recruit young labour market entrants and expanding youth services programs. Largely, the NDP reads a wishlist of laudable goals, but the actions proposed to reach these goals are poorly detailed and the NDP serves mostly as a vague policy proposal or blueprint for more coherent action.

However, the NDP has divided the alliance. Parts of COSATU have criticized the NDP, drawing comparisons to the (in)famous GEAR and saying that the document reeks of neoliberalism and ‘right-wing’ thinking. It drew attention to the unambitious targets for reducing inequality, which would remain extremely high by world standards in 2030 (the NDP’s definition of poverty is also very conservative) under the NDP’s scenario; this contrasts with perhaps overly ambitious job creation targets, which the left fears would just create low-quality jobs in small businesses and the private sector. The NDP’s proposed actions are vague, and generally reflect a mix of interventionist government actions and neoliberal measures with limited government intervention, but on the issue of jobs, it takes a liberal stance with a clear focus on private sector/small business job creation (tax incentives, like the youth wage subsidy), export-led growth and a clear call for deregulation and economic liberalization. COSATU criticized the NDP for the focus on a job strategy which would create low-wage, unproductive jobs in the service sector rather than manufacturing, and the export-driven strategy which it claims exposes the country to competition, force a focus on ‘niche exports’ rather than industrial policy and attraction to the NEPAD (allegedly neoliberal) model of regional development. The NDP reiterates GEAR’s macroeconomic prescriptions, arguing for the need to reduce ‘consumption spending’ in favour of ‘investment spending’ and a quasi-exclusive focus on economic growth rather than development. COSATU was critical of the NDP’s stances on the labour market, which called for the youth wage subsidy, flexible labour laws, reducing entry-level wages (the NDP admits that the initial wages in the new jobs to be created will be low), linking wage growth to productivity growth, reducing the cost of doing business and calls for public sector reforms. Supporters of the plan have said that, while imperfect, the NDP nevertheless offers a clear image of where the country should be in 2030, and stressed the NDP’s inclusive character. The NDP has been pushed by the ANC, but nevertheless not much has been done to move it forward, perhaps because of resistance from ‘statist’ Ministers such as Ebrahim Patel and Rob Davies.

An IMF report in late 2013 predicted continued sluggish economic growth and higher current account deficits, leaving the economy exposed to both internal and external shocks. It called for quicker structural reforms to promote competition, trade liberalization, limiting the practice of extending collective bargaining outcomes to firms that did not participate in the bargaining and improved education outcomes.

Labour disputes, Marikana and the fate of COSATU

In August 2012, miners at a platinum mine owned by Lonmin in Marikana (North West province), in the platinum belt centered around Rustenburg, began wildcat strikes demanding a wage increase (tripling their monthly salaries to R12,500 per month)  and denouncing unsafe mining conditions, squalid living conditions and a lack of opportunities. Protests in early August were fairly non-violent, although about 10 people died in various clashes and incidents before August 16. On August 16, a SAPS contingent opened fire on a group of striking miners, killing 34 and wounding at least 78 – the shocking and horrendous incident, the Marikana Massacre, was the single most lethal use of force against civilians committed by the police since the infamous Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. It is unclear what happened: the SAPS said that the miners were armed and refused to disarm, instead attacking police. The SAPS defended itself saying it had tried its best to deescalate the crisis and control the crowd, but the protests turned violent and the strikers attacked police. The protesters were armed, but it is murky whether they attacked/shot first and if the SAPS was indeed only acting in self-defense; there a number of signs indicating a disproportionate police response and that some protesters were brutally and deliberately shot and killed by police instead of being arrested. At the Farlam Commission, appointed by Zuma to investigate Marikana, victims’ families and supporters have decried a police cover-up of its actions while others have dismissed the whole commission as a calculated attempt by the government to whitewash its role.

There was massive outrage when 270 miners were charged with the murder of their 34 comrades killed by SAPS, using an apartheid-era law (which allows for anybody associated with criminal condct by one member of a crowd to be charged, even when not involved in the crime – the NP regime used it to prosecute MK fighters). After major outcry at home and abroad, the NPA ‘provisionally’ dropped the charges three days later.

On September 18, the striking miners reached an agreement to return to work, with a pay raise between 11% and 22% and a one-time bonus of R2,000.

In the background to the violent social conflict in the platinum belt was union rivalry, between the COSATU affiliate National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – historically the dominant union in mines, and one of COSATU’s largest unions; and the independent Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), a union recognized in 2001 formed by NUM dissidents which had begun organizing in the platinum belt in 2011. The NUM/COSATU has been criticized by workers on the ground for losing touch with the demands and harsh conditions of mineworkers on the ground and of being associated with an increasingly unpopular and discredited government held responsible for the failure of service delivry and high unemployment. The NUM’s leadership is conservative and tame, while COSATU’s broader membership is aging and it struggling to attract younger workers. In Marikana, NUM members broke with their unions to join the strike, while the NUM/COSATU leadership (along with the SACP) opposed the strike and accused AMCU’s members of violence and sided with the SAPS’ reading of the events of the massacre. Early in the strike, before the massacre, NUM leaders allegedly opened fire on a group of NUM dissident members who had joined AMCU. As a result of the strike, AMCU saw its membership numbers explode, from less than 9,500 in 2011 to over 42,000 in 2012 – and probably more, given that company and chamber of mines reports show that AMCU had about 88,000 members in the platinum and gold mines by the end of 2013. In 2013 AMCU was recognized as the majority union, displacing the NUM, at South Africa’s three big platinum producers (Anglo-American, Implats, Lonmin). By the end of 2013, it was reported that AMCU was now expanding to gold mines in Gauteng province – where it now represents about 20% of unionized workers (against 61% for NUM) and is the majority union in three gold mines in the Carletonville area in Gauteng.

The (sometimes violent) battle for union supremacy between AMCU and the NUM in the platinum belt reflects COSATU’s bigger troubles. Although it remains South Africa’s largest union confederation and a crucial mobilizer of support for the ANC, with over 2 million members, COSATU (and the SACP) has lost a good deal of its credibility and legitimacy on the left as it is accused of being more interested by the spoils of power and jealously protecting their advantages rather than caring about workers’ rights and conditions. It is increasingly turning into an aristocratic and bureaucratic ‘labour elite’ and a union of skilled, white-collar government workers and civil servants, leaving an ever-larger number of dissatisfied workers turning to independent and radical unions such as AMCU. COSATU’s leaders have enriched themselves, many have been co-opted into the ANC leadership (Ramaphosa in the past, and now Gwede Mantashe, a former NUM leader) or into plush government jobs. In an increasingly hierarchic organization, COSATU’s shop stewards or shaft stewards have become full-time union bureaucrats who lose touch with the members they are supposed to represent The conditions are similar to those which, in the late 1940s, allowed the Afrikaner nationalists to seize control of the white mine workers’ union from a discredited, corrupt, tame and aristocratic leadership neglectful of their members – with the notable difference that the Christian National Afrikaner unions in the 1940s were conservatives funded by the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, while AMCU is a more radical movement.

COSATU’s decling influence is certainly one of the factors playing informing the political-strategic internal conflicts in the confederation. The internal warfare certainly has a lot to do with personality clashes and other internal calculations, but can be fairly accurately summarized as a conflict between those who think that COSATU should be more independent of the ANC leadership and not be afraid to come out against the ANC, and those who support COSATU’s close alliance with the ANC. COSATU’s secretary-general, Zwelinzima Vavi, gained prominence after 2005 and in the run-up to Polokwane as one of Zuma’s key backers in the conflict against Mbeki. Vavi, critical of corruption and of Mbeki’s policies on Zimbabwe or HIV/AIDS, quickly turned critical of Zuma, beginning with claims that the government was soft on corruption and warning that South Africa was becoming a ‘predatory state’. Those criticisms, which came as early as June 2010, led to the ANC threatening disciplinary action. Vavi continued to criticize ANC policy, notably on issues such as the NDP (which he considers to be neoliberal), corruption, government intervention in the economy, nationalization, land expropriation and redistribution of wealth. Vavi affirmed his right to be critical of ANC policy, but his behaviour clearly irked the ANC leadership and the more pro-ANC sections of COSATU were not as keen on criticizing the ANC. In the turf wars within COSATU, the union’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, opposed Vavi and became identified with a pro-Zuma and pro-ANC tendency within the union confederation. COSATU affiliates such as the NUM, the teacher’s unions (SADTU), the police union, the transport union SATAWU, and the health workers’ union (NEHAWU) have sided with Dlamini and found Vavi too critical of the ANC, while Vavi was backed by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the other major union in COSATU besides the NUM, which has been critical of the government.

But while Vavi called on COSATU to take heed of what Marikana symbolized for the movement’s future, he has been accused of corruption in relation to the sale of COSATU’s old buildings at half their price. In 2013, Vavi faced a COSATU investigation into this scandal, an investigation which was used by his opponents in the leadership and large unions such as the NUM and SADTU to castigate him and it became clear that they were seeking to oust him, less than a year after Vavi was reelected as COSATU secretary-general despite attempts by pro-Zuma groups to defeat him. In May 2013, Vavi survived an executive commitee vote to remove him but continued the investigations. In July-August 2013, the internal fighting re-intensified as Vavi faced rape charges from a former aide. Vavi admitted that he had sex with her and apologized for the extra-marital affair, but denied charges of rape and claimed that the woman was trying to blackmail him; a fewv days later, she withdrew rape charges. Given the anti-Vavi movement in COSATU, Vavi’s allies suspected that the woman had been ‘planted’ (it was alleged that the NUM boss might have been behind it) and that he was being attacked for ‘standing up for the working-class’. Despite the charges being dropped, Vavi’s opponents opted to charge him with misconduct and bringing the movement into disrepute for having sex with her at the office. In mid-August, Vavi’s opponents managed to get him suspended awaiting a complete investigation. Vavi’s allies, NUMSA and the farm workers’ union (FAWU), were furious, decrying a witch-hunt against Vavi because he was a revolutionary socialist critical of Dlamini’s pro-ANC leadership and pressuring Dlamini to convene a special congress. In November, it was announced that a special congress would be held, but Dlamini’s clan has been delaying it until a report on Vavi’s corruption case (in relation to the sale of buildings) comes out.

The COSATU crisis got worse in December 2013, at a NUMSA congress. NUMSA, which presents itself as ‘revolutionary, socialist, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist’, is the largest pro-Vavi and Zuma-critical affiliate in COSATU, which has been locked in a protracted conflict with the pro-ANC majority in COSATU. At its special congress, NUMSA took the decision that it would not support or campaign for the ANC in 2014, arguing that neither the ANC or SACP represented the working-class and that the ANC government was following neoliberal policies and failed to create ‘decent work’ as had been promised at Polokwane. It also took steps which confirm that NUMSA is seeking both to expand its reach (into the mining sector, to take on its top rival, the NUM) and to create a united front-embryo of a future left-wing political party to run against the ANC in future elections.

Vavi was charged by COSATU with serious misconduct, on various cases relating to the irregular hire, employment and supervision of the female employee he had sex with, as well as his use of Twitter to attack COSATU ‘comrades’. In April, the High Court in Johannesburg ruled Vavi’s suspension to be invalid. ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa allegedly mediated a deal, shortly afterwards, to reinstate Vavi and keep NUMSA within COSATU – but all indicates it’s very much a temporary deal, given that Vavi’s opponents are still plotting to remove him while NUMSA is increasingly more anti-ANC and anti-COSATU.

The Malema dilemma

Zuma faced trouble from another prominent supporter at Polokwane – Julius Malema, the fiery former leader of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Traditionally the radical and more leftist faction within the ANC coalition, the ANCYL was – like COSATU and the SACP – drawn to Zuma in the hopes that he would shift away from Mbeki’s neoliberal policies, towards left-wing ‘pro-poor’ and ‘labour-friendly’ policies. As expounded above, there has been no such shift under the Zuma administration, creating dissatisfaction with Zuma’s radical erstwhile allies in the ANCYL. Adding to ideological factors, the ANCYL’s president, Malema, who is now 33, was an ambitious politician who clearly did not intend to play second-fiddle to Zuma within the ANC. Malema drew widespread controversy, at home and abroad, for his fiery rhetoric and his foul-mouthed tirades against his opponents (or opponents of his allies). When Malema supported Zuma, he famously said that he was ready to kill for Zuma and during the Zuma rape trial, he said that his accuser must have had a ‘nice time’ because she stayed for breakfast (a comment which earned him a conviction for hate speech). He called the leading opposition party’s leader a ‘racist’ and ‘cockroach’. In 2010, Malema drew controversy for a visit to Zimbabwe where he met with ZANU-PF officials and criticized the opposition MDC, a tirade against a BBC journalist who accused Malema of hypocrisy for lashing out at the MDC for having offices in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Sandton when Malema himself lived in Sandton, and insensitive comments about white South Africans. Zuma was irked by Malema’s visit to Zimbabwer, which came as Pretoria was trying to broker an agreement between the two rival parties. Malema sung the highly controversial ‘shoot the Boer’ song at several political rallies, earning him a rebuke from the courts, which found the song ‘unconstitutional and unlawful’ (for inciting violence against whites) and banned him from singing the song. Nevertheless, Malema openly flouted the ruling. In May 2010, Malema survived an ANC disciplinary hearing for ‘bringing the organization into disrepute’; he narrowly escaped suspension by apologizing, pledging to take anger management classes and taking a fine (R10,000).

Malema and the ANCYL publicly called for the nationalization of mines and land expropriation without compensation, causing troubles for the ANC government in its dealings with investors. Although the ANC quickly moved to say that it was not government policy, the ANC was nevertheless compelled to give in to the powerful ANCYL by calling an ‘investigation’ into the question of nationalization in 2010. In 2011, Malema continued undermining Zuma’s authority in the ANC and was a source of embarrassment for the ANC, which often found itself doing damage control after an outburst by Malema. For example, Malema criticized Zuma’s controversial association with the Indian Gupta brothers, charging that they were ‘colonizing’ the country. The ANC leadership, especially Zuma, became increasingly annoyed and worried by Malema’s unruly behaviour. In August 2011, Malema’s declaration that he wanted to set up a ‘command team’ in Botswana to unite the opposition to the Botswana government was the straw which broke the camel’s back. The ANC charged Malema with bringing the organization into disrepute and sowing divisions. In November 2011, Malema was found guilty and suspended from the party for five years. In April 2012, Malema was expelled from the ANC.

Malema’s expulsion didn’t end the Malema dilemma for the ANC, it merely displaced it. Malema strongly supported the striking miners at Marikana in August 2012, and was extremely critical of the government’s behaviour during the crisis. He encouraged workers to continue their strike, and used the social crisis which followed Marikana as a platform for jabs against Zuma. In doing so, Malema aptly seized on an opening on the left – the SACP, which is hardly communist by this point, effectively sided with the government (against the strikers) in the aftermath of Marikana while most of COSATU was either too busy fighting their own internal squabbles or utterly discredited by the NUM’s rout at Marikana to actually do anything. Malema’s calls for ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ struck a chord with the discontented.

Malema is not controversial only because of his provocative statements – there’s been a lot of questions about how a young guy, born and raised in poverty, managed to become so rich – designer clothes, luxury cars, an unfinished (now auctioned off) home in Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs. In 2012, a report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that Malema (his trust) benefited from a fraudulent tender in his home province of Limpopo. A firm, in which Malema’s family trust is one of two shareholders, fraudulently obtained a government tender (by allegedly making false claims about its experience, qualifications and tax status) from the provincial government and Malema’s family trust benefited improperly by means of the payment of dividends or kickbacks by the firm. He was charged on 16 counts of money laundering, amounting to R4.58 million, on September 26 2013 by a court in Polokwane (Limpopo) and released on bail. The NPA’s argument is that Malema received and accepted the proceeds of crime, and that he should have known that he was benefiting from unlawful activities. According to Madonsela’s report, Malema is a ‘tenderpreneur’ – a well-connected individual who benefits improperly from government tenders. In April 2013, Malema’s trial was postponed to June. It has since been postponed to September 2014. Malema’s lawyers argued that the NPA ‘fabricated’ evidence against Malema in the case, while Malema has repeatedly vowed to fight the charges or that he is the victim of political persecution by the ANC.

Malema is also fighting tax evasion charges, with the revenue service saying that he owes R16 million in unpaid taxes. The asset forfeiture unit seized a farm owned by Malema and his unfinished mansion in Sandown, Johannesburg. In February 2014, a court placed him under provisional sequestration.


The endless corruption scandals, the weak economy, the strikes which had paralyzed the economy, the Marikana Massacre, Zuma’s weakness as a leader, the Malema dilemma, alliance divisions, local squabbles, personality clashes and the ANC’s recent Polokwane-induced tendency to air its dirty laundry in public all meant that Zuma would likely face a strong challenge to his hold on the ANC’s leadership at the party’s regular elective conference, in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in December 2012. ANC leadership conferences from 1949 (when Mandela and his allies’ radical ANCYL faction toppled the moderate and bourgeois old guard) and 2008 were decided behind closed doors, and the choice for president was merely confirmed unanimously at the conference. For example, in the run-up to the 2002 conference, Mbeki’s security minister in 2001 had released a controversial report alleging a ‘plot’ against Mbeki by his rivals Matthews Phosa, Ramaphosa and Sexwale; as a result, Mbeki was reelected unopposed.

In the run-up to Mangaung, a vaguely defined and extremely heterogeneous grouping of ‘pro-change’ (anti-Zuma) malcontents rallied around Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, a mild-mannered and fairly respectable party stalwart although fairly risk-averse and cautious. The pro-change faction included the bulk of the Gauteng ANC, led by culture minister and former Premier Paul Mashatile (2008-2009); the Limpopo ANC, led by Premier Cassel Mathale, an ally of Julius Malema; and ambitious ANC senior politicians such as Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa (two Mbeki rivals who had backed Zuma at Polokwane, after failing to launch their own presidential bids). The ANCYL, first under Malema and then under a rebellious leadership which originally defended Malema (and refused to replace him) opposed Zuma, but acting ANCYL boss Ronald Lamola and Malema had a very public and foul-mouthed falling out in November 2012, after Lamola ordered the ANCYL to stop defending Malema in his corruption trial and rumours that Lamola was engaged in back-doors negotiations with Zuma’s faction. Other provinces were divided on the issue: in the North West, Premier Thandi Modise and the ANC provincial secretary backed Motlanthe while ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo firmly backed Zuma; in the Free State, Zuma ally and Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful political operator in the province, faced dissent from a pro-change minority; in KZN, the province largely remained loyal to native son Jacob Zuma and his ally Premier Zweli Mkhize, but axed SAPS chief Bheki Cele unsuccessfully tried to mobilize anti-Zuma opinion. In the Free State, Zuma opponents tried to take the pro-Zuma leadership to court over irregularities in the provincial delegate selection process; only days before the conference opened, the Constitutional Court ruled the Free State’s provincial elective conference invalid. In a confusing last-minute situation, Zuma’s allies nevertheless managed to allow the province’s largely pro-Zuma delegates to vote. The Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape were also divided, but party branches in the first two provinces eventually broke heavily for Zuma while the WC went to Motlanthe.

Zuma received the support of a majority of party branches – the single largest ANC local branch in eThekwini (Durban) metro and the Mpumalanga ANC (with Premier David Mabuza), but also from strong minorities in pro-Motlanthe provinces (such as Gauteng, where some factions backed Zuma and Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was said to be supporting Zuma), the majority of a divided COSATU (with Sdumo Dlamini, who was elected to the ANC NEC), Blade Nzimande and the co-opted SACP, police minister Nathi Mthethwa, education minister Angie Motshekga (and her husband, the ANC chief whip), and the MK Veterans associations, who had been promoted to higher ranks in party hierarchy and benefited from a generous donation from the Gupta brothers. Zuma also attracted the support of former opponents, including one-time Malema ally and suspended ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe.

In a lot of nomination battles, like in the Free State, there were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and ghost delegates.

Kgalema Motlanthe accepted the nominations he received for various offices, including ANC President, and at the conference he went all in by announcing that he would only stand for ANC President and would not concurrently stand for reelection as ANC Deputy President. Zuma was reelected with 75.1% against 24.9% of the vote for Motlanthe in the presidential race.

In the race for ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the trade unionist-turned-businessman, was elected with the backing of Zuma’s slate. He won 76.4% against 11.9% for Matthews Phosa (supported by the ANCYL) and 11.7% for Tokyo Sexwale, the two candidates standing for the pro-Motlanthe faction. Ramaphosa return to high-level politics with the number two spot in the ANC was rather controversial, with concerns over potential conflicts of interest but also questions about his behaviour at Marikana (he’s a shareholder in Lonmin, which owns the mine at Marikana). Emails obtained by the Farlam commission on Marikana showed Ramaphosa, the day before the massacre, urging on the police minister to intervene and describing the miners as ‘dastardly criminal’. The anti-Zuma forces on the left, notably the ANCYL, were predictably livid about this. Ramaphosa, who became very rich by entering the private sector, also carries the baggage of being one of the big ‘BEE fat cats’ – black ANC leaders who benefited from the elite pact of 1994 and got rich with BEE deals. Ramaphosa’s selection by the Zuma camp to be number 2 in the ANC was perceived as a positive signal given to business who had been worried by the ANC’s talk of nationalization, fast-track land reform, secrecy bills and taxes. It also created major buzz about Ramaphosa being next-in-line for the ANC and South Africa’s presidency in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The conference also saw a confirmation of the government’s moderate economic policies, ruling out nationalization (in favour of ‘increasing state ownership in strategic sectors if necessary’) and land expropriation without compensation. It reaffirmed a inflation-targeting monetary policy, orthodox fiscal policies, promised to take on corruption and adopted the NDP as ANC policy. Ramaphosa, who had been deputy chair of the National Planning Commission, was expected to become the leader on the implementation of the NDP, with the political retirement of Trevor Manuel.

Zuma’s supporters swept the four other executive positions – Baleka Mbete was reelected as National Chairperson with 76.2% against 23.8% for Thandi Modise, Gwede Mantashe was reelected as Secretary-General with 77.2% against 22.8% for former ANCYL president and sports minister Fikile Mbalula, Jessie Duarte was elected as Deputy Secretary-General unopposed and KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize succeeded Matthews Phosa as Treasurer General with 75.7% against 24.3% for Paul Mashatile.

Zuma owed his victory to his team’s superior organization and coherence, in contrast with the divided pro-change camp. Zuma counted on strong support from key cabinet ministers, several provincial strongmen, minorities in pro-change provinces and his team was active in the run-up to the conference spreading messages that the pro-change team was ill disciplined and ‘un-ANC’. In contrast, Motlanthe himself largely lacked enthusiasm and willingness to campaign for the leadership (but at the same time, Ramaphosa barely campaigned for his new spot as ANC Deputy President).

In March 2013, after Mangaung, the ANC NEC disbanded the ANCYL’s NEC and the Limpopo ANC’s provincial executive. Limpopo, under Premier Cassel Mathale (a one-time Malema ally), had opposed Zuma’s reelection at Mangaung; Mathale was removed from office in July 2013 and replaced by uncontroversial Stan Mathabatha (Dickson Masemola, a Zuma ally who as MEC for education presided over the textbook debacle, was skipped over). Both decisions were seen as ‘purges’ directed against the anti-Zuma factions in the ANC. In January, the ANCYL leadership had pledged to toe the line but there had been strong pressure from Zuma and his allies in the ANC leadership to take tough actions against the ANCYL, which had backed Motlanthe at Mangaung.


The last stretch of Zuma’s first term in office has been hurt by Nkandlagate, one of the biggest corruption scandals in South Africa since the arms deal. Nkandla, as noted above, is Zuma’s traditional homestead in his native rural KZN, a house which he started building thanks to arms deal kickbacks. The scandal broke in November 2011 as the Mail & Guardian reported on the construction of underground bunkers at Nkandla, by a contractor which employs Zuma’s niece and at the cost of the state. The weekly newspaper claimed that the state was paying for lavish upgrades at Nkandla, with new living quarters, a clinic, gymnasium , parking, a helipad, a playground and new houses for security guard and visitors. In 2009, the newspaper had already reported about government-paid upgrades to the presidential homestead. In November 2012, the scandal broke again when Zuma addressed Parliament on Nkandla for the first time, claiming that his family had paid for the construction. The Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, launched a probe into the emerging scandal in late 2012. The ANC’s initial response into the scandal was uncoordinated and jumbled.

In January 2013, the ‘security cluster’ of ministers involved in Nkandlagate, led by Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi, released a classified report which recognized the state had spent, altogether, over R200 million on security upgrades at Nkandla and admitted irregularities in the choice of service providers, but the report defended the necessity for ‘security upgrades’ and – most importantly – cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing. The Department of Public Works took the blame for ‘systemic weaknesses’ (‘inadequate management capacity and poor financial controls’) in the department. The full report was finally released in December 2013.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into Nkandla clearly panicked the ruling party. In November 2013, the ‘security cluster’ ministers went to court to try to interdict the release of her report, claiming it needed more time to respond to her provisional report and to vet ‘national security breaches’ in the report. Two weeks later, in the face of controversy, they dropped their request. A few days later, Madonsela stated that she would have final say over what the report said and that she would not allow ‘security cluster’ ministers to dictate to her. She regretted having shown the ministers her provisional report in the first place, given that they abused her trust by taking the issue to court. In late November, a controversial leak of the provisional report by the Mail & Guardian‘s investigative journalists said that Madonsela’s report had found that Zuma derived ‘substantial personal benefit’ from the Nkandla upgrades.

Madonsela’s final report was released in March 2014. On the whole, it was a damning report both for the government and for Zuma himself. Implementation of the security measures (which she judged to be necessary) failed to comply with parameters set out in legislation and cabinet directives on the matter. The government ‘failed dismally’ to follow supply chain management prescripts, with the absence of demand management, the lack of open tenders and the employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s ‘principal agent’ (creating a conflicting situation) – all of which resulted in ‘scope creep’ leading to ‘exponential scope and cost escalations’. The scope of the project far exceeded what was required for the President’s security – notably the construction of a visitors’ centre, a new cattle kraal with a chicken run, a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, extensive paving and the relocation of neighbours; these measures, she said, involved ‘unlawful action and constitutes improper conduct and maladministration’. The ministerial task team report had defended even these lavish expenditures as security upgrades, presenting the swimming pool as a ‘fire pool’ and the amphitheatre as a ‘retaining wall’. Madonsela further faulted the government for building these new amenities in the compound, rather than in a location accessible to the local public where it could have benefited the local population of Nkandla. She found that the costs incurred by the state – including for buildings which went beyond what was required for security – was ‘unconscionable, excessive, and caused a misappropriation of public funds’. Madonsela found that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from upgrades (because of ‘substantial value being unduly added to the President’s private property’ and the installation of non-security essential upgrades).

Madonsela’s findings dinged the Department of Public Works for failing to resolve the issue of items earmarked for the owners’ cost transparently. Officials in the Departments of Public Works, Defence and the SAPS ‘failed to acquaint themselves with the authorizing instruments’, acts constituting ‘improper conduct and maladministration’. The employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s principal agent created a major conflict of interest and allowed for ‘scope creep’, cost escalation and poor performance by contractors. Madonsela found that “the President tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from the non-security installations at his private residence, a reasonable part of the expenditure towards the installations that were not identified as security measures in the list compiled by security experts in pursuit of the security evaluation, should be borne by him and his family”. Zuma should therefore repay the cost of ‘items that can’t be conscionably accepted as security measures’. She did not find Zuma guilty of misleading Parliament in November 2012, however, Zuma failed to ask questions about the ‘scale, cost and affordability’ of Nkandla. His failure to ‘act in protection of state resources’ constitutes a breach of the executive ethics code and amounts to unconstitutional behaviour. Instead of raising red flags about the costs, Zuma instead complained that the upgrades weren’t happening fast enough. Madonsela estimated the total cost of the project at R246 million, far exceeding the costs of security upgrades to former President’s houses in the past, the highest of which was a R32 million project at Mandela’s house.

Her report spoke of ‘administrative deficiencies’ and ‘systemic policy gaps’ which led to the inflation of costs. Her final report did not include substantial changes from the provisional report leaked by the M&G. Her report said that she had resisted countless attempts by the government to interfere in her investigation, to limit its scope or even shut it down. The M&G’s journalists had, at the time, estimated the costs of the non-security essential upgrades at R20 million and that the state had paid Zuma’s team of contractors over R90 million.

The government accepted that Zuma would need to repay the state, but reiterated their view that all measures, including the pool, cattle kraal and additional structures were “necessary for the security of the president”. Zuma himself tried to distance himself from government decision-making, having previously insisted that he had no say in how the government handles his personal security. However, Madonsela’s report and other documents obtained showed that Zuma was consulted on the upgrades on several occasions, may have pressed for his personal architect to be employed by the state, that said architect acted as a go-between Zuma and government officials and that Zuma intervened to press the state to keep contractors of his choosing.

Parties and Issues

African National Congress (ANC)

The ANC is South Africa’s dominant party. Founded in 1912 (as the South African Native National Congress, SANNC), two years before the NP, it is one of the oldest political parties in Africa. One of the ANC’s founders and early leading figure was Sol Plaatje, a widely recognized black intellectual and luminary of early twentieth-century South Africa. From its foundations until the late 1940s, the ANC was a relatively minor player in the opposition to the whites-only regime. It was a predominantly bourgeois middle-class and intellectual moderate movement, which sought to redress the black’s situation through civic means – including appealing to the colonial power, Britain. The SANNC/ANC was only one part of the black movement, one which respected and emphasized imperial ties and looked to Britain to support its claims. However, since the peace of Vereeniging in 1902, Britain was more interested in an ‘elite compromise’ with their former white Afrikaner enemies than with the politically weaker and ineffective black majority.

In 1948, when the NP took power, the ANC’s leadership was ineffectual, passive and inactive although the ANC had by then adopted a stronger set of demands – an end to racial domination and white trusteeship, a common citizenship and political equality. The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) – whose ranks included Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (among others) – felt that the ANC’s old leaders were too complacent and attached to British ‘gentlemen politics’. In 1949, the younger generation defeated the ANC leadership at the party congress and adopted a markedly more radical and militant attitude against the NP regime including strikes and boycotts. However, until 1961, the ANC’s used peaceful means (civil disobedience) to the protest the regime, organizing boycotts or strikes – often alongside trade unions, Indian and coloured groups or the Communist Party.

The 1952 Defiance Campaign marked the ANC’s emergence as a major political force, but at the same time it also showed the futility of civil disobedience and mass protests in the face of NP intransigence as the state stuck to its policies and the campaign petered out. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the first major incidence of state-sanctioned mass violence, led the ANC to the realization that there was no constitutional, non-violent path to change in South Africa. In 1961, Mandela created Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing. The MK, from foreign bases in sympathetic states (such as Angola and Mozambique after 1976), launched attacks (bombings, assassinations, car bombings) against military, governmental or civilian (white) targets in South Africa.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), refounded in 1953 after the original Communist Party had been banned in 1950, became the ANC’s closest ally in the early 1950s and had a major influence on the ANC’s ideological direction. The SACP had first gained prominence during the Rand Rebellion (1922), when it had supported the labour demands of the white workers but rejected the racist backdrop to them (workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa). The SACP’s ideological position was that a ‘native republic’, to be built in cooperation with the black nationalist movements, was a necessary transitional step before the creation of a socialist state in South Africa. In the 1950s, the SACP successfully prodded the ANC towards a non-racial platform, which stipulated that all ethnic groups – including whites – had equal rights to the country, a position which alienated the more radical and nationalist ‘Africanist’ faction of the ANC. In 1955, the Congress of the People – which brought together the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the white anti-apartheid leftist Congress of Democrats and other organizations – adopted the Freedom Charter, which became the ANC’s purported ideological declaration. The Freedom Charter was a non-racial document which called for democracy (full voting rights for all races), human rights, labour rights but also supported land redistribution and the nationalization of mines and other industries.

The SACP’s influence within the ANC increased during the 1970s as the organization became increasingly dependent (for funding and weapons) on the support of the Soviet Union and other African communist/socialist liberation movements (FRELIMO, MPLA, SWAPO). With the Sino-Soviet split, the ANC/SACP firmly sided with Moscow, and tended to dogmatically follow Moscow’s positions. Nevertheless, the ANC/SACP alliance was never a smooth affair: within the ANC, which had a long tradition of anti-Marxism dating to the 1920s, a substantial number of activists rejected or were reluctant to ally with the SACP.

The classic ANC slogan – “A better life for all” (source: UNISA)

Despite NP propaganda which depicted the ANC as a communist terrorist organization which posed a serious threat to the government of ‘white South Africa’, the ANC in the 1970s and early 1980s was weakened and divided by the imprisonment or exile of many of its most prominent leaders, notably Nelson Mandela. The MK’s armed campaign was foundering, as the state’s repression was taking its toll on the organization. The 1976 Soweto Uprising was a spontaneous, grassroots uprising over which the ANC had no control or say; nevertheless, the ANC successfully exploited the Soweto uprising and the revival of African resistance it brought upon. The ANC gained greater interest in the mass struggle, better re-conciliating it with the MK’s armed struggle, and it slowly built a stronger organization inside of South Africa. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s allowed for a rebirth of ANC militant action inside South Africa, through the mobilization of a large array of local organizations and civil society movements in favour of the ANC’s struggle. During the violence (1985-1994), the ANC was one of the major players in the African resistance; in the context of the breakdown of law and order in South Africa, ANC-linked groups (vigilantes, thugs) committed gross human rights abuses (notably ‘necklacing’), while in the MK’s guerrilla camps, the strains of the armed struggle and exile led to a climate of suspicion and allowed for major human rights abuses (torture, assassinations) in MK camps. Following the legalization of the ANC and SACP in February 1990, the MK ended its armed campaign in August 1990 and the ANC under Nelson Mandela (who replaced Oliver Tambo as ANC President in 1991) played the leading role in the negotiations to end apartheid.

The modern ANC forms the core of the so-called ‘Tripartite alliance’ which currently governs South Africa. This three-party alliance includes the ANC, the SACP and COSATU. The ANC has been the dominant party in South Africa since 1994, always holding a three-fifths majority (and a two-thirds majority, with the ability to amend the constitution freely, between 2004 and 2009). It won 62.7% in 1994, 66.4% in 1999, 69.7% in 2004 and 65.9% in 2009 (the first time that the ANC lost votes). The ANC is also dominant in provincial and local government, governing all but one of South Africa’s nine provinces and the large majority of municipalities.

The ANC must be understood as a factionalized and heterogeneous party rife with factionalism and internal squabbles. In many regards, this goes back to the days of apartheid, when the strains of exile, imprisonment or militant/military action in South Africa caused divisions within the party. Those who had stayed ‘behind’ and led direct actions (violent or nonviolent) against the regime at home chafed at the the autocratic and centralist style of the party’s exiled leadership. Among activists who stayed at home, organizing actions under the auspices of the UDF, there had been a strong tradition of bottom-up organization, open debate and discussion, consultation and consensual decision-making. They often resented the top-down and centralist leadership of the party’s exiled leaderships.

Since 1994, the ANC has had three presidents (and South Africa has had four). Nelson Mandela, the hero and icon of the struggle served as ANC President between 1991 and 1997, when he was succeeded by the Deputy President (of the ANC and South Africa), Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated technocrat who had been one of the ANC’s exiled cadres during apartheid. Under Mbeki’s controversial leadership, the old ANC traditions of open internal debate, consultation and consensual decision-making were lost and replaced by autocratic, top-down leadership in which those who questioned the ANC government’s behaviour or that of its leaders were crushed by the weight of the party machinery. The electoral system of closed-list proportional representation gives more powers to party leaderships, given that they are able to ‘make or break’ any incumbent parliamentarian’s future career by deciding to exclude him/her from the party’s list for the next elections.

Since Mbeki, the leader’s power over the party (and, by consequence, the legislature and executive) has been strengthened. However, this has not changed the factional nature of the ANC. Mbeki made lots of enemies within the ANC during his presidency and his autocratic style allowed diverse factions within the party to organize against him and deny him a third term as ANC President at the party’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane. Jacob Zuma, who had served as Deputy President of the ANC and South Africa (until 2005), trounced Mbeki and his allies at the 2007 conference. Zuma, who has no formal education and stayed ‘inside’ the country under apartheid, is a more approachable and down-to-earth populist figure the elitist and aloof Mbeki could ever be; but he has proceeded to take control of the party machinery like Mbeki had before him. The pro-Zuma leadership of the ANC recalled Mbeki as President in 2008. In 2012, at the Mangaung National Conference, Zuma and his allies easily defeated Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, the candidate backed by the anti-Zuma factions.

Ideology has played a role in some of the ANC’s recent divisions, most recently at Polokwane in 2007. The ANC’s shift from left-wing (socialist) economics towards neoliberal capitalism after 1994 caused some strains within the governing alliance, as noted above. However, most of the current internal divisions within the ANC are the result of personal animosities. Mbeki had managed to make a lot of enemies and alienate large swathes of the party’s rank-and-file, and even with the strong ideological undertones to the Mbeki-Zuma civil war between 2005 and 2008, much of that civil war was due to personal clashes. This was even more the case in 2012, when opposition to Zuma was united by little else than distaste for Zuma by ambitious politicos who felt sidelined within the party organization. Internal divisions within the modern ANC are a battle for the spoils of power and partaking in the lucrative system of government rather than any ideological or principled battle.

ANC manifesto 2014 (source: ANC

In the absence of a credible and serious challenge to the ANC’s power, the party – which can still claim the mantle of national liberation and the legitimacy stemming from the fight against apartheid – remains the dominant party in South African politics. The party retains very strong support from black voters – almost regardless of tribe, language or ethnicity. The ANC has long been a non-tribal or anti-tribal party, which emphasized black brotherhood or unity above trial ties, although under Mandela and Mbeki, the Xhosa (the second largest black ethnic group in South Africa) dominated much of the ANC. One of the ANC’s major successes in its history has been its ability to transcend tribal or ethnic boundaries within the larger black population – even as the NP tried to play on ethnicity to divide the black population. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the strongest black challenger to the ANC, failed to break its own ethnic Zulu boundaries and it has since been progressively crushed by the ANC. Jacob Zuma, who actively marketed himself as the “100% Zulu boy” and enjoys partaking in Zulu tribal customs, destroyed the IFP in KZN in 2009. While the ANC lost support nationally, the party gained nearly 16% in KZN. Outside the former KwaZulu homeland and Umtata (the former capital of Transkei), the ANC usually wins 85 to 95% of black votes. The party has not really needed to actively reach out to Coloured, Indian and white voters given their small(er) demographic weight. It attracted about half of Indian voters in 1999 and 2004. The ANC made inroads with coloured voters in 1999 and 2004; generally polling better with middle-class or rural coloureds. The ANC barely attracts more than 1 or 2% support from white voters.

Similarly, the ANC’s leadership is largely black. The ANC opened its membership to non-blacks in 1969, although the NEC remained off limits to non-blacks until the 1980s. Since 1994, some non-blacks have occupied fairly prominent (and sometimes powerful) positions within cabinet or the ANC leadership. Trevor Manuel, the long-standing finance minister between 1996 and 2009, is Coloured. Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s right-hand man and chief enforcer, was Indian; as was Kader Asmal, a former education minister and ANC MP. Pravin Gordhan, the current finance minister, is also Indian. Derek Hanekom (former agriculture minister, current minister of science and technology), Barbara Hogan (a former health minister) and Andrew Feinstein (a former ANC MP turned ‘rogue’ by denouncing a major scandal in the 1990s) are white.

The ANC entered the 2014 elections facing many challenges. Zuma’s presidency has been controversial and his record is, at best, mediocre. The government and the presidency have been hit by a series of scandals, the most important of which is Nkandlagate; the country’s economy is struggling and unemployment remains a huge challenge which the ANC government has been unsuccessful in tackling adequately; the ANC has run into a number of controversies since 2009, both in forms of scandals and controversial policies or events such as the secrecy bill and Marikana; the ANC’s Tripartite alliance is showing strains, with an utterly discredited SACP being no more than an irrelevant annex of the ANC and a deeply divided COSATU which has found itself struggling for its legitimacy since 2009; Zuma’s leadership in the ANC was confirmed with a huge win at Mangaung but faces back-room divisions within the ANC and his popularity has declined, as evidenced by his booing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony in December 2013. Some in the ANC blamed the ‘booer war’ against Zuma on rogue anti-Zuma elements in the Gauteng ANC, a party branch which was at the helm of the anti-Zuma movement at Mangaung and which is suspected of still harbouring anti-Zuma sentiments. There were media reports in late January 2014 that even in KZN, Zuma’s stronghold, some regions were allegedly turning against Zuma.

The ANC resolved itself to fighting 2014 with Zuma at the helm, through the influence of pro-Zuma hardliners in the NEC. The ANC’s damage control strategy for Nkandla has been to pretend that Madonsela’s report largely reiterated the findings of the ministerial task team’s 2013 report (despite some substantial differences in findings), to separate the party from the government and the President (to absolve the ANC as a party of any blame), to prevent the issue to be taken up by Parliament (the ANC closed a parliamentary committee on Nkandla and referred it to the next Parliament, citing insufficient time before May 7), to insist that corrective action is already being taken and, as per a Mail & Guardian report in March 2014, to offer up scapegoats as sacrifice.

The ANC’s manifesto seized on the historic nature of the 2014 election and on sympathy for the late Mandela, by trying to convey a ‘good story’ about South Africa since 1994 and playing up the ANC’s (real) achievements in transforming the country since 1994. Its manifesto opens with a memorial picture of ‘Madiba’, and the first sections emphasize ’20 years of freedom and democracy’, listing the ANC’s achievements in democratization, nation-building, reconstruction, gender equality and peace (along with more ‘questionable’ achievements in development, growth and workers’ rights). On every main theme developed in the manifesto, a text box lists the ANC’s achievements on those themes since 1994 and 2009. The ever-useful Africa Check fact-checking website has reported that some of the ANC’s ‘good story’ is based on misleading, cherry-picked or incorrect statistics. In the more substantive portion of the ANC’s manifesto, the promises are, in ANC tradition, deliberately vague and open-ended. However, Zuma nevertheless laid down the line to be followed by clearly stating that the NDP will be adhered to as core ANC policy; to the chagrin of the left, although the pro-Zuma president of COSATU, Sdumo Dlamini, changed course when he announced his support for the manifesto which includes the NDP.

On economic and employment issues, the ANC posited that the expansion of infrastructure and a new industrial policy will create jobs. It promised that the state would buy 75% of its goods and services from local companies, strengthen the state mining company, increase beneficiation for industrialization and mining, work for regional industrialization, invest in infrastructure to create jobs and support mining beneficiation, produce more and cleaner energy (larger power stations, safe nuclear energy, solar and wind power, more hydroelectricity), improve the rail system, expand broadband access to cover 90% of communities by 2020 and expand access to water. To tackle youth unemployment, the ANC proposed to provide job placements and internship schemes for the youth, ‘massively expand’ post-secondary training opportunities and education, ensure youth employment in the public sector and public works and work with the private sector through the youth wage subsidy (while placating COSATU with a promise that no older workers would be displaced as a result). Overall, the ANC promised to create 6 million new jobs in a public works program by 2019, with 80% of them for the youth. On macroeconomic policy, the ANC reiterated the government’s prudent and orthodox policies, claiming that this policy provides the ‘foundation’ for improvements in the lives of all South Africans. The manifesto reiterated the ANC’s commitment to B-BBEE and EE, in the name of promoting equity and workers’ rights.

The ANC admitted that the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy has failed on land reform, and has moved to ‘just and equitable compensation’, but the ANC manifesto on land reform was extremely vague. On housing, the ANC promised one million new ‘housing opportunities’ by 2019 and pledged to expand and accelerate the provision of basic services. The ANC’s platform on education gave little indication of the major problems faced by education, and limited itself to vague promises or policies or the goal of expanding further education and training enrollment. On healthcare, the ANC’s flagship policy is the National Health Insurance (NHI) program of universal, taxpayer-funded healthcare which the ANC originally promised in 2009 (but made little progress on since then) and which has been criticized by some as being an unrealistic goal. In the meantime, the ANC promised to expand free primary healthcare  and improving the quality of public healthcare.

The ANC promised to take on corruption and crime, a commitment which can often ring hollow coming from the ANC. On corruption, the manifesto promised to ban public servants from doing business with the state, a more transparent process to adjudicate tenders and a pledge that any ANC members found guilty by a court will be forced to step down from party or governmental leadership positions. The party pledged to reduce criminality, although it proposed no new policies.

Analysts said that the ANC’s manifesto failed to address the loss of trust in Zuma and the government, and many questioned the sincerity and commitment of the ANC on the matter of corruption given the number of discredited corrupt MPs and leaders being renominated on the ANC’s list.

The ANC list included old names accused of corruption, with disgraced former SAPS commissioner Bheki Cele returning as the top candidate on the regional list in KZN; ex-Malema ally and former ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe, arrested for fraud, appeared 53rd on the ANC’s national list; former communications minister Dina Pule, found guilty by Parliament of extending spousal benefits to her lover and by Madonsela on other charges, appeared 70th on the national list; and agriculture and fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, 37th on the list, had been found guilty by the Public Protector of maladministration in the irregular awarding of a tender to manage the government’s fisheries vessels. Comeback kids also appeared on the list: two former Mbeki cabinet ministers – Thoko Didiza (agriculture, later public works) and Charles Nqakula (safety) were on the list, former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni came 41st on the national list and former acting president of the ANCYL (when the NEC disbanded its executive in 2013) Ronald Lamola came 175th on the list. Otherwise, however, the list largely included Zuma loyalists, with Zuma and Ramaphosa in the first two places on the national list; with pro-Zuma ministers such as Malusi Gigaba, Jeff Radebe, Grace Pandor and Blade Nzimande all coming in with good positions at the top of the national list. Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister who opposed Zuma, was the exception, placing a strong 6th on the list.

A sign of the ANC’s growing troubles within its own ranks, Ronnie Kasrils, MK’s former intelligence chief and the SACP/ANC intelligence minister from 2004 to 2008, flanked by former Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, called on voters to ‘vote no’ (spoil their ballots) rather than vote for the ANC. Kasrils warned of the ‘rot’ inside the ANC and fumed at Marikana (a premeditated murder, in his eyes), but said he couldn’t identify with the other parties – criticizing Malema’s EFF for corruption and the opposition DA for its pro-business policies.

Democratic Alliance (DA)

The DA is South Africa’s official opposition. It took its current name in June 2000, but the DA can trace its roots to the white liberal anti-apartheid parties which formed the only parliamentary opposition to the NP’s apartheid policies. The first of these parties was the Progressive Party, whose sole MP between 1961 and 1974, Helen Suzman, was the only voice of dissent within the whites-only Parliament. After Suzman’s Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz’s Reform Party to become the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) in 1977, the white liberal movement garnered more support and formed the official opposition between 1977 and 1987. In 1988, following the PFP’s alliance with two NP dissidents (Denis Worall and Wynand Malan), it adopted the name Democratic Party (DP). Throughout its existence, the white liberal movement opposed apartheid policies and supported a negotiated settlement with blacks – some kind of power-sharing or consociational government with a bill of rights, decentralization, an independent judiciary and ‘one man-one vote’. It was also a strong supporter of free market economics, foreshadowing the NP’s later adoption of individualism and free market economics in the 1990s during the transition; one could point out the irony of the end-result of the negotiated ANC-NP settlement as being similar to DP policies, after decades of the NP lashing out at ‘Prog policy’ (PFP/DP power-sharing proposals).

In the first free elections in 1994, the DP performed very poorly with 1.7% of the vote and 7 seats. It had won even less votes than it had in the last whites-only election in 1989, indicating that some of its past supporters had voted for De Klerk’s NP or another party. In 1994, the DP had been unable to move past its apartheid-era support base: affluent liberal English whites. Despite it holding only 7 seats – even less than Constand Viljoen’s Afrikaner conservative FF – it was able to become the most vocal and visible opposition to the young ANC government.

At the same time, the NP, which had won 82 seats in 1994, was clearly disoriented, hesitating between cooperation with the ANC in the government of national unity or cooperation with other parties (such as the DP) to oppose the ANC government. The question divided the party and eventually caused a major internal crisis in the NP. In June 1996, the hardliners (Tertius Delport, Hernus Kriel) and young conservatives (Marthinus van Schalkwyk) successfully pushed the NP out of the coalition government and into the opposition. In 1997, FW de Klerk, a key asset for the NP, resigned and was replaced as NP leader by Van Schalkwyk, a young lightweight. Van Schalkwyk had been able to play on verkrampte fears about the rising influence and power of Roelf Meyer, the NP negotiator in the transition, inside the party after 1994. Meyer had been pushing for major renewal and change in the party, including actively seeking black leaders and changing the party’s name. For Van Schalkwyk, however, change did not go beyond adding ‘New’ in front of the NP’s name in 1998.

In the 1999 election, the NNP ran a confusing and unappealing campaign in which it painted itself as the ‘constructive opposition’ party which opposed the ANC’s failures but at the same time was reluctant to strongly oppose the ANC and insisted that it could deliver to voters by cooperating with the government. In stark contrast, Tony Leon’s DP ran a negative campaign with the slogan ‘Slaan terug’ (fight back). The DP’s platform painted a very bleak image of the ANC’s record in 1999: crumbling moral values and discipline, hundreds of thousands of rapes/murders, millions lost to corruption and 500k jobs lost. The DP targeted the gatvol (upset/angry) vote/‘angry white man’. The NNP hoped that its campaign would hold its 1994 white and Coloured votes and appeal to black voters; it did neither – the party lost three-fourths of its 1994 support, winning only 6.9% and 28 seats. The DP won 9.6% and 38 seats, forming the official opposition to the dominant ANC.

However, by insinuating that black ANC rule equalled chaos, incompetence and a collapsing society; the DP alienated black voters and opened itself to accusations of racism by ANC leaders. By 2000, the DP dropped the very right-wing and gatvol platform, but the accusation of racism stuck.

The DA was born in June 2000 from an alliance between the DP and the NNP, an alliance to “prevent a one-party state”. The DP had already been attracting NP dissidents for some time, and there has been pressure on both parties to cooperate in the white media. In 2000, the NNP chose cooperation with the DP against the ANC, in part to save its head in the Western Cape and keep WC from falling to the ANC. For the DP, cooperation with the NNP allowed the party to focus its energies on the ANC. Merger allowed the new DA to win 22% of the vote in the 2000 local elections and a majority in Cape Town. However, both parties in the DA were suspicious of the other party’s motives. The NNP wanted to rebrand itself and download its debts onto the new party; the DP wanted the NNP’s Coloured voters and the NNP’s old networks and infrastructure. Both Tony Leon and Marthinus van Schalkwyk were using one another to further their own partisan interests. It was a recipe for disaster, which ended with the NNP leaving the DA in November 2001. The NNP had come to the belated realization that it was not fit to be in opposition and, after that point; Van Schalkwyk pursued a policy of rapprochement with the ANC. However, some Nats opposed van Schalkwyk’s strategy and opted to stay in the DA – among them Gerald Morkel, the Premier of the WC who became Mayor of Cape Town after the NNP quit the DA. Tertius Delport (the hardliner), Sheila Camerer (an Anglo verligte) and Kraai van Niekerk (former NP agriculture minister) all joined the DA.

To disentangle the NNP from the DA, the NNP and DA teamed up with the ANC to pass a highly controversial ‘floor-crossing legislation’ which would allow legislators (elected by party-list PR) to cross the floor to join another party, provided they brought with them 10% of their caucus (a rule which meant that ANC defectors could not do so given the ANC’s gigantic caucus, but which allowed individual MPs in parties with less than 10 MPs to defect – in most cases, to the ANC). This floor crossing legislation was a perversion of South Africa’s party-list PR system, given that legislators are elected on a partisan rather than individual basis. But the legislation was beneficial to the ANC, which was the main benefactor of floor crossing (from the NNP or small parties) – there were so many floor crossers from the DA to the NNP/NNP to the ANC in 2002 that the ANC gained a majority on Cape Town city council and toppled the DA mayor (Morkel).

The brief DP-NNP alliance further destroyed the NNP and allowed the DA to break through the wall and gain a significant share of the NNP’s Coloured voters. In the runup to the 2004 campaign, the DA ran a slightly less ‘angry white man’ campaign, with a tamer slogan (South Africa deserves better) and a more social democratic orientation (supporting a basic income grant and free distribution of ARVs). It won 12.4% and 50 seats, solidifying itself as the main opposition to the ANC (the NNP won 1.7% of the vote after a campaign consisting of kissing the ANC’s posterior profusely) – especially in the WC where it won 27% to the ANC’s 45.3% and the NNP’s 10.9%. In coalition with the NNP, the ANC was finally able to take the premiership in the WC.

White and Coloured voters by and large did not follow the NNP in merging with the ANC. In the 2006 locals, the DA increased its support to 16% and was able to narrowly reclaim power in Cape Town with a strenuous multi-party coalition led by Helen Zille. In 2007, Tony Leon, the DA’s leader, stepped down and was replaced by Helen Zille. The DA, under Zille, tried to break with Leon’s more confrontational and controversial style and the rebranded itself with a new logo and ‘multi-racial’ identity. In 2009, the DA won 16.7% and 67 seats and did particularly well in the WC where it increased its support by 24.4% to 51.5%. Helen Zille became Premier of the WC. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won 24% of the vote – a record high for a single opposition party since 1994.

Helen Zille, a white woman, is a former anti-apartheid activist who was a political journalist for the liberal Rand Daily Mail in the 1970s. She authored a major article in which she established that the death in prison of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was not due to a hunger strike as NP minister Jimmy Kruger had announced; an inquiry later found the cause of Biko’s death to be brain damage due to a head injury. After resigning from the paper after its owner, the Oppenheimer’s Anglo American asked it tone down the anti-NP rhetoric, Zille was active in white anti-apartheid movements (Black Sash movement, End Conscription Campaign).

The DA’s ideology is fairly hard to pin down, given that it has often supported an eclectic mix of liberal and social democratic policies. It has been described both as centre-right and centre-left, the truth probably lies in the middle somewhere (or maybe closer to the centre-right). DA voters place crime and corruption as their top concerns, almost the reverse order as ANC voters who traditionally cite unemployment, social policies or other economic issues as their main concerns. The DA’s former leader, Tony Leon, controversially supported reintroducing the death penalty to deal with crime. Today, the DA’s platform does not make mention of it, instead talking about hiring more police officers (the DA wants up to 250,000 SAPS members) and various other vague things including a mix of rehabilitation and tougher sentencing laws.

The general orientation of the DA’s current economic and social policy is liberal (classical liberal, in the European sense) and generally right-of-centre. The DA’s platform says that their policies will “seek to give citizens control over their own lives, and not allow the state to dictate the course of their daily lives or the direction of their ambitions” and “expand choice, not contract it”. This is a clearly liberal-individualist direction in line with the party and its predecessors’ classical liberalism. At the same time, however, the platform also stresses that the state should not neglect those without the resources to “direct their own lives” – a slightly more social liberal stance. In practice, the DA’s economic and fiscal policy does not differ all that much from the ANC’s economic and fiscal policies since 1994. The main difference is that the ANC has retained an interventionist and social democratic approach, while the DA has criticized excessive state intervention and says that the state should ‘facilitate’ and not ‘direct’ the economy.

In practice, however, the DA has tended to place emphasis on efficient ‘service delivery’ (one of the key failures of the ANC), change or searing criticism of ANC corruption and the erosion of the powers of independent institutions or parliament.

The DA does not have the shake off the ‘party of apartheid’ label, but the ANC has not hesitated to use the race card to counter the DA and keep blacks from ever voting from the DA. The ANC has often denounced the DA as a racist party, brushed off criticism of its record as the racist rantings of bitter whites and blamed shortcomings in its own actions on the damaging legacy of apartheid. In the days of the whites-only democracy, playing on latent racism in the white electorate was often a rather lucrative path for the parties. Since 1994, playing up on anti-racism and reminding black voters of apartheid has been quite lucrative for the ANC and damaging for any opposition party such as the DA.

The DA has struggled to shake off the ‘white party’ label which has stuck to it throughout its history. Since 2004, the DA has been trying to woo black voters to its fold. But it has discovered that consolidating its minority base while trying to win black votes at the same time is a very daunting challenge in modern South Africa. The two electorates which the DA is trying to bridge are on different pages. Black voters are cautiously optimistic about the future, and despite their disillusion with the promise of liberation, they are still ready to give the ANC another chance. And certainly almost no blacks long for the days before 1994. Black voters have also been instinctively suspicious of very harsh and negative criticism of the ANC’s record coming from a party labelled as the ‘whites’ party’. On the other hand, whites (but also Coloureds and Indians) are very likely to be pessimistic about the country’s future, lamenting corruption, a weak economy and high criminality. With these voters, the DA’s focus on crime and corruption has struck a chord, while not as many black voters or ANC supporters care all that much about such issues. Between the white voters it has and the black voters it wants, there are two different social realities. Most whites lead a Western middle-class life unencumbered by making ends meet, finding food to feed their family or having a roof to sleep under. These are everyday problems for many black voters.

To make matters worse, at times, the DA has also done everything it could to deserve its reputation as a white party with its often patent inability to understand the black electorate.

Another factor which explains why the DA has not been able to shake off the ‘white party’ label is because there is some truth to that label. The party’s current leader is a white woman, who is certainly not a racist but whose abrasive personality tends to be off-putting for black voters who would see her as an Afrikaner madam baas. Zille is famously feisty on Twitter, engaging in nasty spats with journalists and critics and often using racially insensitive language (earlier this year, she got into a nasty fight with journalist Carien du Plessis, and insinuated that the journalist wrote left-leaning articles because she is an ashamed white Afrikaner who needs to bend over to win the favour of the black community; she also previously tweeted about ‘education refugees’ from predominantly black Eastern Cape to her province of the WC, and many couldn’t help but be reminded of the NP’s old crass rhetoric on ‘EC blacks invading’ the WC, where blacks are a minority). Zille’s feisty, abrasive behaviour is often a problem for the DA, in that it can often undermine the DA’s message of non-racialism.

Most of the party’s MPs are whites or Coloured. Since 1994, the NP and now the DA have tried to wash off the damaging ‘white party’ label by seeking to recruit black members into the party and eagerly pushing their black members to the forefront in a rather crude attempt to play up its multi-racial credentials. The ‘white parties’ are often so pleased to have a black figure in the party that the new black member is touted as a talented rising star and rapidly propelled to impressive leadership positions within the party. Being black has certainly helped the political careers of many black DA politicians. However, given these parties’ heavily white or Coloured membership base, the rapid accession of some black members embittered certain whites who wanted to make sure that the blacks didn’t get too powerful.

The black members whom the NP recruited in the 1990s all tended to be political opportunists (who decamped to the ANC at the first opportunity) or nobodies who turned out to be crooks. In recent years, the DA has had a bit more luck at recruiting black members to the party. The party’s parliamentary leader in the last Parliament (the leader of the opposition), Lindiwe Mazibuko, is a 34-year old woman from KZN who defeated DA veteran Athol Trollip (an Anglo white) to become parliamentary leader in 2011. Unlike past black recruits who turned out to be disastrous embarrassments, Lindiwe Mazibuko has proven to be a very strong performer in the National Assembly. She is not the only black figure actively pushed to the forefront by the DA. The DA’s national spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane (a 32-year old black man from Soweto) rose quickly within the party, becoming one of its top national figures a bit over a year after having been the DA’s mayoral candidate in Johannesburg in 2011.

Vote DA campaign poster (from left to right: Patricia de Lille, ex-ID mayor of Cape Town; Helen Zille, DA leader and Premier of the WC; Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA parliamentary leader)

The DA’s recent vacillations on the EE Amendment Bill, passed in Parliament late last year, show how the DA is struggling to overcome its contradictions on racial policy and how race continues to divide the DA caucus. In November 2013, the DA originally voted in favour of the EE Amendment Bill, a vote which sparked major internal debate within the DA with former leader Tony Leon and former DA stalwart Gareth van Onselen strongly criticizing the DA and forcing Zille to take responsibility, claiming the DA had made a mistake and blaming it on committee members being ‘inadequately prepared’. Under Zille’s orders, the DA backtracked and voted against the bill in the final reading at the end of November.

However, the DA’s bungled handling of the EE bill set off a major debate on affirmative action within the DA. The DA’s policy on affirmative action is ‘equal opportunities’, a vague notion which is often unappealing to black voters; in 1998, Leon had famously called the EE bill ‘a pernicious piece of social engineering’. A group of black MPs and MPLs within the DA, the so-called black caucus, have been pushing the DA to change its policy on race, away from the much-criticized nonracialism of the conservative old guard and the ambiguity of the DA’s slogans. Lindiwe Mazibuko allegedly supported a shift to new policies on affirmative action – in an interview with the M&G, she said that ‘inequality is racialized’ and that they needed to accept that South Africa isn’t a non-racial society yet and gave her vision of EE as, with candidates of equal qualifications competing for one job, choosing the black candidate over the white candidate. Mazibuko downplayed any internal divisions on the issues, although she conceded that there had been debate (but not on racial lines, she claimed), but many felt that Zille undermined her position by announcing the DA’s backtracking on the EE bill. Mmusi Maimane, said to be Zille’s new black favourite, did not take a clear position on the issue.

The DA wins the bulk of its support from non-blacks: whites, Coloureds and Indians. Since 1999, the DA has been able to consolidate white support to the point where it now enjoys near-unanimous support with white voters (around 85-95% in 2011), the only challenge on this front coming from the ever-smaller conservative VF+. The DA’s ability to win almost every white voter – English and Afrikaners alike – makes sense in the current context, but it remains a fairly remarkable achievement given how the linguistic cleavage had played a key role in the whites-only elections up until the very last one (in 1989). It has broken out of the PFP’s traditional base with urban/suburban affluent English liberals and attracted almost all whites, regardless of language, class or even ideology.

The DA has also fortified its hold on Coloured voters since 2000-2001. In 1994, a solid majority of Coloured voters voted for De Klerk’s NP, something which often appears contradictory given the NP’s past as the party which had oppressed Coloureds and forcibly relocated many of them to slums. But at the same time, the Coloureds in the Cape Province had been treated considerably better than blacks by the apartheid government, with job reservation for Coloureds in most of the Cape Province. Many Coloureds, who spoke Afrikaans as their mother tongue and had historically been more integrated with ‘white South Africa’ than blacks, also resented the ANC’s attempts to lump them together with the black majority – there exists a long history of mutual distrust between the two racial groups. The saying emerged that the Coloureds were “too black under apartheid, too white after apartheid.” As the right-wing DP ate into the NP’s white vote bank, the coloureds became the NNP’s last solid electorate. However, the short-lived alliance with the NNP did allow the DA to finally breakthrough with Coloured voters, though it came in stages. In 2004, the ANC evidently performed well with Coloured voters, even in the WC. Many Coloured voters were also attracted to the Independent Democrats (ID), a new anti-corruption party led by former PAC MP Patricia de Lille, a prominent whistle-blower into corruption cases. The IDs won 1.7% nationally in 2004, taking over 7% in the WC and Northern Cape. By 2009, however, the DA started eating into the ID’s Coloured electorate in Cape Town and the WC. In 2010, the IDs bowed to the pressure of bipolarization in South African politics and merged with the DA. Their emblematic leader, Patricia de Lille, became the DA mayor of Cape Town in 2011. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won roughly 70-85% of the urban coloured vote in Cape Town, and performed well with rural Coloured voters in the WC but also the NC and Eastern Cape. The DA also wins a majority of the Indian vote, particularly outside Durban. The ANC does retain substantial support with Indian voters.

According to the DA’s analysis, the party took around 5-6% of the black vote in the 2011 local elections. Even in 2011, the party performed very poorly (1-2% on average) in the densely populated impoverished black townships – even black townships in Cape Town. Its black support must come from new middle-class blacks, many of whom live in increasingly multi-racial neighborhoods – such as Johannesburg’s upscale northern suburbs which now have a fairly substantial black minority. The DA claims that 20% of its voters are black, making it the most ‘diverse party in South Africa.’

On January 28 2014, the DA announced that Mamphela Ramphele, the leader of Agang SA, would be the DA’s presidential candidate. Mamphela Ramphele was a prominent anti-apartheid activist, as a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, where she met the movement’s famous and iconic leader, Steve Biko. Ramphele was one of Biko’s lovers and the couple had two kids together. After 1994, Ramphele, by now a prominent academic and researcher, became one of the four Managing Directors at the World Bank (in 2000). Ramphele returned to South African politics in 2013, with the creation of Agang (which means ‘build’ or ‘let us build’ in Northern Sotho) as a political party in February 2013. Agang positioned itself against corruption and for political reform, but from the outset, Agang was criticized as being very much of an empty suit based on vague feel-good platitudes and with little substantive policy of its own. Nevertheless, there was significant media buzz and interest about Agang, which did peter out rather quickly. The Agang-DA merger/alliance was played up by Zille and the DA as a move towards non-racial politics and remove ‘the race card’ from politics. But what Ramphele announced as ‘visionary leadership’ soon turned out to be a massive disaster.

No sooner had the news come out that members in both the DA and Agang began airing their misgivings. Agang and Ramphele’s handling of the announcement was horrible, with a statement denying an alliance with the DA being contradicted within hours by the announcement of a merger/alliance. Agang members said that they had not been consulted on the issue, and party leaders openly called out Ramphele for failing to talk with them; a lot of members were dismayed that their party was being turned into an annex of the DA without them ever being consulted on the matter. An Agang leader said that the party would still contest the election. In the DA, Ramphele’s rapid arrival and promotion to top ranks in the party rankled the party’s aspiring leadership. The DA’s young black caucus warned that she would have to compete for leadership spots like any other members, while others expressed worries that Ramphele would dump them.

Just five days after the announcement, the deal was off. Zille said that Ramphele had reneged on her agreement and was very critical of her behaviour. Ramphele was displeased with how the DA, in her eyes, jumped the gun in announcing the merger and talking of her DA membership; she later said people were trapped in race-based politics. The ANC was all giddy, with the weird marriage of inconvenience seemingly confirming Gwede Mantashe’s comment that Ramphele’s alliance with the DA was a ‘rent-a-black’ affair from the DA. Ramphele’s credibility took a major hit from the weird affair, and many questions were left unanswered – why the DA and Agang rush into announcing a decision, without considering pretty important details? It led to allegations that the botched marriage was forced on the DA and Agang by mysterious funders (the provenance of party funding is always a mysterious issue in South Africa).

Agang SA fought the election with Ramphele and a vague manifesto of platitudes, with words such as ‘hope, dignity and freedom’ and appeals to ‘change’ and a ‘united South Africa’. The party’s platform criticized BEE for creating inequalities, called on the government to transfer half the land it owns to satisfy property development, talked of ‘meaningful land reform’ by transferring state-owned land and promoting the use of modern technologies, improving education through stricter standards for students and teachers, encouraging entrepreneurship by cutting red tape, creating jobs by emphasizing skills training and vocational education and cracking down on corruption with a minimum sentence of 15 years for corruption.

The DA’s manifesto revolved around the twin clarion calls of ‘together for change’ and ‘together for jobs’ – respectively aimed at reducing corruption and creating jobs, the two main aims of the DA’s 2014 campaign. The DA said it could save R30 billion annually by preventing public servants from doing business with the state, banning anybody convicted of corruption, fraud, theft and violent crime from doing business with the state and stopping ministers from abusing public money. The DA also promised to strengthen Parliament, by introducing a mixed electoral system and restoring Parliament’s independence.

DA poster in isiZulu

Fighting corruption, the DA claimed, would allow for the creation of 6 million ‘real’ jobs and another 7 million public works job opportunities. The DA’s economic policies were a mixed bag, reflecting the DA’s liberal values mixed with more interventionist measures. The DA’s measures included the roll-out of a youth wage subsidy; apprenticeship and internship programs; a reform in labour laws to reduce the power of ‘big unions’ but also ‘big business’ and ‘democratize labour relations’; support for small businesses by reducing red tape and making it easier for them to win government contracts; keeping corporate and individual tax rates low; counteracting anticompetitive behaviour; ‘exploring privatization’; investing 10% of the GDP in infrastructure; investing in R&D and encouraging trade. On affirmative action, the DA’s policy reflected continued ambiguity on the issue: it supports BEE that ‘creates jobs, not just billionnaires’, opposes racial quotas (but support black advancement by ‘extending opportunities’), supports incentives rather than punitive measures for EE, reducing the EE/BEE regulatory burden on small businesses and mining and envisions BEE/EE as transitional measures. The DA is similarly vague on land reform; its manifesto talks in length about it but ultimately offers little clarification as to the DA’s stance. The manifesto supported land reform but opposed the government’s policies, instead advancing ‘effective land reform’ (likely collaborative reform models, such as farm equity schemes) and more training for new landowners.

On education, the DA proposed to hire and train 15,000 new teachers, better manage schools, provide schools with more resources, focusing on accountability and increase financial aid for students to R16 billion per year. The DA was noncommittal on the ANC’s NHI scheme for universal healthcare, but stated that universal healthcare would only be realized through effective public-private partnerships. The DA supports the social grants system, seeing it as a means to help people out of poverty.

The DA manifesto took a tough line on criminality – it proposed to expand the police force on the streets to 250,000, reinstate specific police units to target specific crimes, establish a judicial commission to look into police brutality, give the SAPS all the tools they need, strengthen community policing, make better use of technology and employ more detectives.

The DA’s campaign also focused on their ‘good story to tell’ – the manifesto includes a whole slew of factoids, under the heading ‘the DA delivers’, to showcase the DA’s performance in government in the WC and Cape Town. The WC, South Africa’s most developed and affluent province alongside Gauteng, has indeed been found by independent audits to be the best-managed province in the country – on that front, a lot of the DA’s claims that it is a competent manager are founded; however, the DA also seems to be taking credit for the WC’s structural advantages over other provinces on a lot of socioeconomic indicators and claiming credit for things which the DA did not deliver by its own governance or did not deliver on its own.

Helen Zille led the DA’s national list (and the WC provincial list), followed by parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in third place. Former NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who was accused of fraud and corruption (soliciting a loan from the complainant in two cases she was investigating) and suspended from the NPA, was 33rd on the DA national list. The DA’s rising star and national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane was the DA’s top candidate for the provincial elections in Gauteng, where the DA hoped to topple the ANC’s provincial government, and also placed third on the regional list for Parliament in Gauteng.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

EFF is a new left-wing party founded by expelled ANCYL leader Julius Malema. As explained above, Malema, a fiery and radical populist, was expelled from the ANC in 2012 after he turned into a harsh critic of Zuma’s leadership. Following his expulsion, Malema became even more vocal in his criticism of Zuma and used the Marikana massacre and its aftermath (in August 2012) as a platform from which to publicize his radical platform of nationalization and land expropriation without compensation. Malema announced the creation of his new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in July 2013 and launched EFF at a kick-off event at Marikana in October 2013.

Malema is an extremely polarizing leader. On the one hand, Malema has a strong and loyal band of young followers, predominantly unemployed black youths in urban areas (townships) and, since 2012, miners in the platinum belt around Rustenburg and Marikana. For poor, young blacks, the ANC holds increasingly little appeal: they are those who suffer the brunt of the unemployment crisis in South Africa, the poor service delivery, live with the deficient education and public healthcare system, witness the corruption of ANC officials – all the while they are unlikely to have lingering sympathy or high regard for the ANC as the ‘party of liberation’. They see him as a bold and refreshing radical alternative, which challenges an increasingly discredited and unpopular ANC government and the perceived dominance of a neoliberal capitalist economic agenda. Malema is also a powerful public speaker; a ‘rabble-rousing orator’ for the Mail & Guardian, which contrasts with Zuma (a notoriously terrible public speaker, at least in English) and the unremarkable Zille, Mazibuko and Ramphele.

On the other hand, Malema is strongly disliked by much of the local and foreign media and South Africa’s moderate political establishment, either because he threatens their power (ANC) or because they see him as a opportunist demagogue exploiting the real concerns of the poor and dis-empowered for his own personal gain. Mamphela Ramphele even went as far as likening him to Hitler and Mussolini, warning that he was an embryonic form of fascism. As explained above, Malema is not only controversial because of his big mouth and penchant from provocative, oftentimes controversial and racially insensitive, language. There are real concerns about how a the son of poor black parents from Limpopo got so rich and bought his lavish lifestyle; Malema is awaiting trial on charges of money laundering on a government tender in Limpopo and is fighting charges of tax evasion by the revenue service. Both supporters and opponents have drawn comparisons between Malema’s EFF and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF – for his supporters, this is a positive link, as Mugabe is fairly well regarded by some Africans as an anti-imperialist ‘revolutionary’ leader who did not fall into ‘neoliberal capitalism’ like the ANC did; for his detractors, it’s obviously a negative link because of Mugabe’s association with Zimbabwe’s post-2000 economic collapse, authoritarian regime and the highly contentious expropriation of white farmers.

Malema has retained his penchant from provocation, although he has toned down the raw ad hominem attacks on his political opponents with slightly more sophisticated or less derogatory language. He has tried, at times, to appear conciliatory with whites – saying that whites are welcome to join EFF and the fight for land redistribution and nationalization, that nobody will be ‘pushed into the ocean’ (the old apartheid image of oorstroming), that whites are ‘brothers’ who must simply ‘share’ with the original owners of Africa and mustn’t be ‘greedy brothers’ and expressing ‘disappointment’ at racist placards at EFF rallies (with slogans such as ‘honeymoon is over for whites’). EFF has some white members. At the same time, he still plays on racial tensions himself; he claimed the tax charges against him were due to ‘Indians in bed with Afrikaners’, warning that whites’ safety was in the hands of the black majority or that ‘failure to share’ would mean that they’d be ‘forced to share’. Malema focused much of his bile for Zuma and the ANC – with snappy statements about the ANC government being worse than apartheid, ‘the black Boers’ (after Cyril Ramaphosa warned that if the ANC didn’t win, ‘the Boers’ would return), calling on Zuma to resign over Nkandla (this from the man who said he was prepared to kill/die for Zuma).

EFF was not the first anti-capitalist, far-left radical party to be formed. Several small socialist and far-left Africanist parties with platforms very similar to that of the EFF have existed for years, but cooperation between these groups and the EFF has been difficult. In October 2013, the small far-left Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) – the party formed by the DSM, an old Trotskyist party, refused an alliance with Malema after EFF demanded that WASP dissolves itself. Malema praised, at times, the left-wing anti-Zuma secretary-general of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi and the major COSATU affiliate NUMSA, which announced in December 2013 that it would not campaign for the ANC in 2014. There were rumours, expressed by the ANC’s Tito Mboweni in a Twitter spat with Vavi in January 2014, that there were talks to form an EFF/NUMSA coalition with Vavi and Malema at the helm, which Vavi and Malema both denied. There was strong suspicion of Malema and the EFF on the left, which feared that the EFF would come from scrap and try to co-opt them and their groundwork. EFF is also not a working-class movement and has weak ties with the unions, although it became uncritical of AMCU in hopes of gaining their support. On the other hand, Malema has had better ties with Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the small UDM, and even made up with the IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi (in the past, both Malema and Buthelezi had been very critical of one another).

Malema’s critics have accused him of flip-flopping, not only for his transformation from motormouth Zuma attack dog in 2009 to fiery anti-Zuma campaigner in 2014, but also for his stances on issues. His critics, and a lot of existing social movements, feel that Malema is an opportunist who has stepped into existing social struggles to gain publicity and a platform (which the media is sure to cover), and co-opting their causes. As ‘commander-in-chief’ of the EFF, Malema has embraced progressive causes such as feminism and gay rights, calling on supporters to ‘love gay people’ and to ‘love people with HIV/AIDS’ or recalling Zuma’s rape trial and the infamous Zuma ‘shower comments’, even if Malema was himself convicted by a court after commenting that Zuma’s accuser in the rape trial must have had a ‘nice time’. Although rape is a huge issue in South Africa, few politicians have paid more than lip service to gender issues and feminism.

Malema and his followers became distinctive during the campaign because of their red berets and red tracksuits/jumpsuits.

EFF adopted a radical, extremely ambitious (therefore, in reality, highly unrealistic), anti-capitalist and ‘anti-imperialist’ manifesto most famous for its top two promises: the expropriation of land without compensation to achieve fair redistribution, and the nationalization of mines, banks and other strategic sectors in the economy. Under the EFF’s manifesto, land would be transferred to the state and would abolish foreign land ownership; those who use the land would apply for licenses to use the land. Under an EFF government, nationalization would mean ‘socialized ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ and that the state must own a minimum of 60% of mines. The EFF promised to use the money generated by nationalization to provide ‘free quality education, healthcare, housing and sanitation’ – education would be free and of high quality from early childhood to post-secondary qualification, the government would create a state pharmaceutical company to produce generics (without regard to intellectual property rights), healthcare would be public and universal and service delivery would be vastly improved. The EFF manifesto promised “massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor”; it also supported doubling the value of all social grants (old age grants, child support grants, war veterans, disability grant etc); promote youth development by forcing government to employ at least 40% of their workforce aged 18-35 and increasing minimum wages for all sectors (in line with union demands); increasing public servants’ salaries by 50%. The EFF promised to build state/government capacity by abolishing tenders (no outsourcing to the private sector) and fight corruption by imposing a 20-year minimum sentence for all public representatives and public servants convicted of corruption.

The EFF’s manifesto, analysed in a thoughtful piece in the M&G, expressed a vision for a radically different and transformed South Africa, but it’s up for discussion whether or not its promises were/are realistic or if they’re outlandish wet dreams.

The EFF national list was headed by Julius Malema, and most of his colleagues atop the list also came from the ANC or ANCYL. Floyd Shivambu, a former ANCYL colleague of Malema and the EFF ‘commissar’ and chief of staff, placed fourth. The EFF’s candidate for provincial premier in Gauteng was Dali Mpofu, a former longtime ANC member who served as the legal representative for the Marikana miners. As an ANC stalwart, Mpofu had an affair, in 1992, with Winnie Mandela and attracted controversy for ANC bias when he was CEO of the SABC, the public broadcaster often accused (again this year by the DA and EFF) of being biased in favour of the ANC.

Congress of the People (COPE)

COPE was the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly and formed the official opposition in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and North West provinces.

COPE’s creation can be traced back to the ANC’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane, where Mbeki and his loyalists were soundly defeated by Jacob Zuma and his supporters. Polokwane was the culmination of a bitter civil war in the ANC which had begun in earnest in 2005; but Polokwane was not the end of all infighting in the ANC and in government between President Mbeki’s allies and those loyal to his former Deputy President. After Polokwane, Mbeki found himself thrust into a difficult and very precarious situation where he and his troops retained control of the national government (the Mbeki cabinet consisted mostly of his supporters) but their rivals held absolute control over the governing party, making him a lame-duck president who did not control his own party. The power struggle between the new pro-Zuma ANC leadership and incumbent pro-Mbeki incumbents continued, and spilled over to the provinces. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier was recalled by the ANC and replaced by a pro-Zuma opponent.

In September 2008, judge Chris Nicholson dismissed the NPA’s decision to recharge Zuma. In the ruling, the judge alleged that Mbeki had interfered in the court proceedings. The landmark decision triggered a coup against Mbeki. The ANC NEC voted to “recall” Mbeki, forcing him to resign the presidency only 9 days after the court ruling. His resignation was followed by that of his closest allies – right-hand man Essop Pahad, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and defense minister Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota.

Lekota, Mbeki’s loyal defense minister since 1999 and the ANC National Chairperson between 1997 and 2007 publicly criticized the decision to axe Mbeki. Lekota announced in early October 2008 that he was leaving the ANC to create a new party. He was joined a week later by Mbhazima Shilowa, a former COSATU leader and the Premier of Gauteng, who had also backed Mbeki. Lekota and other close allies of the deposed President had denounced Zuma’s close alliance with the party’s populist left and criticized the increasingly racial and tribal character of the ANC under Zuma, who played up his Zulu identity and liked to sing controversial songs such as ‘Shoot the Boer’.

Lekota and Shilowa’s new party, COPE was launched in December 2008. The party purported to be moderate centrist alternative to the ANC, which they saw as being increasingly left-wing and populist. Its vague platform supported macroeconomic stability, job creation, reducing the role and influence of trade unions, community policing and socioeconomic equality – more or less the centrist agenda of Mbeki’s presidency. COPE endorsed the direct election of top officeholders (president, premiers, and mayors) and electoral reform (a dose of FPTP).

Somewhat disingenuously, COPE placed emphasis on democracy and fighting corruption – it decried the undemocratic nature of the NEC’s decision to topple Mbeki and made a big deal of Jacob Zuma’s persistent judicial troubles. Coming from the likes of Lekota or other embittered members of the deposed President’s old inner circle, this was quite rich. As National Chairperson, Lekota had rigorously enforced the party line and party loyalty within the ANC and offered full support to Mbeki’s autocratic leadership and his questionable policy decisions (on HIV/AIDS or Zimbabwe). As defense minister, Lekota had played a big role in covering up the arms deal in Parliament. Many of COPE’s members are tainted by their past as loyal Mbeki stalwarts and their criticism of corruption in the new Zuma-led ANC rang quite hollow. This is not to say, however, that the party has no ‘clean’ figures – Shilowa’s tenure as Premier of Gauteng was rather successful and he flouted Mbeki’s AIDS denialism.

The first signs of internal disunity in the new party came up in the run-up to the 2009 elections. COPE chose Mvume Dandala, a former Methodist bishop from the EC as its presidential candidate, apparently over Lekota’s opposition. Nonetheless, COPE was rather successful in the 2009 election, considering how new it was. It won 7.4% and 30 seats, and managed to win seats in all 9 provincial legislatures (even becoming the second largest party in 4 of them). Its support was spread rather evenly throughout the country, with stronger support in the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Most of its votes came from predominantly black areas – especially more middle-class black areas – but it likely won some Coloured support, particularly in Cape Town or the NC.

COPE’s leaders, on the losing end of the power struggle at Polokwane, agreed that they hated Zuma – but they soon found that they agreed on little else. The party more or less split before the 2011 local elections, with the Shilowa faction deciding that it would not contest the elections. The Lekota faction of COPE won only 2% of the vote. Lekota later expelled Shilowa from the party, citing an internal investigation which had found Shilowa guilty of mismanaging parliamentary funds. Shilowa opposed the expulsion, denying any wrongdoing, and took the matter to court (he lost). In October 2013, a court declared Lekota to be the rightful leader of the party.

The DA and other opposition parties had originally welcomed the creation of COPE and the DA hoped that COPE would siphon votes away from the ANC, and allow for the formation of DA-COPE coalitions (in those places where the ANC dropped below 50%). This was the DA’s objective, for example, in the 2011 local elections. While a few DA-COPE coalitions managed to wrestle control of some local councils away from the ANC, COPE’s utter weakness in 2011 meant that not few such coalitions actually materialized.

Since 2010-2011, COPE haemorrhaged support and leaders rapidly, crippled by the infighting. Like a few parties before it, COPE originally excited observers who were readily writing grand tales of the ANC’s impending demise; but like those parties before it, COPE has turned out to be a flash in the pan, originally causing great excitement before rapidly falling back to obscurity.

Shilowa’s supporters were purged from COPE before the elections, with Shilowa himself moving to support Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (UDM). No less than 19 COPE MPs and MPLs defected to the ANC. Victorious in the leadership battle, Lekota, standing as COPE’s presidential candidate, tried to give the party a new start and was publicly upbeat about the party’s chances – promising to eat his hat if COPE didn’t improve on its 2009 results.

COPE’s manifesto explicitly reiterated what it had said in 2009 – the need for a ‘better government’ and a ‘government of the people’. For COPE, this meant the direct election of the President, Premiers and mayors, a vague promise for honest leaders and downsizing government. There were a number of pledges for transparent government, accountability and citizen empowerment; and calls for more efficient service delivery through a system to report failures, higher benchmarks and enhancing the budgetary capacities of local municipalities. On economic issues, COPE supported the NDP and talked of making it easier to create small businesses, strengthening agriculture and manufacturing, using un-utilized state-owned land for housing and land reform. With calls for ‘world-class education’, COPE proposed to raise the pass rate for Matric subjects (currently 30%), exclude unions from the appointment and supervision of teachers and paying teachers on basis of performance. COPE’s manifesto supported universal healthcare, improving the quality and affordability of public healthcare and improving accessibility to healthcare in communities by opening some clinics 24/7. To fight crime, COPE emphasized a transparent, depoliticized and accountable police force.

Lekota was COPE’s top candidate, followed by the party’s deputy president, Willie Madisha, a former president of COSATU who was unceremoniously removed by the union for supporting Mbeki at Polokwane.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

The IFP, a fixture of South African politics since the mid-1970s, has seen its influence diminished considerably since 1994 and especially in recent years. The IFP is a regional (ethnic) party and 90% of its votes in 2009 came from a single province, namely KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)

The IFP was founded by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu tribal leader, in 1975. Buthelezi had been a member of the ANCYL in his youth and the IFP initially received the blessing and support of the ANC. However, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the situation in South Africa turned even more explosive and the ANC resorted to violence to render the apartheid state ‘ungovernable’, the IFP started clashing with the ANC and collaborating with the white regime. The ANC had long opposed tribalism and ethnicism, warning against the NP regime’s attempts to divide-and-conquer the black majority by fuelling animosities between the various ethno-linguistic groups (Zulus and Xhosas, for example). On the other hand, Buthelezi was a Zulu tribal leader who encouraged attempts to revive the traditional Zulu culture and preached respect for tribal traditions and the Zulu monarchy.

Buthelezi and the IFP are/were, however, complicated and complex. It would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi (and the IFP) as collaborators of the apartheid regime or as a covert ‘third force’ at the pay of Pretoria; just as it would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi as an upstanding and uncompromised leader of the liberation struggle. Inkatha had two faces: for its core ethnic Zulu audience, it emphasized Zulu tradition and ethnicity; but it also sold itself as a national liberation movement, claiming that it strove for justice.The reality is more complicated, less black-and-white.

Buthelezi worked within the apartheid framework of homelands, becoming the chief minister of the autonomous KwaZulu homeland in 1976 (he had been the administrator of a Zulu territorial authority since 1970), and KwaZulu became an authoritarian one-party state entirely dominated by the IFP. The ANC accused him of collaborating with the apartheid regime and shunned him. Indeed, by organizing on tribal grounds and endorsing federalism/self-determination for the various ethnic groups, Buthelezi was effectively playing the NP’s game. Yet, Buthelezi wasn’t entirely a ‘useful tool’ in the hands of the NP. He tried to play to both sides – while partaking in the NP’s ‘separate development’ scheme, preaching non-violence, federalism and rejecting the armed struggle and international boycotts; he also rejected ‘independence’ for KwaZulu and gave his backing to various reformist initiatives (Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith with Harry Schwarz in 1974, rejected PW Botha’s president’s council opening, opposed the 1983 constitution, proposed consociational government, opposed homelands and supported a united, federal South Africa).

Buthelezi felt increasingly insecure in the mid-1980s, as violence between the IFP and the ANC in KZN increased dramatically. As a homeland leader, he was effectively dependent on Pretoria for his homeland’s economy and his own personal security (naturally, he was more preoccupied with the latter). Buthelezi received covert, underhanded support from the regime – which wanted to use the IFP as a conservative black ally against the ‘communist terrorist’ ANC. Between 1986 and 1988, at Buthelezi’s request, the SADF Special Forces in the Caprivi Strip trained IFP militias and hitsquads (Operation Marion) and received weapons and backing from the regime or, later, sections of the regime’s Byzantine security structure.

The IFP played a huge role in the ‘black-on-black’ violence in KZN and the urbanized PWV in the transition era, partaking in several bloody massacres of black civilians and ANC sympathizers. The massacre of innocent civilians, ANC supporters, by IFP militias at KwaMakhutha (January 1987) and Boipatong (June 1992) were allegedly the results of conspiracies hatched by the IFP and the regime’s security forces. The IFP and the ANC were locked into a bloody conflict for political control in KZN and the townships/migrant hostels of the PWV (Gauteng).

During the transition process, the IFP and Buthelezi were mainly interested by safeguarding their ethnic and political interests. This involved a rejection of centralized government, and support for a federal regime. At first, the NP and the IFP enjoyed a fairly solid working relationship, as the NP was still trying to extract minority rights concessions from the ANC and still saw the IFP as a conservative black partner (in Botha’s footsteps). However, when Roelf Meyer took over the NP’s negotiating team and the NP signed the Record of Understanding with the ANC in September 1992, relations between the government and the IFP quickly soured. The IFP felt betrayed by the NP and marginalized in the bilateral ANC-NP negotiation channels; the NP had abandoned the IFP in favour of an ‘elite pact’ with the ANC.

The IFP walked out of the 1993 multi-party forum, where the NP and ANC often teamed up to overrule the objections of the other parties. Buthelezi threatened to boycott the 1994 elections – hoping to sabotage the process. During this brief time period, the IFP found common ground with the white right/far-right, particularly the Conservative Party (which also rejected the process), and some homeland leaders (who feared their upcoming loss of power). At the last minute, the ANC agreed to recognize traditional leaders (such as Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu) and made gestures in favour of self-determination/decentralization. The IFP finally decided to partake in the 1994 elections, only days before the vote.

The IFP won 10.5% and 43 seats in 1994. The race was particularly contentious in KZN, the focal point for much of the IFP-ANC violence since the 1980s. Through vote rigging, the IFP was able to win the controversial poll with over 48.5% of the vote in KZN. On the provincial ballot, NP ticket-splitters allowed the IFP to win over 50%. The IFP joined Mandela’s coalition government and Buthelezi served as minister of home affairs, a position he held until the IFP finally quit the government in 2004.

The IFP’s support has been in steep decline since the first election. In 1999, the IFP won a bit over 40% of the vote in KZN, only narrowly retaining the premiership. Nationally, it won 8.6% and 34 seats. In 2004, the IFP won 7% nationally and 28 seats. In KZN, it won only 35% of the vote – over ten points behind the ANC which finally gained the premiership. The 2009 election was an unmitigated disaster for the IFP, winning only 4.6% nationally (18 seats) and 20.5% in KZN.

The IFP has never really had any ideology beyond an increasingly meaningless chauvinistic Zulu nationalism, and its main interest has always been the protection of the traditional Zulu identity and promoting Zulu ethnic interests. It has attempted to reinvent itself into a non-tribal federalist party, supporting ethnic federalism and self-determination for all ethno-linguistic groups. However, this reinvention was only half-hearted and nobody fell for it. The IFP has no discernible coherent platform, ideology, vision or mission and its sole ambitions are winning/maintaining power for itself KZN.

Whatever it has in way of a platform mostly consists of fluff or vague blabber. The IFP is traditionally seen as a conservative party, which supports the free-market and conservative economic policies. Besides that, most of its other positions are populistic in tone. It does seem a bit more coherent on AIDS, preaching a more militant treatment policy while supporting an abstinence-based education campaign. Buthelezi lost two of his children to AIDS.

The party basically revolves around its strongman, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has ruled over the IFP with an iron hand since 1970s. Buthelezi is a political opportunist who has a long-standing reputation of changing his ‘positions’ willy-nilly and lacking any ideological depth. He is extremely sensitive to criticism of his leadership and has ruthlessly quashed internal criticism. A few years ago, he chased Gavin Woods – one of the IFP’s few respected MPs and a white man – out of the party after Woods had published a scathing attack on Buthelezi’s leadership.

Jacob Zuma is an ethnic Zulu; his two predecessors at the helm of the ANC where Xhosa (the second biggest black ethnic group). Zuma, a very lively and flamboyant leader, has actively played up his own Zulu ethnicity. Zuma is a polygamist (illegal in South Africa but recognized by customary law) and he often partakes in traditional ceremonies, wearing leopard skins or other traditional attire. Politically, Zuma has shifted away from the ANC’s traditional non-tribalism and placed his ethnicity at the core of his new ANC (showing off as a ‘100% Zulu boy’) and preaching respect for elders and traditional (tribal) customs. In doing so, Zuma stole the last thing the IFP had left for itself – Zulu nationalism. In the 2009 election, the ANC made major gains in KZN, recouping some loses in other provinces. In the 2011 local elections, the ANC also made gains in KZN. It is now unquestionably the dominant party in KZN as well.

The IFP has been further weakened since 2011 by the creation of the National Freedom Party (NFP), a new party formed by IFP dissidents and led by the IFP’s former chairperson, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. After the 2009 rout, younger IFP cadres and ambitious figures like Magwaza-Msibi clamoured for leadership change. Buthelezi quashed the simmering rebellion and expelled leaders like Magwaza-Msibi. The NFP does not really have any ideology itself, except perhaps being less dogmatic than the IFP. In the 2011 local elections, the IFP won 15.8% in KZN against 10.4% for the NFP (the IFP-NFP total was greater than what the IFP alone had won in 2009). The IFP held an absolute majority on only two local councils after the vote, while the NFP gained control of a single municipality. However, the NFP allied with the ANC (or vice-versa) to isolate the IFP. They formed coalitions in 22 district and local councils. Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi became mayor of the Zululand District Municipality.

The IFP is a regional party. In 2009, 90% of its votes came from a single province (KZN); in previous years it was roughly the same percentage. The only other province where the IFP has attracted non-derisory support is Gauteng, where it won 1.5% in 2009 (and won one seat in the provincial legislature) and 4% in 1994. An urbanized and industrialized region, Gauteng has attracted Zulu migrant workers for a number of years. 20% of the province’s population is Zulu, and 6% of its residents were actually born in KZN; the IFP’s base lies with Zulu migrant workers living in hostels near the townships (almost all precincts won by the IFP in 2009 in Gauteng were hostels).

In KZN, the IFP has been disproportionately strongest in rural areas and the former territory of the KwaZulu homeland, reflecting the IFP’s base with Zulu traditionalists – tribal leaders and their circles, former KwaZulu public servants. In 1999, the IFP is estimated to have received 64% of the vote in the former homeland but only 17% in the rest of the province (against 50% for the ANC). The IFP, for example, has usually been weak at Durban – its peak was 25% on the provincial ballot in 1994. In 2009, the IFP took only 6.8% in eThekwini (Durban). Younger urbanized Zulus usually preferred the ANC’s more militant and non-tribal socialism over the IFP’s traditionalist conservatism. The IFP’s strongest region in KZN is the area around Ulundi, the former capital of the KwaZulu homeland (and capital of KZN until 2004). Even in 2009, the IFP won no less than 83.6% in Ulundi. It also won 81.6% in Nongoma, the base of the traditional Zulu monarchy. The IFP still holds an outright majority in Ulundi’s local council – but it lost Nongoma to a NFP-ANC coalition in 2011.

Almost all IFP voters are Zulus, but naturally not all Zulus are IFP voters. For example, in Mpumalanga, where Zulus make up 25% of the population, the IFP won only 0.5% in 2009. The IFP never gained a foothold or built up any infrastructure in that province. Outside KZN and Gauteng, the party’s support is basically non-existent in other provinces (0.06% in the WC…).

The IFP manifesto focused on service delivery, quality education, tackling corruption, job creation (calling for flexible labour laws, special economic zones in rural areas with low taxes), improving healthcare, land reform (favouring traditional leaders), crime and respecting traditional leaders (who, the IFP claimed, have had their authority eroded since 2014).

The NFP presents itself as a national social democratic party, retaining the Inkatha-influenced emphasis on strong devolved local government. The NFP’s platform focused on improving education (higher Matric pass rate, compulsory and free basic education till the age of 18, free higher education for students meeting entry standards, reducing the scope of student loans), service delivery, land reform (using a moderate approach), healthcare, economic development (aiming to go beyond the narrow view of ‘business opportunity’ in favour of ‘development, supporting protectionist measures), tackling crime, participation of traditional leaders in local governance, social development (with a promise to increase child support grants) and corruption.

Minor parties

United Democratic Movement (UDM)

The UDM is a small party, which first ran in 1999 and has since seen its support declined. It held only 4 seats in the National Assembly.

The UDM was founded in 1997 by Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer. Bantu Holomisa is the former military ruler of the ‘independent’ Transkei homeland. As commander of the homeland’s armed forces, he deposed Prime Minister Stella Sigcau in a coup in 1987 and seized power. Unlike Lucas Mangope in Bophuthatswana or Oupa Gqozo in Ciskei, Holomisa and Transkei enjoyed an uneasy alliance with the ANC and provided the ANC with a safe haven. Even if Holomisa was not quite a puppet for apartheid, he was not really an exemplary leader either: his military junta often executed its opponents without any sort of trial; and corruption flourished under his rule. Holomisa did not oppose Transkei’s reintegration into South Africa in 1994. In fact, he joined the ANC and joined cabinet as a deputy minister. In September 1996, he was unceremoniously expelled from cabinet and the ANC after alleging that Stella Sigcau, who had become Minister of Public Enterprises in Mandela’s cabinet, had received a bribe from a shady casino magnate in the 1980s.

As it happens, another prominent member of a major party was pushed out from his party around the same time: Roelf Meyer. Meyer, the lead NP negotiator during the second half of the transition process, was widely seen as de Klerk’s dauphin within the NP after the 1994 election. Meyer, a young reformist verligte, wanted to transform the NP by changing the party’s name and actively recruiting black members for the party. His rapid ascension within the party worried the party’s hardliners and other ambitious younger members (notably Marthinus van Schalkwyk). The hardliners were able to force the NP out of the national unity cabinet in 1996, and Meyer was eventually forced to leave the NP with some of his lesser-known allies in May 1997.

Holomisa and Meyer created the UDM in September 1997. The party intended to be a non-racial and non-regionalist national alternative to the ANC, so it naturally got a few people excited. In the 1999 elections, the UDM won 3.4% of the vote and 14 seats. Half of the UDM’s support came from the Eastern Cape, in particular the former Transkei homeland. It did win some white and non-Xhosa black support outside the EC as well.

Meyer quit politics in 2000 (and went on to join the ANC in 2006). The party was decimated in the first floor-crossing window in 2003, when it lost 10 of its 14 seats – most of them to the ANC. In the 2004 elections, the UDM saw its support reduced to 2.3% and 9 seats (it lost 3 seats in the 2005 floor-crossing window). In 2009, the UDM won only 0.9% and 4 seats.

The UDM has basically morphed into a regionalist/personalist party which is a powerful actor only around Umtata (now known as Mthatha), Holomisa’s home turf and the former capital of Transkei. In 2009, 61% of its support came from a single province (the Eastern Cape, where it won 4%); most of that support in turn came from King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, which includes Umtata and Holomisa’s hometown (Mqanduli). The UDM won 24% of the vote in the municipality in 2009, doing best in rural areas south of Mqanduli where it won over 45-50% in some wards. In 1999, the UDM had won over 50% of the vote in Umtata and 77% in Mqanduli. The UDM’s support reflects tribal support for Holomisa is his native region. In the 1999 election, the UDM took 21% in those parts of the EC which had been part of either Ciskei or Transkei and 4% in the rest of the province; given the low support in the Ciskei, the party’s result in the former Transkei alone was probably much stronger. Outside the EC, the UDM has very weak support. Its best other province was WC, with 0.8%, reflective of the large Xhosa migrant population which lives in Cape Town.

Bantu Holomisa regained a profile in national politics (he’s usually absent from the media outside elections) following the 2012 Marikana massacre, becoming one of the more popular opposition politicians (along with Julius Malema) to speak at miners’ rallies – likely due to the fact that a lot of the miners in the Marikana area are isiXhosa-speakers originally from the EC and Holomisa’s strong advocacy for their 22% wage increase. Holomisa’s rallies, for example, drew far larger crowds than the non-Malema far-left’s much smaller rallies. Holomisa also cozied up with Malema, attending the EFF’s launch in Marikana in October 2013. There was, however, no formal electoral coalition between the UDM and EFF.

The UDM appears vaguely centre-rightish, though its policies usually consists of platitudes and feel-good but rather meaningless principles (job creation, national unity, economic growth). It has often placed considerable emphasis on fighting corruption. This year, the UDM’s manifesto focused heavily on corruption – it was even titled ‘Corruption destroys the gains of our freedom’ – and, to fight corruption, the UDM notably promised reducing political interference in government and independent institutions, introducing courts charged explicitly with tackling corruption and reviewing the tender system. On economic issues, the UDM said its philosophy was ‘government must do more’ – calling for government to create a stable policy environment, promote youth and women empowerment, invest in infrastructure development, help small business development, facilitate access to market, provide tax incentives for businesses to create jobs, protect local industries and do more to promote industrialization. The UDM proposed an ‘economic indaba’ to discuss land and mineral ownership and workers’ conditions. Overall, the UDM’s platform (like that of the EFF) presented a very gloomy view of South Africa’s progress since 1994.

Freedom Front Plus/Vryheidsfront Plus (FF+/VF+)

The VF+ is the only purely ‘white’ party in South Africa. The party aims to defend Afrikaner interests.

The VF+ was founded as the Freedom Front (Vryheidsfront) in 1994, only a month prior to the first free elections. The white right/far-right was hostile to the transition to majority rule, but they were divided in their strategies. More moderate Afrikaner nationalists whose main goal was Afrikaner self-determination and the creation of a sovereign/autonomous volkstaat for Afrikaners were organized under the auspices of the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), led by Constand Viljoen, a retired SADF commander. In contrast to Eugène Terre’Blanche’s extremist and arch-racist thugs, the AVF was a more respectable force which had fairly close ties with parts of the security forces. Following the Bophuthatswana disaster just before the 1994 elections, the AVF and Viljoen were convinced that electoral participation was preferable to armed opposition. In return for their participation in the electoral process, the Afrikaner nationalists had received assurances from Mandela and the ANC that Afrikaner self-determination would be considered if there was substantial support for the idea.

The VF won 2.2% and 9 seats in the first elections in 1994. However, the party has since been hurt by the consolidation of the white vote – including the Afrikaner conservative/nationalist vote – behind a single party. By 1999, the party fell to 0.8% and a mere 3 seats. In that election, the party was hurt by competition from the Federal Alliance, a white party led by corrupt business magnate Louis Luyt (2 seats) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (1 seat). In 2004, its support increased marginally, to 0.9%, and it gained a single seat. In 2009, it won 0.8% and held its 4 seats.

Viljoen retired in 2001, pushed out because some in the party felt he was cooperating too much with the ANC. The party became the VF+ before the 2004 election when it integrated the remnants of the moribund Conservative Party (which had only run in the 1995/1996 local elections) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging. Luyt’s party later folded into the VF+ as well.

The current leader of the VF+ is Pieter Mulder, the son of Connie Mulder – the apartheid-era hardline cabinet minister behind the Infogate scandal. His brother, Corné Mulder, is also a VF+ MP.

The party has never attempted to widen its electorate and has instead focused its efforts on promoting Afrikaner interests and white minority rights – including through cooperation with the governing party. Pieter Mulder, for example, is actually a member of cabinet as deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In 2008, the VF+ managed to get the Afrikaners recognized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

The VF+’s original raison-d’etre – the volkstaat – is dead; it was a very unrealistic idea to begin with, and never received much support besides a handful of passionate and dogmatic white Afrikaner nationalists. The VF+ might bring up the volkstaat idea (and even draw a map of it) from time to time, but it too has recognized the futility of the idea and it doesn’t feature much (if at all) in the manifestos. As aforementioned, it now defends white minority rights, being one of the top advocates for white minority rights alongside the Solidarity trade union and the AfriForum, a white civil rights organization tied to Solidarity. Sometimes, defending white minority rights entails Mulder or somebody in his party saying a stupid thing which reeks of the apartheid era. For example, VF+ once got in the news by criticizing a DA municipality’s decision to rename a school which had been named after HF Verwoerd (when everybody else should be asking why things are still named after him in 2014).

VF+’s voters are conservative white Afrikaners. Its support patterns are a bit different from the DA’s support – firstly because basically no non-whites vote for VF+ and because only very, very few white Anglos vote for the VF+. For example, in KZN and the EC, where the whites are mostly Anglo, VF+ won only 0.2% in 2009. Its best provinces were the Free State (1.6%), NW (1.4%) and Gauteng (1.4%). It wins its best results in isolated Afrikaans-speaking white villages/towns in the old Transvaal, Orange Free State, or northern Cape Province – regions where the Conservative Party was strongest in the late 1980s. In 2009, it did particularly well (around 15%) in the white wards in Potchefstroom, a mecca of Afrikaner nationalism and academia in the Transvaal. However, the party’s most famous stronghold is Orania, a small town in the Northern Cape established by Afrikaner nationalists in 1990 to form the ‘embryo’ for a future volkstaat. The Orania movement’s leader, Carel Boshoff, was the son-in-law of HF Verwoerd and the provincial leader of the VF+ until his death in 2011. In the 2009 elections, the VF+ won 87.4% of the vote in Orania.

Defending minority rights, VF+ is highly critical of affirmative action – in its 2014 manifesto, it says that South Africa has gone stale since 1994 notably because of “affirmative action, job-losses as a result of transformation, marginalisation of minorities [...] farm murders”. The party, reiterating the old Afrikaner nationalist emphasis on communities and the volk as the necessary element of human existence, laments the lack of ‘freedom to communities’. Unlike other parties, the VF+, fulfilling its role as a niche party, had a manifesto focused heavily on minority rights (specifically Afrikaners), the feared loss of minority rights and cultural diversity (the ANC controversially renamed provinces, cities and public places – most contentiously, changing the city of Pretoria’s name to ‘Tshwane’, creating a lot of controversy). The party proposed the creation of a National Afrikaner Council, which it fails to describe; the protection of Afrikaner settlements such as Orania; a quota-free zone for three Coloured/Afrikaans-majority district municipalities in the NC to be exempted from affirmative action laws; upholding language rights (South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is the overwhelmingly dominant public language in government, business, education, the media and so forth); scrapping racially-based affirmative action and BEE; devolution of powers to provincial and local governments; and using unused state land for redistribution in priority. On other issues, the party is very conservative – it proposed to restrict the right to strike, strongly supports the right to bear arms, the use of private security and criticized the over-regulation of private health schemes. The VF+ calls for a state which ‘maintains Christian values’ and its manifesto was founded on the idea that “believers want to acknowledge the supremacy of the Trinity God and obey Him. In humble recognition of human imperfections, a constitutional dispensation is pursued which builds on this foundation”.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)

The ACDP is a Christian fundamentalist social conservative party. The party, led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, was established a bit before the 1994 elections. It peaked at 1.6% and 7 seats in 2004, after winning 0.5% (2 seats) in 1994 and 1.4% (6 seats) in 1999. It lost most of its seats in 2009, taking only 3 seats and 0.8% of the vote.

The ACDP’s platform is based on strict Christian and biblical norms and the party has usually been seen as focusing its energies on moral issues (which are not major issues in South African politics). The ACDP was the only party to vote against South Africa’s very socially progressive constitution in 1996 because it banned discrimination based on sexual orientation (a clause whose wording led to a 2006 court decision which legalized gay marriage) and legalized abortion. The party is opposed to abortion, prostitution and homosexuality. It also promotes an abstinence-only policy and opposes the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission, although it supports ARVs. The ACDP has dismissed criticism that it is a single-issue party focused solely on cultural/moral issues (where it gets most of its publicity from), and presented a manifesto with proposals on the main issues of jobs, welfare, safety, integrity, education, health, housing and family. On economic issues, the ACDP is clearly on the right, seeking to reduce government intervention in the economy and emphasizing traditional right-wing values/idea (competitive advantage, eliminating wasteful spending, review labour laws to remove obstacles to growth, free trade); but it supports an increased social wage to reduce poverty and the implementation of the NHI. The ACDP’s pet values, listed above, did not even feature prominently in the party’s manifesto in 2014.

Interestingly, the party’s electorate seems fairly multi-racial. The party is strongest in the WC, where it won 1.6% in 2009. It briefly participated in the DA-led municipal coalition in Cape Town between 2006 and 2009.

United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP)

The UCDP is a small regional party founded in 1997. The party’s founder was Lucas Mangope, the president of the ‘independent’ homeland of Bophuthatswana between 1977 and 1994. Mangope was Pretoria’s dream conservative black puppet leader. He was a Tswana ethnic nationalist who defended an ethnically exclusive vision for his homeland, he collaborated actively with the apartheid regime (to the point where the SADF intervened to protect him against a coup) and he was strongly opposed to the ANC. Along with Oupa Gqozo’s Ciskei, he was one of the homeland leaders who resisted reintegration into South Africa and threatened to sabotage the transition process. On this front, Bop and Ciskei found common ground with Buthelezi’s IFP and the white far-right including the KP. However, this alliance of odd bedfellows quickly foundered. Mangope was unable to resist to a general strike in March 1994 and his military soon deserted him, the AVF/AWB intervention ended as an embarrassment for all involved.

Mangope did not participate in the first elections in 1994. He created the UCDP in 1997. It won 0.8% and only 3 seats in 1999, with 78% of its vote coming from the North West province – where it won 9.6% in the provincial elections and formed the small official opposition to the hegemonic ANC. In 2004, the party won 0.75% and held its 3 seats; it also managed to hold on to second in the NW (with 8.5%). In 2009, however, the party fell to 0.4% and won only 2 seats; in the NW province it was surpassed by COPE and the DA, managing fourth place with only 5.3% (2 seats out of 33) in the provincial election.

The UCDP is a right-wing party with fairly conservative positions on economic matters. It also claims to be inspired by conservative Christian principles. Not sure, however, if any actual ideology should be ascribed to the party given how it has functioned as a Mangope’s personal political vehicle and how it plays on some weird kind of homeland/Bophuthatswana nostalgic-nationalism.

Interestingly, however, Mangope was expelled from his own party in 2011 and the party’s leader is now a nobody.

As mentioned above, the UCDP is a more or less regional party. In 2009, 66% of the party’s votes came from a single province, the NW, which includes most of the former Bophuthatswana. The UCDP took 4% in the province in the general election; the only other province where it got more than crumbs was the Northern Cape (1%) – which includes one of the seven old enclaves of the former Bop. The party differs from the two other regional parties – the UDM and the IFP – in two senses: its support does not correlate very closely with the boundaries of the former homeland, and it never gained the IFP or the UDM’s level of support in the former homeland. In 1999, the UCDP got 10% in the homeland and 7% in the NW province outside the homeland. Bop’s makeshift borders had been quite fluid and the Tswana population it was envisioned to be the homeland of continued living on both sides of the border in the present-day NW province. At that point, it won 33% of the vote in Mafikeng, which included the former Bop capital of Mmabatho. The UCDP, which peaked at around 10% in the NW, never got the IFP or even the UDM’s level of support in either Bop or the province as a whole. This is largely because Mangope left office in 1994 with no legitimacy whatsoever (unlike Holomisa, who was not a useless tool like him; or Buthelezi, who was much more effective at gaining actual support than any other puppet leader) and with only limited popular support in the former Bop (Mangope never really enjoyed widespread support, unlike Buthelezi).

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC)

The PAC is a small far-left party which has been reduced to a one of many also-ran parties in South African politics; but at one time, the PAC was a powerful force and the ANC’s main rival for mass support and mobilization against the apartheid regime.

In the 1950s, the broader anti-apartheid movement was divided into two main factions. On the one hand, the majority of the ANC, influenced by the Communist Party (SACP), endorsed a multiracial society with equal franchise. The Congress of the People and what came out of it – the Freedom Charter (1955) – represented this multiracial/non-racial tradition, with the famous line that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. The ‘black’ ANC was only one actor in the Congress of the People, alongside rather influential anti-apartheid white left-wingers (mostly white Communists), Indians and Coloureds. On the other hand, the ‘Africanists’ within the ANC – influenced by Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist ideology – opposed the ANC-SACP’s multiracialism and the active participation of whites in the struggle. Driven by the view that all white South Africans – and not just the white government – were the oppressors – they saw the presence of whites in the movement as a sign that the ANC had been co-opted by the white ruling class. They recognized that individual whites could play a role in the struggle, but they could not hold leadership in the movement. The Africanists supported African continental unity, represented by the slogan ‘Africa for the Africans’. The PAC’s founder, Robert Subokwe, felt that even anti-apartheid whites could not identify fully with the cause because of their material advantages (therefore, only black Africans could lead the liberation movement), but he said that once oppression was removed, there would be no discrimination against whites on racial grounds. Radicals felt that the whites needed to be expelled from Africa.

The PAC was founded in April 1959 by the ANC’s Africanist faction, led by Robert Subokwe and Potlako Leballo. At the outset, the PAC posed a strong challenge to the ANC for the control of the anti-apartheid movement and the support of the country’s black masses. The PAC, like the ANC, had its own armed movement, the APLA (originally Poqo), which targeted white civilians – especially in the waning days of the apartheid regime. The PAC spearheaded the peaceful anti-pass campaign which led to the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, when 69 unarmed black civilians were mowed down by the apartheid regime. Following the Sharpeville massacre, Sobukwe was arrested. He was finally released in 1969, but remained under house arrest until his death in 1978.

Sobukwe’s death and the exile of many of the PAC’s major leaders weakened the organization. Infighting between the PAC, its armed wing and the various factions in both erupted after Sobukwe’s death in 1978. Opposition to the SACP’s influence over the ANC had been one of the causes behind the PAC split in 1959, but the PAC itself moved towards Maoism in the 1970s – and the PAC sided with China in the Sino-Soviet split, while the ANC/SACP sided with the USSR. The intense infighting, the lack of any solid leadership and the absence of any real organization weakened the PAC in the 1980s. The PAC’s focus on abstract ‘grand ideas’ and dogmatism also kept the PAC from gaining mass support, unlike the ANC which also focused on local bread-and-butter concerns.

The PAC was unbanned in 1990. The party boycotted the transition process and APLA attacked white civilian targets, the bloodiest of which was the St. James Church bombing in Cape Town (in 1993), which killed 11. The PAC was divided on whether or not it should contest the 1994 election, given its opposition to the negotiated transition and the continuing armed struggle (placed on hold for the election, however). In the end, most of the PAC agreed to contest the poll. The 1994 election was a disaster for the PAC, which won only 1.3% of the vote and a mere 5 seats. The PAC’s radical and racial rhetoric (‘one settler, one bullet’) alienated many black voters who were eager for peace and reconciliation. The party was unable to improve its standing after 1994, in fact it has lost votes in every election since. In 1999, it won 0.8% and 3 seats. In 2004, it won 0.7% and 3 seats. In 2009, weakened by the split of the African’s People Convention, it won only 0.3% and held a single seat. Infighting continues to plague the party – in 2013, the PAC’s NEC expelled its president.

The PAC, once a powerful rival to the ANC, has become an extremely marginal force which poses no real threat to the ANC. The PAC has a far-left program, supporting nationalization and land redistribution. When Malema created the EFF, the PAC complained that Malema was stealing what the PAC stood for, but in March 2014, the PAC attended Malema’s manifesto launched and the PAC’s leader talk of a post-election merger.

Minority Front (MF)

The Minority Front is a small ethnic regional (KZN/Durban) party. The MF claims to represent all ethnic minorities in South Africa, in reality its support stems almost exclusively from the Indian minority in Durban, which has the largest Indian population of any major city in South Africa – making up roughly 18% of the city’s population, forming a large majority in Chatsworth and Phoenix.

The party functioned as a vehicle for its leader, Amichand Rajbansi, until his death in 2011. Rajbansi was an Indian community leader in Durban who was coopted by the NP regime in the 1970s and 1980s and played along with Botha’s tricameral scheme. He formed the National People’s Party (NPP) in 1981, and the NPP competed in the 1984 and 1989 elections for the Indian House of Delegates – elections which were, by and large, boycotted by the Indian population. The NPP won a majority in the 1984 election and Rajbansi served on Botha’s cabinet (minister of Indian affairs) and chaired the ‘Indian cabinet’. However, his rule was controversial. In the late 1980s, he was found guilty of various charges of bribery and glaring misadministration by parliamentary commissions and was subsequently dumped by Botha in 1988. Andrew Feinstein described Rajbansi as a “prominently bewigged gentleman with a charming lack of self-irony.”

The MF was founded in 1994 as a successor to the NP. It won only 0.07% in the first free elections in 1994, but with 1.3% in the provincial election in KZN it did qualify for a seat. Its national support increased to 0.3% in 1999 and 0.35% in 2004, winning one seat in the National Assembly in 1999 and gaining a second one in 2004. In 2009, the party’s support declined to 0.25% and it lost its second seat. The MF is a regional party which does not run in provincial or local elections outside KZN. In the 2009 GE, 89.6% of its votes came from a single province (KZN), where it won 2.05% in the provincial election (2 seats) and 1.1% in the general election. The few votes it won outside KZN came mostly from Indian neighborhoods such as Lenasia in Johannesburg. Its support in KZN provincial ballots has oscillated between 2.9% (1999) and 2% (2009). In 2009 (GE), the MF won 2.5% in eThekwini (Durban) and 3.5% in uMdoni (Scottburgh), located south of Durban and 14% Indian. In the 2011 local elections, the MF won 5.3% in Durban, and won 11 seats including 6 wards. It won 6.5% in uMdoni and one ward. There is increasing overlap between MF and DA support, with the MF losing a number of its voters to the DA. In direct races between the ANC and the DA, the MF’s supporters tend to back the DA by large margins.

Having been a personal vehicle for Rajbansi until 2011, the MF has no real ideology besides vague ethnic nationalism/Indian minority rights. Rajbansi’s widow took the party leadership after his death in 2011. The MF had an extremely short manifesto, mostly made up of a postmortem personality cult for Rajbansi (the ‘Bengal Tiger’, his wife, rest assured, is a ‘tigress’) and extremely empty blabber about minorities (part of which is probably ripped off from Wikipedia explaining what minorities are).

Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO)

AZAPO is a small black far-left party, similar to the PAC. AZAPO is the main political front of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

The Black Consciousness Movement was founded by Steve Biko, a black student leader, in the mid-1960s, following the marginalization and weakening of the ANC and PAC following the Sharpeville massacre and the arrest or forced exile of most of the ANC and PAC leadership. Like the Africanists, Biko’s BCM rejected the ANC’s moderate multiracial approach and its focus on extending civil rights to the entire South African population. Biko resented the strong influence of white liberals/left-wingers in the anti-apartheid movement, particularly in the student movement (the NUSAS). He attacked what he saw as traditional white values especially the ‘condescending’ values white liberals and the ‘white monopoly on truth’. The BCM wanted blacks to find their own way out of apartheid, a uniquely ‘African’ way; developing their own identity and institutions to gain psychological strength (because blacks had become alienated from themselves). He charged that whites of perpetuating a ‘super-race image’ through the use of force, which created and reinforced fears. The BCM wanted a unitary state ruled by blacks, with whites living on terms laid down by blacks. Biko disliked white communists and liberals, dismissed the SACP’s Marxist class analysis and felt that liberals had a paternalistic ‘do-gooder’ attitude towards blacks.

The BCM was the catalysing force behind the Soweto uprising in 1976. Steve Biko was arrested in Port Elizabeth in 1977 and murdered by his captors, probably in the back of a pickup truck while he was transferred from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. Biko’s death weakened the BCM, especially as the ANC regained its leadership of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s with the organization of various domestic civil society organizations – including some close to the BCM – under the UDF. During the 1980s, AZAPO was a minor force in the liberation movement, clashing with the ANC and taking a far-left stance against imperialism and capitalism

AZAPO did not participate in the first free elections in 1994. In 1999, the party won 0.2% and a single seat. It increased its support to 0.25% in 2004 and fell back to 0.22% in 2009, holding its single seat in both those elections.

AZAPO is a scientific socialist/far-left party. It defines itself as anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist and has focused its campaigns mostly on increasing black economic power. It sees the class struggle as being expressed in racial terms.

African People’s Convention (APC)

The APC is a small black far-left party founded by a split in the PAC in 2007. The party was founded during the third and last floor-crossing period in 2007 by Themba Godi, a PAC MP and the party’s deputy leader. The split must have been the result of a personality clash incomprehensible to outsiders. Indeed, the APC’s ideology is basically the same as the PAC: pan-Africanism, continental unity, socialism.

The APC won 0.2% in the 2009 election, enough for a single seat. Incidentally, it was the smallest party (in terms of votes) to win seats in 2009.

Results and analysis

Turnout was 73.43%, down from 77.3% in the 2009 election. This is the lowest turnout since 1999 (there was no voter registration in 1994, so it’s more difficult to make comparisons), when it stood at 89%. About 1.4% of votes were spoilt, basically unchanged since 2009, although the number increased from about 239,000 to a bit less than 252,000.

However, as I’ll explain later, the turnout data – based on registered voters – can be quite misleading. The results, based on valid votes, were as follows:

ANC 62.15% (-3.75%) winning 249 seats (-15)
DA 22.33% (+4.65%) winning 89 seats (+18)
EFF 6.35% (+6.35%) winning 25 seats (+25)
IFP 2.4% (-2.15%) winning 10 seats (-8)
NFP 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 6 seats (+6)
UDM 1.00% (+0.16%) winning 4 seats (nc)
VF+ 0.9% (+0.07%) winning 4 seats (nc)
COPE 0.67% (-6.75%) winning 3 seats (-27)
ACDP 0.57% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
AIC 0.53% (+0.53%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Agang SA 0.28% (+0.28%) winning 2 seats (+2)
PAC 0.21% (-0.07%) winning 1 seat (nc)
APC 0.17% (-0.04%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Al Jama-ah 0.14% (-0.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
MF 0.12% (-0.12%) winning 0 seats (-1)
UCDP 0.12% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (-2)
AZAPO 0.11% (-0.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
All others (below 0.1%) 0.47% winning 0 seats (nc)

The ANC was unsurprisingly reelected, keeping its large majority in the National Assembly with a resounding three-fifths majority (although it once again fell short of the two-thirds majority, which it held between 2004 and 2009, and which would have allowed the ANC to amend the constitution on its own). The ANC remains South Africa’s dominant party, and the 2014 results marked relatively change from the 2009 election, only with another decline for the ANC and an uptick for the opposition.

It often seems as if a lot of Western observers can’t quite comprehend why the ANC remains so popular and dominant – despite a widely-assailed President and a record which is very mediocre at best with very high unemployment, widespread corruption, incompetent ministers, major challenges in education and healthcare, service delivery protests and so forth. That incomprehension often breeds silly analysis on ‘liberation parties’ or downright paternalistic and patronizing ‘analysis’ which seem to insinuate that the ANC’s black voters don’t know what’s good for them and/or that they’re voting against their interests.

The ANC remains a genuinely popular party after 20 years in power, despite many failures which even ANC voters would recognize. The ANC isn’t popular because its voters don’t know what’s good for them; it’s popular because the ANC does retain a positive legacy and record since 1994 which its supporters still embrace. Despite a lot of undeniable failures about the state of South Africa since 1994 and the country has fallen short of the high hopes of 1994, it’s important to remember how far the country has come since those dark days. There have been real and tangible improvements in the livelihood of the black majority – and that’s hardly a subjective viewpoint, because the DA and most opposition parties recognize that. Besides the obvious – that they are now treated as equals and have political rights – millions of black South Africans have received (or are receiving) generous government grants, RDP housing or have gained access to basic necessities (running water, electricity, toilet facilities) which they previously lacked. Perhaps for people who have come to expect such amenities regardless of the party in power that might not seem like much, it certainly is a lot for people who previously lacked access to such amenities/services and faced repression at the hands of a racist regime.

ANC supporters often cite these factors – the major improvements which have taken place in their lives since 1994 – when explaining why they remain loyal to the ANC. That continued loyalty, however, does not stop them from being quite lucid of the challenges faced and the past failures of the ANC. Loyalty to the ANC should not be seen as blind loyalty to the ANC, nor should it be understood as mindless tribal/racial voting (although that likely plays a role too).

As Khaya Dlanga, an ANC-critical columnist who voted ANC, wrote: “The party has made some mistakes but it has got many things right, as proven by the visible and tangible change in many people’s lives.”

The ANC retains its aura as the liberation party, the party of Mandela and other great freedom fighters, and a lot of its supporters remain enormously proud of the ANC and the work that it has done. Cognizant of that fact, the ANC’s campaign this year placed a lot of emphasis on ‘the good story to tell’ and played on Mandela’s legacy. From that legacy, the ANC continues to draw on a base of enthusiastic and upbeat activists who provide the ANC with a tremendous nation-wide grassroots base which always shows its muscle, despite challenges, at election time.

The ANC is a smart party when it comes to elections, and it goes into elections with advantages which the other parties don’t have. Although Jacob Zuma remained the face of the ANC campaign, the ANC’s subliminal message was to ‘vote for the party, not an individual’ – playing on the real popularity of the ANC brand, to avoid excessive association from the more unpopular and somewhat toxic Zuma brand following Nkandlagate and similar scandals. The ANC’s strong result proved that it can still sell itself successfully regardless of who leads it, and the ANC brand is stronger than Zuma. The ANC successfully managed to convince loyal voters to separate Zuma, the government and the ANC. Although the reality isn’t that simple, ANC supporters who feel queasy about the ANC may take solace in the fact that the ANC is far from a monolith or personal machine, and that it has the ability to change – most recently witnessed at Polokwane (for better or worse), most famously in 1949 when a young guard around Mandela orchestrated the removal of AB Xuma, the ANC president accused of being too moderate and apologetic for the times.

For some ANC voters, scandals such as Nkandla may not have been major issues. Zuma said that only ‘bright/clever people’ cared about Nkandla and that it was not an issue, although he still defended himself saying that Madonsela hadn’t found him guilty and that it was unfair that he was being singled out for criticism (besides, he claimed the upgrades were necessary after criminals broke into his house to rape his wife).

The ANC has the strongest electoral machine of any party: a dedicated and committed army of supporters and hardened partisans, a presence throughout the country, a grassroots base in urban and rural black communities (in the townships and the former homelands alike), certainly a hefty war chest larger than that of the opposition and the covert use of state resources in its favour. It doesn’t hurt, for example, that the SABC – which is the main source of news for a lot of voters – is biased in the ANC’s favour or at the very least quite tame in its reporting on the ANC. Patronage remains an important factors, especially in rural areas, with several businesspeople who have made their fortunes on the back of the ANC or party supporters who have drawn on their ties to the party to obtain advantages or access to public services.

In 2009 and again in 2014, the ANC proved that, with its advantages and fairly strong campaign, it could prove skeptics wrong and defy very real challenges to its hegemony. In 2009, the ANC successfully undercut COPE’s appeal to its base and mobilized support for Zuma and the ANC. In 2014, despite threats from the fallout of Nkandla, Marikana, high unemployment and the poor economy, the ANC once again mobilized its support quite well.

For a lot of black voters, there is also a dearth of options – quite ironic given South Africa’s very proportional voting system and the wide choice of parties on the ballot. However, the main opposition, the DA remains perceived – fairly or unfairly – as the ‘white’s party’, and the ANC certainly loves playing on resentments, fears and myths to drum up support. The DA has increased its support, some of it coming from black voters, and under Helen Zille the DA has taken real steps – some of them successful – to change the party and improve its image. More and more, the DA has black members and leaders who aren’t total duds and don’t merely serve as window-dressing. However, the image remains stubborn and the DA often fails at messaging – they bash the ANC too much for their own good, leaving traditional ANC supporters wondering if they were downplaying or denying the ANC’s achievements or looking down on them or attacking them for voting ANC in the past. The DA also has the unfortunate tendency to be incredibly tin-eared or amateurish when it comes to messaging what black voters care about. The DA’s policies on affirmative action, ‘the elephant in the room’ in the words of Christi van der Westhuizen, have been a tough sell to black voters, more attracted by the ANC’s EE/BEE policies than the DA’s vague and unappealing stuff on ‘equal opportunities’, non-racialism or the ‘open opportunity society for all’. Thankfully for them, the DA is making progress on this issue, recognizing that class and race are correlated and that appealing to black voters requires more than lip-service and sloganeering on EE. Yet, the DA still has issues to remedy. Helen Zille is a competent administrator but not a particularly good party leader; her image as a madam baas and her enraged rants on Twitter are liabilities. She also needs to shake off the image (which seems to be rooted in reality) that Zille has a smug view towards black leaders in the DA – picking and choosing her favourites and treating them as her proteges who she expects to be loyal-or-else. It is the kind of attitude which underlines the impression that the DA takes a very simplistic view of race relations and racial dynamics, failing to grasp the complexity of racial relations and dynamics in 21st century South Africa.

As was noted after Nkandla, the opposition parties need to be careful about going after Nkandla and similar scandals. Overdoing it may make the average black voter feel under attack for voting ANC, while making hesitant past ANC voters feel stupid about voting ANC in the past. In the past, some of the opposition’s violent attacks on Zuma inadvertently built sympathy for him.

Julius Malema’s EFF performed relatively well for a new party, winning 6.4% – slightly less than what COPE, another brand-new party born out of the ANC, had won in 2009. But it’s clear that the EFF hasn’t (yet?) had the impact which Malema proclaimed it would – it certainly didn’t take half of the ANC’s votes and/or win over 50% of the vote (as Malema said it would). Malema has a strong and dedicated base of supporters and activists, who give the party a clear visibility on the ground and online, but it’s also clear that Malema has many detractors – and they’re not only white. For a lot of black ANC supporters, Malema and the EFF is seen as too young, too radical and too hotheaded to be taken seriously. Others may be rightly skeptical of Malema’s aggressive left-populism given his own lavish lifestyle and the tender deals he has allegedly cashed in on in Limpopo. The EFF, as the geographical analysis will show and per Malema’s own admission, had trouble breaking through in rural areas. Malema’s message of radical redistributionism and racially-tinged nationalism was more accessible to voters in urban areas, where awareness for the ANC’s failures and scandals is likely highest. For example, and this is an important point which would deserve further investigation, an M&G report in the rural Eastern Cape (EC) found that a lot of voters were unaware of the details of what had gone down at Marikana (and may have been unaware of the details of Nkandla, given the complexity of the case and the question marks surrounding it).

The other parties are unappealing as well. The IFP and now the NFP are both regional and ethnic-based party which little to no appeal outside KZN and specific sectors of the Zulu community. The UDM is not quite as regionally-concentrated but its geography indicates that it has become a Transkei regional party. COPE, which people were so excited about (the Western media does seem to love COPE/Agang-like black-led moderate and liberal parties which they think/hope would appeal to black voters while still not being scary like Malema), has been a remarkable case study into political failure. COPE had potential, but during the 2009 campaign it was already clear that it had lost its initial fire and was marginalized by the ANC and the DA. And despite ending up with a quite good result, it then proceeded to spend five years doing little more (as far as what the public is aware of – that’s basically all that COPE did which got into the news) than bicker internally and cripple the party. As somebody put it, it seems as if COPE didn’t get that being an opposition party means opposing the government rather than itself! The other parties (PAC, ACDP, AZAPO…) on offer are all tiny, anonymous and irrelevant outfits which are often too cranky and crazy to have mass-appeal beyond a small circle of hardened followers.

This long-winded discussion is my attempt to explain why the ANC won 11.4 million votes and remains dominant. But there is an extremely important point, which almost all analysis misses out on, which gives a completely different image of the reality of South African politics than the one commonly understood. Voter registration is voluntary (non-automatic) and, as I understand it, there is no election-day registration and the registration window closes quite a while before the election. This means that, like in the United States, it’s important to look not only at statistics on the basis of registered voters but also on the basis of eligible voters (voting-age population, VAP).

The IEC reported registered voters vs. the VAP in November 2013, before the IEC’s registration drive for the 2014 elections, so only 24.1 million were registered against 25.3 who were registered on election day. The IEC also maintains an updated tally of registered voters.

If we take Statistics SA’s numbers on the VAP (reported by the IEC) in October 2014, there were 31,434,035 South Africans eligible to vote. 25,381,293 registered to vote, or 80.7% of the VAP, and 18,654,457 actually cast ballots on May 7. Turnout as a percentage of the VAP was therefore 59.34%, which is actually up from 59.29% in 2009 and 55.77% in 2004.

The IEC’s November 2013 report on the matter was highly instructive. Only 23% of eligible voters aged 18 and 19 – the ‘born free’ generation which everybody was going on about – were registered to vote, although the registration drive was most successful with these voters given that, only a month before, only 8.8% were registered to vote. As we speak, only 33% of them are registered. About two-thirds of the born free generation, therefore, didn’t even register to vote. Voter registration increased with age, peaking at 105% with those over 80 – indicating that there are probably quite a few dead voters on the lists. Over 95% of those over 50 were registered, and over 85% of those over 30. However, with voters aged 20 to 29, registration was only 54.5% in November 2013 and seems to be roughly at 60.6%, significantly lower than all other age groups.

If the results per party are calculated on the basis of VAP, the image we get of the past 20 years becomes completely different. 1994 is the ANC’s highest ebb, both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote (% of VAP) – they won about 12.2 million votes or 53% of the eligible voting population (62.7% of valid votes). Since then, the ANC’s share of the vote has declined in every successive election - 41.7% in 1999, 38.9% in 2004, 38.6% in 2009 and 36.7% in 2014. Their raw vote has decreased in all but one election – 10.6 million in 1999, 10.88 million in 2004, 11.65 million in 2009 and 11.43 million in 2014. When we look at the ‘actual’ results as reported in relation to valid votes, the ANC’s vote share increased in the 1999 (66.4%) and 2004 (69.7%) elections, declining since 2009 (65.9%) to their lowest percentage this year (62.2%). Therefore, although the VAP increased from 23 million in 1994 to 31.4 million in 2014, a 36.3% increase; the ANC’s vote has decreased by 6.5% since 1994. The ANC has not had the support of a ‘majority of voters’ in the last four elections.

The main opposition party’s support has declined from 17.3% of the VAP (NP in 1994) to 13% of the VAP (DA in 2014), although the DA’s result in 2014 – the best result for any opposition party since 1994 – is higher both in terms of percentage and in raw vote to that of the NP in 1994, which held the ‘record’ for strongest opposition performance. The DA won 4.09 million votes in 2014.

Of course, this isn’t to say that if every non-voter (unregistered or registered) did vote, he/she would vote for an opposition party. Furthermore, non-registration and non-voting may not necessarily mean dissatisfaction or disinterest with the political system, it could be ‘positive apathy’ – passive satisfaction for the status-quo; but given the state of South Africa, it is far more likely that those who don’t register to vote are doing so because of dissatisfaction. The point is that, contrary to perceptions, the ANC has suffered a real decline in popularity since 1994 – although it has largely benefited apathy and abstention rather than the opposition parties. It is quite telling that the vast majority of ‘born free’ voters did not vote and a large majority did not even register to vote. A growing share of the adult, especially young adult, population has become alienated from the political system. Young voters – those with the highest levels of apathy towards democracy in South Africa – suffer the brunt of unemployment in South Africa. It is with the ‘born free’ generation, which could vote but largely didn’t in 2014, that the ANC has the least ‘struggle credibility/legacy’ and who have no direct personal memory of apartheid. Of course, youth apathy is far from being uniquely South African, but the phenomenon appears to be particularly pronounced in South Africa. For these voters, especially poor, young blacks, no party holds any appeal, all politicians are corrupt and there is no point in voting.

Unsurprisingly, few – if any – politicians have noted this problem, a worrying trend for a young democracy. Instead, after every election, the ANC engages in the usual self-congratulation and claims that it represents the will of ‘the people’. The EFF admittedly did explicitly target non-registered young voters, but it appears that even Malema’s youthful radicalism and anti-system rhetoric didn’t do much for them.

The ANC comes out of this election with 62.15%, its lowest result  - even as a percentage of valid votes – in any post-apartheid election. Zuma has the dubious honour of being the ANC leader who has seen the ANC’s support fall in three successive elections – 2009, 2011 (locals) and 2014 – although given that the usual reaction to the results in those past three elections has been ‘the ANC did well for itself considering it could have done far worse’, there’s been no introspection (publicly) from the ANC.

The DA is strengthened with 22.3% and 90 seats, the highest result – in terms of raw votes, percentage of valid votes and seat total – for any single opposition party since the fall of apartheid. It beat the previous record, held by the NP in 1994. This is the culmination of the consolidation of bipolar system, with a dominant ANC (but increasingly less so) and a main opposition party coalescing most of the anti-ANC support at the expense of smaller opposition parties. For the DA, it is also the result of a consolidation of the vast majority of the non-black, minority vote around it – the DA commands the support not only of an overwhelming majority of whites, but also the large majority of Coloureds and Indians. The merger of Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats (IDs), whose best results came from Coloured regions in the Cape region in 2004 and 2009, has allowed the DA to further consolidate its hold on the Coloured vote. The DA has also made small but significant gains with black voters. In 2009, the DA is reported to have taken only 0.8% of the black vote in the country, an observation borne out by actual analysis of the results at a micro level. This year, the DA has reported that it won 6% of the black vote, like in 2011. According to the DA, 20% of its electorate is black (making it the most ‘racially diverse’ electorate).

The DA successfully held and expanded its majority in the Western Cape, the opposition’s main base since 1994. It has made significant inroads in Gauteng, South Africa’s major economic centre and most populous province. The DA faces, as will be discussed in the conclusion, the challenge of expanding its base to blacks. It has made strong gains with black voters since 2009, but obviously it will never win a national election if it wins in the whereabouts of 6% with black voters. Increasingly, if the DA fails to increase its black support, it will be hitting a ceiling.

The major loser of these elections is undoubtedly the IFP, the old Zulu nationalist party. The IFP won 2.4% of the vote, down from an all-time low of 4.6% in 2009. In KZN, the IFP’s stronghold, it was a bloodbath and embarrassment for the IFP: on the national ballot, the IFP won 10.2% of the vote against 65.3% for the ANC and 13.4% for the DA; on the provincial ballot, the IFP fell into third place, winning 10.9% against 12.8% for the DA and 64.5% for the ANC. The DA becomes the official opposition party in KZN’s provincial legislature, marking the first time that the IFP is neither in government or in the official opposition in the province. In 2009, when the IFP had suffered a brutal loss of 14.4% in its KZN stronghold from the 2004 election, the IFP had won 20.5% (and 22.4% on the provincial ballot). Since 2007, the IFP has been crippled by two major factors. Firstly, under Jacob Zuma, the ANC is no longer ‘Xhosa Nostra’ but rather a Zulu-led party in which KZN and the Zulus have gained significant power thanks to Zuma. Under Zuma, the ANC government has also promoted conservative values – with Zuma emphasizing his Zulu tribal roots on repeated occasions and the government favouring the rights of traditional leaders (notably when it comes to land issues). As a result of the ANC’s new direction under Zuma, the traditional Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelethini, a traditionally ally of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the IFP, has gotten along quite well with the ANC, causing major strains with the IFP. Secondly, the IFP has been hurt by the creation of the NFP, led by former IFP chairwoman (and 2009 KZN Premier candidate) Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. The NFP won 6.4% in the national election in KZN this year, and 7.3% in the provincial ballot, coming in behind the IFP and its 2011 local election result (10.2%). The NFP is estimated to have taken about half of the IFP vote, notably in the old IFP heartlands of the old KwaZulu homeland.

The IFP’s support has been on a constant downwards trend since 1994 – in provincial elections in KZN, the IFP’s support has declined from 50.3% (1994) to 41.9% (1999), falling behind the ANC in 2004 (36.8%) and seeing the bottom fall out in 2009 (22.4%) as the ANC’s vote in the province jumped nearly 16% (the only province where the ANC’s support increased in 2009, providing a huge cushion for other – often substantial loses – for the ANC outside KZN in 2009). The IFP’s recent troubles owe a lot to Zuma’s leadership of the ANC, but the decline predates the Zuma ANC. It is due to the improvement of the security situation in KZN since 1994, from quasi-war zone in 1994 where several IFP heartlands were totally off-limits to the ANC (resulting in 90%+ support for the IFP), to a politically violent and turbulent (partisan killings and assassinations, between the IFP, ANC and now NFP, remain common in KZN) but generally safer province. The IFP has also lost much of its raison-d’etre since 1994.

Another major loser, of course, was COPE – which was annihilated, collapsing to only 0.7% and 3 seats (it had won 30 in 2009…). That result owes a lot to the fact that COPE spent the good part of the last five years fighting amongst itself. As the geographic analysis will show, COPE’s collapse benefited both the ANC and the DA. In any case, COPE has entered South African political lingo to refer to ephemeral flash-in-the-pan parties – there are already people asking if EFF will ‘be another COPE’. For anybody wondering, COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota did indeed eat his hat:

The UDM and VF+ were the only existing small parties to see their support increase. The UDM increased its support from the last election for the first time, its support having declined in every election since its first election in 1999, although with 1% of the vote, it is only a marginal gain of 0.2%. The VF+, whose supports has fallen since 2004, remained stable with a very small gain, reaching 0.9% of the vote.

All other existing minor parties suffered loses, further confirmation of the two-party polarization around the ANC and the DA at the top. The two parties which lost their leaders to death or expulsion since 2009 – the MF and the UCDP – both collapsed and lost their seats. Neither party filled any purpose, and the removal of their leaders has killed them off. In Durban, the MF won 2.4% in the provincial elections, down from 4.8% and 6.4% in 2009 and 2004 respectively. The MF’s vote has largely flowed to the DA. In the process, the MF, UCPD and AZAPO fell behind Al Jama-ah, an Islamist party which has fairly substantial support in Muslim Coloured and Asian precincts in the WC and Gauteng.

The ACDP and the PAC saw their support decline as well. The South African left, EFF excluded, performed dismally.

One remarkable failure was that of Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang, which got a lot of people excited at the time (again, mostly because of a weird infatuation with that kind of outfit) but which ended up as a dud. The aborted DA-Agang deal looked extremely bad on Ramphele, who had never consulted on her own party and acted totally unilaterally in a deal which she scuttled herself within days (if not hours). After the botched deal, and Agang’s decision to run alone with Ramphele at its head, the media largely ignored the party and it received very little attention. But Agang’s trouble predated the DA-Agang deal of doom; before the deal, Agang’s finances were already down the drain, the party was allegedly in tatters and its membership was low. Agang entered politics with grand principles and visions, but it failed to target a specific niche clientele – the mystical ‘black middle-class’ which everybody talks about, the voter who doesn’t like the ANC but can’t bring him/herself to vote DA. Its vague platitudes and principles appealed to few voters.

One interesting result came from the African Independent Congress (AIC), which ran in the national elections for the first time (it had ran provincially in the EC in 2009, winning 0.8% and 1 seat). Out of nowhere, surprising everybody, the small party won 0.5% of the vote and 3 seats. The AIC is a small rural, local and conservative party whose pet cause seems to be opposition to the inclusion of Matatiele Local Municipality in the EC rather than KZN, but from its website’s charming introduction, it has recycled itself into gathering signatures to call a referendum opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage (which happened in 2006, so they aren’t up with the times). The AIC won about 13% and 7 seats in the last local elections in Matatiele LM in 2011, and it remains the party’s base. However, its random success nationally did not owe to that – the AIC won only 0.78% in the EC, which is what it won in 2009, and only 3.8% in Matatiele LM. The reason for its success seems to be a perfect storm of ‘coincidences’ – the party was placed right above the ANC on the ballot, it has a very similar name to the ANC and its logo (printed on the ballot) is also green, yellow/gold and black. The ANC and most people believe that people voted AIC by mistake, thinking that they were voting ANC. The AIC naturally denies that possibility, but is at a loss when it comes to explaining how a regional party which nobody knows about managed to get a relatively homogeneous vote distribution across South Africa.

Geographical analysis

Results by Local Municipality in South Africa (source:

Voting patterns in South Africa remain predominantly determined by race. It is hardly surprising. As I explained in this post on race, ethnicity and language in South Africa, race remains a central concept in South African society – residential segregation, although less extreme than under apartheid, remains a reality; class is racialized, with the black majority being significantly poorer than the whites but also Coloureds and Indians, and with relatively little improvements in their share of the national income since 1994; poverty remains similarly conditioned by race in large part, with the overwhelming majority of the poor – and everything which poverty entails – being black, with only a tiny minority of ‘poor whites’ (despite so much ink being wasted on that pet topic of some commentators…); economic control and land ownership remains unequally distributed in favour of the white minority and racial issues remain at the heart of political debate. The ANC retains the support of a vast majority of the black majority – in this election, despite sharp loses in some regions to the EFF and the DA, I would wager that the ANC still won well over 80% of the black vote. The ANC commits only limited efforts to appealing to non-black voters (largely because it has no need to and it is often futile), and when it does talk directly to, say, white voters, it is more to reassure them that nothing bad will happen rather than to convince them to vote for the ANC. Nevertheless, the ANC does retain a small but significant minority of Coloured and Indian support; in the case of the Coloured vote, the ANC must pull a significant amount in rural and homogeneously Coloured regions of the remote Northern Cape.

The vast majority of whites, Coloureds and Indians now support the DA – especially as the VF+ has been severely weakened from its heyday in 1994, and the niche parties for Coloureds (the ID, which didn’t present itself as such but effectively had a heavily Coloured electorate) and Indians (the MF) have kicked the bucket (or, with the ID, merged with the DA). The Coloured vote is an interesting question, which has raised a lot of questions (but little academic analysis of much worth, sadly) and may often appear contradictory to outsiders. In the 1994 election, a majority of Coloureds, especially those in Cape Town and the Western Cape, voted for the NP over the ANC. It is surprising and may appear very contradictory, given that it was the same party which, in the 1950s, had fought a long and extremely contentious fight to remove Coloured voters (a minority who had the franchise) from the voter rolls in the Cape Province.

The Coloured identity is a complicated and ambiguous concept. Traditionally described as a ‘mixed-race’ group, most Coloureds have Khoisan ancestry – related to the lighter-skinned San and Khoi people which inhabited the present-day Cape region when Dutch settlers landed at the Cape – but early intermarriage with Dutch settlers, the assimilation of a section of the colonial black society in the Cape and the importation, by the Dutch, of slaves from the Dutch East Indies created a highly diverse population, with an ambiguous and complicated identity. The vast majority of Coloureds ‘integrated’ European society, adopting a Christian faith (except for the Cape Malays, who remain Muslim) and mostly speaking Afrikaans as their first language (a significant minority speaks English). Until apartheid, because many Coloureds and ‘poor whites’ lived interspersed, which blurred racial lines and allowed many Coloureds to ‘pass for white’ to escape discrimination. Under apartheid, Coloureds were described ‘negatively’ – in opposition to blacks and whites, as people who were neither white nor black; at an individual level, this allowed for significant confusion. Coloured identity has usually been associated with negative connotations – both whites and blacks have sometimes seen them as a ‘leftover’ group lacking a nation; during apartheid, whites associated Colouredness with racial intermarriage and hybridity, and Afrikaner nationalists were embarrassed by the reminder of their past ‘promiscuity’ and ‘moral lapses’ which had created a race of ‘half-breeds’ which was extremely negatively perceived by the racist regime. Some blacks have equally looked down on the Coloureds, given rise to the post-apartheid idea that Coloureds were ‘not white enough’ under apartheid but ‘not black enough’ since 1994.

Given this history, Coloureds’ political demands have oscillated between efforts for assimilation into white society, inspired by Cape liberalism; others took more radical stances, the Black Consciousness Movement had some appeal to Coloureds in the 1970s. Under apartheid, Coloureds, while facing severe discrimination, enjoyed an intermediate status in apartheid society – above the blacks in the racist hierarchy – and in the Coloured Labour Preference Area (CLPA), a region encompassing all of the WC, most of the NC and a section of the EC, Coloureds enjoyed employment preference over blacks and the NP regime strictly enforced influx control in the CLPA to expel ‘illegal’ black migrants to the ‘homelands’.

In 1994, a majority of the Coloured vote went to the NP, allowing the NP to win an absolute majority in the WC. The ANC’s defeat in the WC in 1994 was a major blow to the party, which had seriously expected to win, counting on the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, which had enjoyed strong support in Coloured communities in Cape Town. However, the NP managed to win Coloured voters mixing old and new rhetoric. The NP’s FW de Klerk was very popular with Coloured voters (the NP downplayed Hernus Kriel, the verkrampte minister who would become NP Premier of the province), and the ‘new’ NP asked for forgiveness while focusing on minority rights and emphasizing the shared Christian and Afrikaans heritage of the Coloured people. But the NP also ran a thinly veiled and often crass racially divisive, if not racist, campaign, playing on voters’ fears that an ANC government and the ‘black hordes’ – migrants from the Eastern Cape, which had begun flowing into Cape Town after the CLPA was dismantled – would take their homes and jobs, and lead to chaos and destruction. Ironically, as the NP lost the white vote to the DP/DP with the DP’s slaan terug campaign in 1999, the party’s electorate became even more Coloured. In 2004, the NNP’s last election before it folded into the ANC, the NNP’s best results came from Coloured voters – for example, the NNP won about 30% of the vote in the poor Coloured township of Atlantis in Cape Town, but only 10-14% in the predominantly white Afrikaner suburb of Bellville.

The DA reported that it won 6% of the black vote, or about 760,000 votes, contributing 20% of the DA’s vote. This is equal to the DA’s share of the black vote which it reported in 2011, but up from less than 1% in 2009. Ipsos’ profile of the supporters of each party, right before the election, confirmed that blacks made up 20% of the DA’s electorate against 27% for Coloureds, 3% for Indians and 50% for whites. 50% of the DA’s supporters, Ipsos reported, speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue and 32% speak English. In contrast, 96% of ANC supporters and 99% of EFF supporters were black.

Unsurprisingly, Ipsos’ data found that DA voters are far wealthier, far more likely to have a full-time job and older than the broader South African electorate.

Ipsos’ profile also portrayed the EFF electorate: it is a disproportionately male (67%), young (49% are 24 and under) and quasi-homogeneously black (99%) electorate. 45% of the EFF’s electorate is unemployed, and another 20% are students. The results of the election showed that the EFF was the second largest party behind the ANC with black voters, likely ahead of the DA nationally. But the EFF’s appeal was unequal: in some townships, the EFF won in the double-digits and even broke 20% in some areas, reducing the ANC’s sky high levels of support rather significantly in some places. In other townships, for example in the Western Cape or KZN, the EFF, while generally a distant second to the ANC, remained in the single-digits with support at or barely above its national average. In a lot of black rural areas, for example in the densely populated former homelands of the Transkei and Ciskei in the EC, the EFF failed to break through. The EFF generally did best wih Sepedi and Setswana-speakers, while doing quite poorly with isiZulu and isiXhosa-speakers.

The DA also reported that it grew its support with minority communities – from 83.9% to 92.8% of the white vote, from 55.5% to 67.7% of the Coloured vote and from 53.7% to 61% of the Indian vote.

In this election, the ANC suffered major losses in some of South Africa’s largest cities (Metropolitan Municipalities) in Gauteng. Its support fell from 63.3% to 53.6% in Johannesburg, from about 61% to 51% in Tshwane (Pretoria) and from 67.5% to 56.4% in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, EC), the ANC won 49.2% compared to 50.1% in 2009. The ANC’s sharp losses in some MMs may spell trouble for the party ahead of the 2016 local elections, in which the DA has a very good chance to gain Nelson Mandela Bay MM and may fancy its chances in both Johannesburg and Pretoria.

You can explore national and provincial results from 2014 and 2009 at all levels, down to the voting district (precinct) level, on this fabulous map. A handy racial, linguistic and income dot map to a micro level is a useful companion.

Provincial election results

EC 70.09% (45) 16.2% (10) 3.48% (2) 0.06% 0.16% 6.16% (4) 0.31% 1.2% (1) 0.33% 0.77% (1)
FS 69.85% (22) 16.23% (5) 8.15% (2) 0.11% 0.11% 0.21% 2.1% (1) 1.63% 0.51%
GP 53.59% (40) 30.78% (23) 10.3% (8) 0.78% (1) 0.47% 0.44% 1.2% (1) 0.49% 0.62% 0.07%
KZN 64.52% (52) 12.76% (10) 1.85% (2) 10.86% (9) 7.31% (6) 0.17% 0.2% 0.16% 0.44% 1.02% (1)
LP 78.6% (39) 6.48% (3) 10.74% (6) 0.08% 0.04% 0.27% 0.69% 0.86% (1) 0.48%
MP 78.23% (24) 10.4% (3) 6.26% (2) 0.26% 0.75% 0.13% 0.82% 0.32% 0.4% 1.15% (1)
NW 67.39% (23)
12.73% (4) 13.21% (5)
0.14% 0.15% 0.88% 1.72% (1) 0.8% 0.53%
NC 64.4% (20) 23.89% (7) 4.96% (2) 0.06% 0.03% 0.09% 1.09% 3.6% (1) 0.57%
WC 32.89% (14) 59.38% (26) 2.11% (1) 0.05% 0.04% 0.48% 0.55% 0.59% 1.02% (1) 0.31%


Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province – home to the sprawling metropolises of Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Rand area – and economic powerhouse, was one of the most closely disputed provinces. Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s new black hopeful, ran a strong DA campaign to topple the ANC provincial government – the ANC has governed Gauteng since 1994.

Results by precinct (VD) in Johannesburg and the East Rand (source:

The ANC suffered its steepest losses in Gauteng, falling from 64.8% to 54.9% on the national ballot and from 64% to 53.6% in the provincial election. In 1994, the ANC’s previous low in the province, it had won 57.6%. The DA and the EFF both cashed in on the ANC’s bad performance – on the national ballot, the DA won 28.5% (up from 21.3% in 2009 and compared to 23.9% for the NP in 1994, although in 1994 the NP+VF+DP vote stood at over 35%) and the EFF won 10.3%. In the provincial election, likely boosted by ballot splitting in favour of Maimane, the DA won 30.8%. It likely was a major beneficiary of the COPE’s 2009 votes – the party had won 7.8% in the province at the time.

But the ANC’s fairly spectacular fall in Gauteng – which spells trouble for the ANC in 2016 and 2019 – isn’t only the result of the COPE vote likely shifting to the DA, the DA consolidating the non-black vote and winning some black support. The ANC in Gauteng, as explained above, has been wracked by internal tensions and divisions for a number of years, and the provincial party endorsed Motlanthe over Zuma at Mangaung in 2012. The province has been led by independent mavericks for quite some time – first Tokyo Sexwale (Premier from 1994 to 1998), who had/has presidential ambitions; then Mbhazima Shilowa (Premier from 1999 to 2008), who defected to COPE; then Paul Mashatile (Premier from 2008 to 2009), who was unaligned with either Zuma or Mbeki and became an anti-Zuma leader. Mashatile was not retained as Premier by the ANC NEC, which preferred to pick the pro-Zuma Nomvula Mokonyane, but he kept the provincial leadership (defeating Mokonyane in 2010) and a bitter rivalry between the ‘two centres of power’ crippled her administration and led to infighting in the ANC.

Gauteng has long been a magnet for migrant workers, ever since the early days of industrial South Africa, and now attracts a large number of black immigrants from poorer countries in Africa. This has created real challenges for service delivery and employment in the province, which, despite being – with the WC – one of South Africa’s wealthiest provinces, has a high unemployment rate at 30% (expanded). High criminality, joblessness and service delivery failures by incompetent or overburdened governments in Gauteng have led to explosive social tensions, in the form of bloody xenophobic riots and often-violent service delivery protests.

Discontent was locally exacerbated by the ANC’s unpopular e-tolls – the installation of gantries on Gauteng highways to act as an electronically-operated toll road. The e-tolls were more or less unilaterally imposed by the ANC without prior consultation, ostensibly to pay for highway renovation. They faced the opposition of the opposition parties, part of the business community, most motorists and COSATU. The DA’s provincial campaign promised to organize a referendum on e-tolls if it had won.

Voting remain polarized along racial lines to a large extent, but it was not a ‘racial census’ election. The biggest shifts happened in black areas. In Soweto, the ANC had won (on average) over 85% of the vote throughout the large township’s wards in 2009, with the main challenge coming from COPE and, in some voting districts (VDs) from the IFP. The DA won only 1% or so of the vote. This year, the ANC remained dominant, but saw a significant loss of support – down to mid-to-high 70s (a guesstimate from ward results), with no wards registering over 90% of the vote but a fairly substantial number of VDs with the ANC falling below 70%. The EFF and the DA were the beneficiaries of the ANC’s losses, with the EFF generally coming in second behind the ANC with about 10-12% on average and the DA placing third with 4-8% of the vote. The IFP, which won 0.8% in the provincial election – down 0.7% from 2009, but still saving its one seat in the provincial legislature, won a few VDs in Soweto, all of them hostels (for male migrant workers from KZN, the IFP’s traditional base in the PWV). The ANC, however, won its best results in the heavily Zulu neighborhoods of Soweto – in Zola, which is 77% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC won about 84%.

In other townships in Gauteng, the ANC suffered substantial losses as well. In Alexandra, a much poorer township in Joburg, the ANC’s support fell from the 85% range to about 68-72% of the vote. The EFF won about 15-20% support in Alexandra, and even won 40% in a small VD covering a large informal settlement outside the township. In Diepsloot, another poor Joburg (north) township with large informal settlements, the ANC fell from over 85% of the vote in 2009 to 70%, with the EFF winning about 22% of the vote. In two VDs covering a plurality-Sepedi (the main language in Limpopo and Malema’s native tongue) informal settlement, the EFF won about 30%.

Results by precinct (VD) in Tshwane (Pretoria) (source:

The EFF also had very strong support in wealthier black areas – take, for example, the more middle-class parts of Cosmo City, a new 97% black suburb (mostly RDP housing, but with some wealthier areas), the EFF took over 20% and the ANC won only 56-60% of the vote (the DA, with support over 10%, also did well – and Agang got over 1%!). The ANC’s support remained over 70% in the poorer half of Cosmo City.
In some of the new affluent suburbs and gated communities in Midrand – areas such as Noordwyk (which is 62% black) and Vorna Valley (53% black) – the ANC won about 45%, while the DA won about 25% and the EFF did well with roughly 15% or so. These areas are quite racially mixed, with significant Asian and white populations, so the DA vote likely came from minorities but it is certain that the DA won a significant percentage of the black vote.

The DA likely won a significant (double digit) percentage of the black vote in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs; these places are seen as lily white affluent suburbs, as they were under apartheid, but there is a significant black minority. For example, Randburg and Sandton are both around 35% black. The ANC vote in the northern suburbs was lower – significantly so – than the black percentage. Take, for example, the very affluent leafy suburb of Northcliff, which is 22.8% black. The ANC vote was only 10-12%, with the DA winning in the high 70s. In Dainfern, a new affluent suburban subdivision in the northern suburbs of Joburg which is 25% black, the ANC won 17% to the DA’s 75.8%.

The EFF did particularly well in Tembisa, a large 98% black township in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In the northern half of the township, which is both heavily Sepedi and is largely made up of informal settlements or makeshift houses, the EFF won well over 35% and broke over 40% in some VDs, coming within a handful of votes of the ANC, whose support totally collapsed from over 90% in 2009 to the low 50s. The ANC retained stronger support – in the high 60s to low 70s (down from about 90% in 2009) – in other parts of Tembisa, where the Sepedi language is less predominant. The EFF still did very well, polling over 20% in most wards in Tembisa.

The ANC’s strongest results in Gauteng generally came from predominantly Zulu townships – in Tsakane and Langaville (Ekurhuleni), the ANC won over 80% of the vote was below 10% in most wards. In the large township of Kathelong, which is 37% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC remained in the high 70s-low 80s. The ruling party remained well over 80% in Evaton and Sebokeng.

In the city of Tshwane (Pretoria), the EFF raked in strong support in some townships – in Atteridgeville and Saulsville, both of which are plurality Sepedi-speaking, the EFF won over 20% in all but one ward; the EFF also did quite well in some peripheral townships (Ga-Rankuwa, which is Tswana) and some parts of Mamelodi, winning over 30% in some of the VDs covering the shantytowns.

Racial polarization remained, of course, the order of the day in Gauteng like in every other province. The DA won one local municipality in Gauteng – Midvaal, which is 58.4% black and 38.7% white, and which is also the only municipality in the province to have a DA mayor. In the municipality, the DA won nearly 90% of the vote in the white suburb of Meyerton. In Joburg, Pretoria, the East Rand and the rest of Gauteng, the DA swept the predominantly white and affluent suburbs – Centurion, Waterkloof, Sandton, Randburg, Roodepoort, Benoni, Boksburg, Alberton, Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark (the significant non-white populations in these formerly exclusive suburbs makes it difficult to estimate what percentage of the white vote the DA received, but the DA generally won 70-85% of the vote in majority-white wards). The VF+ retained a small but not insignificant base of support in Pretoria, winning 2.5% in the metro – taking up to 10% in some lower middle-class white Afrikaner suburbs in northern Pretoria and roughly 4-6% in Centurion, a wealthier Afrikaner suburban town. The DA consolidated its vote in Coloured neighborhoods – for example, in Eldorado Park (85% Coloured) in Joburg, the DA won over 80% of the vote, up from about 55% in 2009 (the IDs had performed well). The ANC retained stronger support with Indian voters, but the DA won the Indian/Asian precincts in Joburg and Pretoria. In Joburg’s Ward 9, a plurality Asian ward covering part of the old Indian township of Lenasia, the DA won 47.5% to the ANC’s 34.3% – with Al Jama-ah, the Islamist party, taking 7.8%.


Results by precinct (VD) in the Durban-Pietermaritzburg area (source:

Formerly one of the provinces where the ANC struggled, KZN is establishing itself as one of the ANC’s main bases in South Africa – not only in terms of the growing influence held by KZN in internal politics in the ANC, but also the contribution of KZN to the ANC’s nationwide support. The ANC won 65.3% of the national vote, with the DA beating the IFP for second place with 13.4% against 10.2%. The NFP received 6.4% of the vote and the EFF failed to breakthrough in KZN, winning only 2%. In the provincial election, the ANC won 64.5% against 12.8% for the DA, 10.9% for the IFP, 7.3% for the NFP, 1.9% for the EFF and 1% for the MF. The ANC’s support is marginally higher than in 2009, when the party had won 64% of the vote on the national ballot in KZN and 63% in the provincial election. The DA also increased its support, from 10% in 2009. In contrast, the IFP’s vote collapsed by 11.5% in the provincial election – although, unlike in 2009, the IFP bled heavily to the new ‘dissident’ NFP. The Minority Front retained a single seat in the provincial legislature, despite losing about half of its support since the last election.

In eThekwini (Durban) metro, the ANC won 65.4% (national vote), down from about 67.7% in 2009. The DA placed second with 23%, with the IFP taking only 3.2% in the province’s largest metro. The MF won 2.4% in the provincial election in Durban metro, down from 4.8% in the last election. The results by ward and VD indicate that the MF’s support in Durban’s Indian suburbs – Chatsworth, Queensburgh and Phoenix – shifted heavily to the DA. In two heavily Indian wards of Chatsworth – wards 70 and 72 (over 90% Indian) – the DA won 74.5% and 76.1% respectively (on the national ballot), against 6.6% and 10.4% for the MF. In the provincial race, the DA won 66.7% and 64.3% respectively, with the MF – which had topped the poll in Chatsworth in the 2009 provincial election – taking 15.6% and 23.6%. In Phoenix, the patterns were similar, with the DA taking 74% of the vote across the two most heavily Indian wards in the national election, and about 65% in the provincial poll. The MF won between 15 to 25% in the provincial election in Phoenix. The ANC received very weak support; hurt by the comments of Indian ANC leader Visvin Reddy who opined that Indians who complained about the ANC should go back to India. Obviously, the DA won the white vote in Durban by huge margins, winning 84.6% in Ward 10, a 78% white which includes the affluent white suburb of Kloof. The DA won over 90% in some VDs in the affluent white suburbs of Kloof, Forest Hills and Hillcrest and won over 85% in the coastal towns of Durban North and Umhlanga.

The ANC won between 85% and 90% of the vote in the densely populated black (Zulu, naturally) townships of Umlazi, Clermont, Inanda and KwaMashu. The ANC narrowly won Ward 39, an often violent area of KwaMashu disputed between the ANC, IFP and NFP. The ANC won 44.2% against 39% for the IFP. In Durban, the IFP’s support is very marginal in most townships, but retains a few isolated outposts of support in hostels for migrant rural workers.

The IFP’s support in KZN is down to the party’s traditional areas of strength – certain rural areas, formerly part of the KwaZulu homeland, where support for Zulu traditionalism as expressed by the IFP remains high. The IFP won Ulundi, the former capital of KwaZulu and a longtime IFP bastion, with 54.1% against 25.5% for the NFP and 17.4% for the ANC. In 2009, the IFP had won 83.6% in Ulundi and it had taken 92.5% there in 2004. The IFP, however, was defeated in Nongoma, the traditional seat of the Zulu monarchy where the IFP had received 81.6% in 2009. The NFP won 38.8% against 30.2% for the IFP; the NFP had already defeated the IFP in Nongoma in the 2011 local elections. The NFP also won Edumbe, an old IFP stronghold on the border with Mpumalanga, winning 44.5% to the ANC’s 39.9%. The ANC, historically a non-factor in the traditionalist heartland, made significant gains in rural KZN in 2009 – evidenced by Jacob Zuma’s native Nkandla, where the ANC surged from 7.9% in 2004 to 51.7% in 2009 and increased its support to 53.9% this year (the IFP won 37.9%). In a lot of municipalities where, 10 years ago, the IFP dominated with large margins, the ANC now wins between 40% and 55% of the vote.

The ANC performed best in the south of the province, in heavily black and poor rural areas which used to be outside of the KwaZulu homeland, or in non-Zulu black areas – in Umzimkhulu, a former exclave of the Xhosa homeland of Transkei, the ANC won 91% of the vote.

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is another ANC citadel, in which the ANC received 70.8% of the vote this year, up from 69.7% in 2009. The DA won 15.9%, up from about 10% of the vote in 2009, while Bantu Holomisa’s UDM placed third with 5.3% (and 6.2% in the provincial election) – up from 4% in 2009. COPE, which had placed second and formed the official opposition to the ANC in 2009, collapsed from 13.3% to only 1.2%. The ANC, UDM and the DA all appear to have benefited from COPE’s collapse.

Results by precinct (VD) in Nelson Mandela Bay MM (Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage) (source:

The ANC draws a very large number of votes from the densely populated rural areas which made up the former Xhosa homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei during apartheid, in the east of the province. Both of these regions remain very heavily populated – just look at the population density map, and notice how easy it is to spot the former limits of these two homelands (and practically all other homelands in the country) by the high density; they are also rural and poor communities, with very high levels of poverty, joblessness and very incomplete access to basic household necessities and amenities (electricity, water etc). In the EC, about 61% of the population live in poverty – the second highest in the country – and unemployment stands at 44% – the highest in the country – under the expanded definition.

In the Transkei, the ANC faces very localized competition from the UDM, but Holomisa’s support is heavily concentrated in King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality – that is to say, the former Transkeian capital of Mthatha and surrounding rural areas and communities. The UDM won 29.5% in the municipality, against 24% in 2009; the ANC received 59.6%, while the DA increased its support from less than 1% to 4.5%. The UDM won, as in 2009, a handful of wards to the south of Mqanduli (Holomisa’s birthplace) and closer to the coast. Although the UDM placed a very distant second to the ANC in a lot of municipalities and wards in the Transkei, the ANC won over 80% – oftentimes over 85%, if not even 90% – in the former homeland. The DA did manage to increase its support from total irrelevance (less than 1%, if not less than 0.5%) in 2009 to the brink of relevancy, with some results over 3-4% in certain municipalities; needless to say, if the DA is actually serious about winning the EC in the future (as it sometimes seems to say), it will need much stronger support. Similarly, in the old Ciskei, the ANC won between 80% and 93% of the vote in almost every single ward in the borders of the former homeland. The EFF generally placed a distant second to the ANC, although it won very weak support in general (3-5%).

The ANC narrowly won Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage) metro, with 49.2% to the DA’s 40.2% in the national election. The ANC vote fell below 50%, while the DA’s support increased significantly, up from 28.2% in 2009. The DA was likely the beneficiary of most COPE votes from 2009; that party had taken third with 17% five years ago, but COPE collapsed to fourth place with only 1.8% in this election. In a racially polarized contest, the ANC won about 75-85% of the vote in the metro area’s main townships (iBhayi, KwaNobhule, Gqebera, Motherwell), with the EFF taking a distant second with support in the high single digits. COPE had performed well in the townships and even better in some new, slightly ‘middle-class’ black areas; their collapse did increase the ANC’s support somewhat.

The DA held the white vote and consolidated its hold on the Coloured vote, to a point where Coloured areas are nearly electorally indistinguishable from white areas – proving, again, that race definitely trumps income or class as a voting determinant. The DA won over 90% or came close to it in a lot of VDs in the white southern suburbs, but it also took roughly 85% of the vote in Coloured areas in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage. Back in 2009, while the DA had captured roughly the same proportion of the vote in white areas such as Walmer and Despatch in 2009, the DA’s support in Coloured areas of the metro increased significantly – in 2009, the DA had received between 50% and 65% of the vote in most Coloured-dominated VDs, with strong support for COPE (in the double digits, sometimes over 20%) and the IDs, as well as slightly higher support for the ANC than this year.

The DA won a single local municipality in the EC – Kouga, which is 42.6% Coloured and 38.8% black, with a small white minority (17.6%). The main settlements are Humansdorp, which is heavily Coloured, and the coastal resort town of Jeffrey’s Bay with a mixed white, black and Coloured population. Overall, the DA won 49.9% to the ANC’s 44.2%; in further detail, the DA received just below 90% of the vote  in the affluent white areas of Jeffrey’s Bay (with the VF+ placing a distant second, with about 7-8%) and St. Francis Bay, while it won around 60% of the vote in predominantly Coloured areas – the ANC’s support in rural Coloured areas, outside major urban centres, is significantly higher.

Western Cape

The DA retained control of the Western Cape, the only province not held by the ANC and governed by the DA since 2009. In the national election, the DA won 57.3% against 34% for the ANC and 2.3% for the EFF (at 1.2%, it was also the ACDP’s best province). In the provincial election, the DA won 59.4% against 32.9% for the ANC and 2.1% for the EFF. In both cases, the DA and the ANC both increased their support from the last election, where the DA had won an absolute majority on its own in the provincial legislature with 51.5% of the vote (and 48.8% in the national election), while the ANC won only 31.6%. COPE had placed third with 9.1% on the national ballot in the 2009 election.

The Western Cape stands apart from the rest of South Africa because blacks, at 32.9% of the population, constitute only a minority of the province’s population, which is predominantly Coloured (48.8%) with a significant white minority (15.7%). The unique racial demographics are, you might have guessed, really not foreign to the reasons why the ANC has struggled in the province since 1994. The NP won the 1994 elections in the WC with a margin similar to the 2009 and 2014 margins, but the ANC, thanks to inroads with Coloured voters, won 42% of the vote in 1999 and 46% in 2004. The ANC has since been hurt by a loss of Coloured support, as well as intense and crippling divisions between warring factions in the provincial party (a struggle which does not seem to have been resolved since the days of Polokwane). In 2009, the DA consolidated its Coloured support, winning voters who had formerly voted for the NNP or IDs in 2004, while in the 2011 local elections and again in 2014, the disappearance of the IDs – which received 8% in 2004 and 4.5% in 2009 – allowed the DA to finalize consolidation of its Coloured support.

Results by precinct (VD) in Cape Town, Paarl and Stellenbosch (source:

The DA won 59.3% of the national vote in Cape Town, up from a bit over 50% in 2009, while the ANC’s support remained stable at 32.4%. Cape Town is very racially polarized city, often lacking the racial heterogeneity found in some of Gauteng’s suburbs. Once again, the results of the election painted this picture of a racially divided city: the ANC won a bit over 85% of the vote across the large townships of Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu and the huge informal settlement of Philippi, with the EFF placing a very distant second with about 6-8% and the DA performing poorly with only 1-2% of the vote and third/fourth place. These numbers are similar or slightly up from 2009, thanks to COPE’s elimination and a return of some of their voters to the ANC.

In stark contrast, the DA dominated the white and Coloured areas of the city, to the point where they are more or less electorally indistinguishable. The DA swept the large Coloured township of Mitchell’s Plain with over 85%, breaking 90% in some VDs. The DA won similar amount of the votes in other low-income Coloured townships and neighborhoods such as Elsie’s River, Belhar, Bontheuwel, Bridgetown, Delft (the non-black parts thereof; with a highly striking polarization), Kraaifontein; it received similar or slightly less in some more affluent Coloured neighborhoods in the Southern Suburbs. The main change from 2009 came from the consolidation of the non-ANC vote behind the DA, rather than an actual shift of Coloured voters from the ANC to the DA – the ANC had already polled poorly with Cape Town’s Coloured population in 2009.

Cape Town’s affluent white suburbs tend to be more racially homogeneous than Joburg’s northern suburbs, meaning that the DA vote is even higher. In the very affluent white Anglo Southern Suburbs, the DA won over 90% or came close to it, with Agang performing ‘well’ with about 1-2% of the vote. In the high-end small coastal and oceanview communities on the Cape, the DA won over 90%; it also swept the white upper middle-class suburbs in Durbanville, Bellville, Milnerton and Bloubergstrand.

Outside Cape Town, the patterns were fairly similar. In the white parts of the coastal communities such as Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the DA won roughly 90% of the vote. In cities such as Paarl, Stellenbosch, George, Malmesbury, Wellington and Worcester which exhibit a similar racial polarization between affluent white areas, very poor black townships/informal settlements and poor Coloured areas, the patterns were broadly similar – the DA won about 90% of the vote in the white areas, the ANC received a very similar amount in the black areas while the Coloured areas generally gave about 75-85% of the vote to the DA. However, in other towns and rural areas, the predominant Coloured vote split far more equally. In Beaufort West, a town in the Karoo, for example, the DA won only about 40% of the vote in the poorer Coloured neighborhoods (slightly better in the slightly wealthier parts) and ended up tied or behind the ANC.


Limpopo, a vast, very poor and highly geographically and linguistically diverse province in the north of the country, is 97% black and usually the ANC’s strongest province (along with Mpumalanga) in the country – with support since 1994 oscillating between 85% and 90%. With expanded unemployment at 39% and with 64% of the population living in poverty, Limpopo is the country’s poorest province.

This year, the ANC suffered substantial loses in the province – where the local ANC government has been at the heart of both controversy (the textbook debacle) and internal power struggles (the former Premier opposed Zuma and the ANC NEC dumped him and disbanded the provincial executive) – falling to 79% of the vote on the national ballot (and 78.6% in the provincial contest), down from about 85% in 2009. The EFF, whose leader was born and raised in Limpopo and retains a strong footing in the province, placed second with 10.3% of the vote. The DA nevertheless increased its support in the province, from a paltry 3.7% to 6.6%. COPE, which formed the official opposition to the ANC (with all of 7% in 2009…), collapsed to merely 0.8%.

The province of Limpopo is largely rural, with the black population still largely concentrated in densely populated rural and small-town areas corresponding to the former apartheid-era homelands: Lebowa (Sepedi/Northern Sotho), Venda and Gazankulu (Tsonga). Malema himself is a Northern Sotho, Sepedi-speaker from the Polokwane area, specifically the township of Seshego – the former capital of Lebowa. The EFF received about 20% of the vote in Seshego and surrounding areas, and the EFF won in the whereabouts of 15% of the vote in other Sepedi-speaking regions of Limpopo. Overall, the EFF won 16.3% in the municipality of Polokwane, its best result in the province. It brought the ANC’s vote down to about 75-85%. The EFF’s support was weaker in the Venda and Xitsonga-speaking regions of the province, where the ANC’s vote held up better, taking 85-90%.

The EFF also performed very well in Thabazimbi Local Municipality, taking 13.8% of the vote (the UDM won 6.2%), while the ANC’s support took a major hit – falling from 74.3% to only 57.2%. Located in the south of the province, a sparsely populated area outside the former homelands, the area includes a part of the restive platinum belt – and that’s where EFF (and the UDM) did best. In the platinum belt area, the EFF vote ranged between 15% and 20%, peaking at 43% in a hostel located adjacent to a mine while the UDM polled up to 35% in a mining area with Xhosa migrant workers.

The DA’s weak support in the province is largely limited to Afrikaner neighborhoods in the major urban centres and white farms outside the old homelands; the VF+ also has a small base in these rural Afrikaner areas, polling in the double-digits behind the DA in some white precincts. In the white precincts in the cities, the VF+ won about 6%.


Mpumalanga is similar to Limpopo – a heavily black (90.7%), very poor, vast, geographically and linguistically diverse province which has also been one of the ANC’s strongest provinces in the country. In 2009, the ANC had won 85.8% of the vote in the province, its best result in South Africa. That has generally been the range of support for the ANC since 1999. The province’s Premier, David Mabuza, is one of the powerful men in the national ANC – as a loyal ally of Zuma – and a strongman in his province, as a dispenser of patronage who takes his share on government tenders. This year, the ANC’s support fell below 80% for the first time, to 78.8% while the DA’s vote increased from 7.6% to 10%. The EFF won 6.2% of the vote, and a small residents’ association from the municipality of Bushbuckridge won 0.9% – and actually won a seat in the provincial legislature, thanks to their 1.2% on the provincial ballot.

The EFF did best in Emalahleni (9.2%), Thembisile (8.9%) and Dr. JS Moroka municipalities (10.1%), all of them bordering Gauteng and with a significant Sepedi-speaking population in parts. In the urban municipality of Emalahleni, for example, the EFF won over 25% in two precincts a large predominantly Sepedi informal settlement. The ANC won about 90% of the vote in the siSwati (Swazi)-speaking areas, formerly part of the KaNgwane (Swazi) homeland; and roughly 85% of the vote in the isiZulu-speaking areas, largely rural villages and townships scattered throughout the province close to small regional towns. The EFF largely failed to make much of an impact in either areas, winning only 3-4% of the vote.

The DA’s small base in the province remains in the white Afrikaner areas of the urban centres (Emalahleni, Middleburg, Nelspruit) and regional towns (Secunda, Ermelo, Standerton, White River, Lydenburg).

North West

The results in the North West proved highly interesting. With 67.8% of the vote, the ANC’s support fell by over 6% from the last election, while the DA and the EFF more or less tied for second – in the national election, the DA (12.6%, up nearly 4%) narrowly pipped the EFF (12.5%) for second, while in the provincial election, the EFF placed second with 13.2% against 12.6% for the DA. The ANC had fallen below 80% for the first time in the 2009 election (73.8%) and now it falls below 70% for the first time.

Survey of EFF and ANC voters in the platinum belt (source: Mail & Guardian, May 16 2014)

The ANC suffered some of its worst loses in the entire country in the municipality of Rustenburg, where the ANC’s support fell over 16.5% from 73.9% to 57.4%. The ANC’s support also fell by over 10% in neighboring Madibeng, where the ANC took 66.1%. Both of these municipalities form the core of South Africa’s restive platinum belt, the core of internationally-famous labour disputes and violence in the past years – Marikana, the site of the infamous massacre of 34 miners in 2012, is a mining town located in Rustenburg municipality. The EFF won 20.2% of the vote in Rustenburg, its best result in the country. It won 12.8% in Madibeng, 16.2% in Moses Katane (in a remote area outside the platinum belt) and 14.4% in Mafikeng. In Marikana itself, the EFF received about 28% of the vote and the UDM made a strong showing as well, coming in third with results up to 38%. In Ward 31, which covers most of Marikana, the ANC won 38.5% against 29.2% for the EFF and 25.2% for the UDM (as previously noted, Holomisa was popular with the Xhosa migrant workers in the region). The EFF won two wards, with over 50% of the vote, located near a mine; the party also won nearly 30% in other wards in the mining region of Rustenburg. In Wonderkop (Madibeng), a small mining community located next to Marikana, the EFF won 43% of the vote. Throughout the broader mining belt, the EFF’s result did not fall below 12.5% of the vote in any ward (except white ones in Rustenburg proper).

The M&G reported a survey of ANC and EFF voters in the platinum belt. According to the study, the EFF’s supporters were more likely to be male, Xhosa (hence migrant workers), not beneficiaries of social grants and participants in a community and/or workers’ protest. The ANC retained the votes of women, those who receive social grants and those who did not partake in protests. Gender, social grants and participation in a protest seem to be the key determinants in the ANC/EFF split.

Outside the platinum belt, the EFF also made an impact in Mafikeng – specifically in the sprawling townships and informal settlements which surround the city’s core – with results between 13% and high teens. The UCDP, previously a party with a significant presence in the province (even in 2009, it had won in the double digits in the settlements outside Mafikeng, in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana), collapsed to only 0.9% in the province – from a low of 3.9% in 2009 and a high of 7.5% in its first election in 1999. In Mafikeng, the UCDP won 2.7%, down 10.7% from the last election – some of its lost support flowed back to the ANC, allowing the ruling party to increase its support in Mafikeng municipality by 3.2% to 68.3%.

The DA made strong gains in Tlokwe (Potchefstroom), a municipality at the heart of a local political dispute in 2013 which saw the DA briefly take control of the local government when ANC defectors allowed the DA to unseat a corrupt ANC mayor but the ANC regained control in December 2013 after sweeping the seats held by the expelled ANC councillors in by-elections. The ANC’s vote in Tlokwe fell from 56.7% to 52.6% while the DA’s support increased from 24% to 31%. The DA made some gains in the white Afrikaner areas, thanks to a small erosion in the VF+ vote, which stood at over 15% in 2009; made major gains in a Coloured township (Promosa), where it won over 55% (up from 11%) and the ANC suffered some loses to the EFF in the black townships, where the ANC took a bit over 80% and the EFF took over 15% in some precincts.

Free State

The ANC’s support fell by 2.2%, down to 69.7%, in the Free State, falling below 70% for the first time ever. The DA gained about 4.1%, winning 16.2% while the EFF won 7.9%. COPE, the official opposition, lost 9.7% of its vote from 2009 and took only 1.4% in the province. With 1.9% of the vote, the Free State was the VF+’s best province. The province is a heartland for both the ANC and Afrikaner nationalism – the ANC was founded in the Free State in 1912, while the original founder of the NP, JBM Hertzog, hailed from the Orange Free State and the heavily Afrikaner (as far as whites concerned) was a conservative NP stronghold for decades after 1948. For the contemporary ANC, the Free State is the fiefdom of Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful and controversial local strongman who is one of Zuma’s strongest allies. The provincial government has been plagued by service delivery protests and mismanagement. Poverty is estimated at 41% in the Free State, but over 41% of the labour force is unemployed.

Results by precinct (VD) in the Mangaung metro (Bloemfontein) (source:

Voting patterns in the Free State are quite predictable. The ANC receives its highest levels of support in the homogeneously black townships or former homelands - QwaQwa (which is today part of Maluti a Phofung municipality, where the ANC won 80.9%, its best result in the FS) and an exclave of Bophuthatswana located east of Bloemfontein, today in Mangaung metro. The DA made some fairly significant inroads in some black townships across the province, taking between 2% and 6% of the vote, while the EFF also had some good performances in black townships – in Selosesha in the Mangaung metro, the EFF received about 15% of the vote and also won results in the low double digits in other townships across the province. The DA and the VF+’s bases remain, however, in the white Afrikaner neighborhoods of major cities and towns across the province – Bloemfontein, Welkom, Parys, Kroonstad, Sasolburg and Bethlehem. The VF+ received support in the low double digits/low teens in most white Afrikaner neighborhoods in the cities, placing a distant second or third behind the DA.

Northern Cape

The Northern Cape, South Africa’s smallest province in terms of population but a very large and sparsely populated arid province in terms of land area, is an interesting beast. The province’s population is racially divided between blacks and Coloureds. Blacks, who now make up 50.4% of the population, are heavily concentrated in the more populated and mineral-rich eastern end of the province, in cities such as Kimberley and rural areas which formed part of the old homeland of Bophuthatswana. Coloureds make up 40.3% of the population, heavily concentrated in the very sparsely populated and arid stretches of desert in the western half of the province; the division between blacks and Coloureds still reflect the old limits of the CLPA during apartheid. The large Coloured population means that the NC is a likely target for the DA. After all, in 1994, the ANC had won the province with only 49.8% of the vote against 41.9% for the NP, with the NP sweeping the Coloured regions. The ANC has since increased its support (the black population has also increased significantly since 1996, reducing the share of the Coloured population to a minority), to a peak of 68.8% in 2004 and a low of 61.1% in 2009. This year, the ANC’s support increased marginally to 63.9%. The DA received 23.4% in the province, up over 10 points from 2009, when the DA had placed third with only 13.1% while COPE, which did well both in black areas and Coloured regions, won second with 15.9%, its best showing in South Africa. This year, COPE collapsed to 3.3%, while the IDs, which had won 4.7%, shifted to the DA.

The ANC retains very strong support in the black areas of the NC – for example, in John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, which is 84% black, the ANC won 73.2% against 10.6% for the DA and 10% for the EFF. The ANC won about 68% of the vote in Magareng and Phokwane local municipalities, which are both around 80% black, while the DA won 15% and the EFF 10%. In Sol Plaatije municipality, the most populated municipality in the province (Kimberley), the ANC won 61% of the vote (and the municipality is 61% black) against 28.4% for the DA and only 4.9% for the EFF. The ANC took about 80% of the vote in Galeshewe, a 92% black township, while the DA won the white and Coloured suburbs by wide margins.

The ANC has considerable, majority, support in Coloured areas across most of the province. For example, in Nama Khoi municipality, which is 88% Coloured, the ANC won 54.9% against 34.6% for the DA. In Kamiesberg, which is 85% Coloured, the ANC won 66.9% against 26.2% for the DA. In the inland regional centre of Upington, which is heavily Coloured, the ANC won the Coloured areas of the city with about 55% of the vote. Overall, the DA won 101,882 votes in the province – it still falls far short of the nearly 170,000 votes received by the NP in 1994.

The VF+ won 1.3% of the vote, although that still wasn’t enough for a seat in the small provincial legislature. The VF+, as always, won a landslide in the Afrikaner community of Orania, the famous small town created by Afrikaner nationalists (later tied to the VF+) as the embryo for a volkstaat and to preserve the Afrikaans language and culture. The party won 77% of the vote, down from 87% in 2009, against 15% for the DA – the ANC, with 5 votes (1.7%) placed fourth behind the ACDP.


The election was predictable and offers little changes in the short-term situation. President Jacob Zuma was reelected and inaugurated for a second term in office as South Africa’s President, and the ANC retains control of everything it had prior to the election, despite reduced majorities in the National Assembly and some provinces – most significantly Gauteng.

However, the next five years in South African politics are shaping up to be crucial and highly important. Jacob Zuma was reelected, but he is term-limited and will not be able to serve a third term as President of the country after 2019. Term-limited, Zuma may wish to make his mark on the country or ensure his legacy after a difficult first term. Unlike in 2009, Zuma doesn’t owe as much to many people, and it is possible that he will have more leeway in making coherent and decisive policy-decisions which he failed to make in his first term as to not offend anybody. The makeup of his cabinet, which was an ideology-free zone and often incoherent in his first term, was said to be a signal about the direction (if any) that Zuma wishes to take in his second term. The ANC’s manifesto signaled that the party is committed to the NDP, and that the NDP is now non-negotiable despite COSATU’s misgivings about it. On May 25, Zuma announced his cabinet, and it is hard to say if there’s any clear ideological or policy orientation coming out of it. The left received some concessions – Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, was demoted to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, being replaced by the Deputy Minister for Finance, Nhlanhla Nene; former NUM man Senzeni Zokwana got Agriculture; Ebrahim Patel retained Economic Development and the SACP’s Blade Nzimande retained Higher Education. The ‘security cluster’ was shuffled after criticisms by Madonsela and the presidency over its handling of Nkandlagate; the police minister Nathi Mthethwa was demoted to Arts and Culture and state security minister Siyabonga Cwele got moved to a new telecommunications superministry. Tito Mboweni, the former Reserve Bank governor, surprised his party when he said that he would not take his seat in Parliament.

The next five years will also be crucial in deciding where South Africa goes from here. Analysts have drawn up various scenarioes, optimistic and pessimistic, about potential paths for the country – scenarios include the ANC reforming itself and taking important decisions which will improve the country’s economy, the ANC becoming even more intolerant and authoritarian, the ANC and the country limping forward with much politicking but little results, the ANC moving to the right with a splinter on the left from NUMSA or even a scenario where the ANC loses the 2024 elections to an opposition party or coalition. Zuma now has the chance to gain control of the Constitutional Court, with the retirement of three judges (including the Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, who has been critical of the ANC) giving Zuma the opportunity to appoint three new names and likely tilt the top judicial organ in a pro-government and culturally conservative direction. In the past, Zuma and the ANC have made comments critical of the judiciary and its independence, claiming that unelected judges could not change an elected government’s policies. The likely changes to the Court’s composition may either be seen as simply the equivalent of American presidents appointing judges sharing their ideological outlook, or as an attack on the judiciary’s independence. With the Court likely to rule on the secrecy bill and the spy tapes, ANC critics are worried.

In the National Assembly, the ANC has replaced outgoing speaker Max Sisulu, who irked Zuma and the ANC for not being a total tool and allowing debate on the Gupta landing at Waterkloof AFB and creating an ad hoc committee to investigation Madonsela’s report on Nkandla. He was replaced by Baleka Mbete, a Zuma ally and senior ANC stalwart, whose reputation is less than stellar. The ANC expects her to play a ‘gatekeeping’ role in Parliament for the ANC. Mbete was rumoured to be in line to be Second Deputy President, but creating that position would have required a constitutional amendment whic the ANC could not have passed alone.

However, at the same time, Zuma’s last term in office might make him something of a lame-duck, as the ANC’s attention turns to his succession. To begin with, Zuma is not a solid leader and many are those who think that the ANC did well on May 7 despite Zuma. Nkandla will be continue to be an idling engine in the background, dogging the President, although the ANC will probably try to scuttle any meaningful parliamentary or independent inquiry into Nkandlagate like it did with the arms deal. Zuma has other controversies circling over his head – the ‘spy tapes’ (tapes which reveal why the NPA dropped corruption charges against him in 2009, reopening the possibility that Zuma’s decade-old corruption trial may not be over yet), the secrecy bill and so forth. In 2017, the ANC will renew its leadership and executive at its national conference, and Zuma is not expected to seek a third term as the ANC’s President – but it is also clear that he wishes to influence the choice of his successor, who will more likely than not succeed him as President of South Africa after 2019.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as the ANC’s Deputy President at Mangaung led to speculation that he was the heir apparent to Zuma, and he has been appointed as Deputy President of South Africa and he will chair the National Planning Commission (he was deputy-chair, but the chair, Trevor Manuel, is retired). However, Ramaphosa did not gain control over government evaluation and monitoring, a role which was instead given to Jeff Radebe, who was moved from justice to Minister in the Presidency. It is far from clear if Ramaphosa remains the ANC’s favourite candidate to succeed Zuma as ANC President in 2017.

There have been reports that the KZN ANC has a secret ‘plan’ to take control of the ANC leadership in 2017, and they are against Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor. Instead, Zuma’s supporters in the KZN ANC (and, allegedly, Zuma himself – who recently stated that the country is ready for a woman President) would like for Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (the current AU Commission president), the new speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete, ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize or the new home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba to succeed Zuma in 2017-2019. Ramaphosa has allegedly fallen out of favour with Zuma’s supporters, fearing he is too independent and don’t trust him to defend Zuma from future judicial prosecutions.

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary-general and one of the powerful players in the ANC party apparatus, is said to be looking for a promotion come 2017, although it’s unclear if by that he intends to run for ANC President or if he may be instead for ANC Deputy President. Mantashe has drifted away from Zuma, having been very critical of the Gupta landing.

The selection of the new Premiers after the elections also signaled, for some commentators, that Zuma was losing his grip. In Gauteng, incumbent pro-Zuma Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was ultimately removed despite pressure from the Zuma circles in the national party on the provincial party to place her on their shortlist of names (from which the ANC NEC selects one name). Instead, Mokonyane’s rival and ANC provincial secretary David Makhura, who is not a Zuma ally, was selected as Premier of Gauteng. Even in KZN, the retention of new Premier Senzo Mchunu as Premier was seen as a blow to the Zuma circle, who had been pushing for a more trusted ally to take his place.

The DA’s support increased to unprecedented heights in this election, secured its base (despite potential white misgivings over the DA’s equivocation on EE), continue to eat into small parties’ support and it successfully improved its black support from quasi-nil to roughly 6%. However, if the DA fails to make major gains with black voters, it is running up against a wall in the near future and will have no chance of winning power nationally. Right after the election, the DA was rocked by the surprise departure of parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who resigned her seat to study at Harvard. Mazibuko had fallen out with Zille after the DA’s internal crisis on the EE bill last November, and it was likely that Mazibuko would be challenged for the parliamentary leadership by Mmusi Maimane, who is seen as Zille’s new black favourite. Mazibuko would likely have lost, but it could have opened a bruising internal battle.

Yet, her departure still created a huge firestorm in the DA after a newspaper leaked that Zille had privately lashed out at Mazibuko – the Sunday Times reported that Zille privately stated that she had ‘made’ Mazibuko and ‘saved’ her several times. Zille denied she had attacked Mazibuko, but in yet another case of DA own goals and tone-deafness, she released a statement in which she said that she had repeatedly taken responsibility for mistakes made in Parliament to protect her and claimed that Mazibuko had put up a ‘Berlin Wall’ between her office and Zille’s. Most damagingly, Zille admitted that she backed Mazibuko for parliamentary leader against the white incumbent, Athol Trollip, only to racially diversify the party. Her statement once again confirmed the ANC’s constant claims that the DA is smug, paternalist (in Cape liberal tradition) and has a ‘rent-a-black’ attitude towards blacks, taking them as yes-men or women or token blacks. It is basically a fact that Zille exerts significant power over the DA caucus in Parliament, effectively imposing her favourites on the still-inexperienced caucus and going after DA MPs if they prove to be too independent from her leadership, as Mazibuko did after the EE debacle. It underlines Zille’s increasing liability as a ‘madam baas’ figure and shows the DA’s major problems with the issue of black leadership.

Mmusi Maimane has confirmed that he will stand for parliamentary leader, and has Zille’s backing. Makashule Gana, another young (30) black MP from the DA’s new ‘black caucus’ (which emerged during the EE debacle as being critical of Zille and the DA’s policies on racial issues), did not stand for the position as the media had speculated. Zille has insisted that the new leader must work with her, warning that it would be a disaster if he didn’t. This seems to indicate that Zille has not really grasped the gist of the last week of debate. Many commentators have said that Zille’s alleged authoritarian personality is increasingly turning her into a liability for the DA, which appears to be increasingly torn apart by factional battles and is insure of how to reconciliate a growing and assertive black membership with the party’s white roots in the Cape liberal tradition of the Progressive Party and the ex-Nats.

Zille is expected to retire within a few years, likely before 2019, opening the door for a black leader for the DA. Maimane is already cited as a potential leadership contender. On the one hand, Maimane is smart, young, likeable, warm and managed well despite his inexperienced. On the other hand, Maimane is still very inexperienced and he often comes off as an empty suit or cheap marketing product (branded as a local Obama). The DA must also review its policies, offering something bold and new which truly breaks from the ANC’s policies repackaged in nicer and less corrupt terms.

Julius Malema is another man to watch. Will the EFF indeed ‘be another COPE’ and join the corpses of other coalition of disaffecteds in South Africa’s political graveyard, or will the EFF survive as a major party and gatvol alternative to the ANC? The opportunity for the EFF is that, come 2019, an even larger share of the electorate will be post-1994 youths who will likely still face huge economic problems (unemployment) and be angry with the ANC. The challenge is that, as noted above, most of these people don’t vote. The other challenge for the EFF is a big one – keeping Malema out of jail. If he does stay out of jail, Malema’s other challenges are to broaden the party’s appeal, gain financial resources (which is done by attracting corporate donations…) and message the party differently. Malema’s angry, anti-Zuma and radical platform and style is still offputting for a lot of people, who view the EFF as too radical and lacking in credibility or realism. A more measured, pragmatic, coherent and realistic message and style would help the party, but it would need to make sure that it doesn’t lose its identity and base in the process of doing so.

Not only will the 2019 election be marked by a new ANC leadership, the potential for a black DA candidate and the Malema question mark, it will also feature a new anti-capitalist and far-left party to be created by NUMSA. Having broken with the ANC in December, NUMSA is serious on creating a political party ‘for the working-class’ with an anti-capitalist, Marxist-Leninist/socialist message. NUMSA has said that it will convene forums to canvass support and identify local issues and partners, and initiating discussions with other left-wing forces such as the EFF as well as unions and civil society organizations. The new party should contest the 2016 local elections. The South African left is a disaster, but a new NUMSA party could be different. NUMSA has the organization, credibility, base, history, gravitas and resources which the parties of the radical left (excluding the EFF, whose place in the traditional left is a hot issue of debate) have lacked. The most optimistic analysts think that the NUMSA party could draw the ANC’s left, while turning the remnants of the ANC into a more centre-right party. NUMSA may replicate the experience of Zimbabwe, where the unions laid the roots of the opposition MDC, which challenges the ZANU-PF; or that of Brazil, where the ruling PT emerged from the union and workers’ movement. Latin America’s left is often cited as a reference by the South African left, including NUMSA.

The 2014 election may merely have confirmed the ANC’s continued dominance of South African politics, but it has set the stage for a more disputed showdown in the 2019 ad 2024 elections. South Africa is entering a critical and momentous period after 20 years of democracy. Which direction and path will the country take? Will the ANC’s dominance be reconsolidated in the future, or will the coalition continue to show more and more cracks and become truly vulnerable to the opposition? Will there emerge a strong challenge to the left of the ANC? Will the opposition DA renew itself and gain support with black voters, allowing it to seriously challenge the ANC in 5 and 10 years, or will it remain forever condemned to being the opposition party backed by the racial minorities? In two years time, some of these questions will be answered with the local elections.

Panama 2014

Presidential and congressional elections were held in Panama on May 4, 2014.

The President of Panama is the head of state and government and is elected by popular vote (FPTP) for a five-year term, and may not hold the office for the two terms immediately following. The outgoing President’s relatives (within the fourth degree of consanguinity or second degree of marital relations) may not be elected. Similar to ‘fusion voting’ in the US, voters may vote for the same presidential candidate under different party lines (the candidate with the highest sum of votes, across all party lines, wins). Like in New York state, the number of votes which a party line won determines whether it keeps its electoral registration or not.

The National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) is Panama’s unicameral legislature, composed of 71 deputies elected in single or multi-member constituencies, called circuitos electorales. These electoral constituencies are based on Panama’s administrative districts, which are the second-level administrative divisions: each district with a population over 40,000 inhabitants forms a constituency on its own, and each constituency elects one deputy per 30,000 inhabitants and an additional one for every fraction over 10,000. As of today, there are 26 single-member constituencies whose members are elected by FPTP. The remaining 13 constituencies elect between two and seven deputies to the National Assembly, returning a total of 45 deputies. In multi-member constituencies, voters vote for only one candidate on the party’s list. Seats are attributed using an electoral quotient, which is the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats to be filled. Party lists which have obtained more votes than the quotient obtain as many seats as they have full quotients. In the case that no party has won more votes than the quotient or there are still seats left to be filled, seats are distributed to parties which have obtained more than half of the quotient (medio cociente); parties which have already won seats with the quotient are not eligible for seats. Finally, if there are any seats left to be filled, they are distributed to candidates with the highest votes.

In this election, voters also elected Panama’s 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), 77 mayors, 648 representatives of corregimiento (the third-level administrative divisions below the district) and 7 councillors (elected by the districts of the indigenous comarca of Emberá-Wounaan and the offshore island district of Taboga).


The isthmus of Panama’s strategic location has had a huge influence on the country’s history. When Latin American countries gained independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century, Panama became part of the country which would eventually become known as Colombia. Panama’s golden age had come and gone under Spanish rule, and by the time Panama became a province of Colombia, it was a backwater region isolated from the decision-making centres of mainland Colombia (to this day, there is no road connecting the two countries, broken by the wild and impassable Darién Gap). Nevertheless, Panama’s strategic location as the connecting link between Atlantic and Pacific soon turned attracted the attention of foreign speculators. During the California Gold Rush, the isthmus became an important transit route between the American east coast and the west coast. In 1850, a group of New York financiers obtained an exclusive concession from Colombia to build a railroad through the narrow isthmus, which was completed in 1855. The railway restored Panamanian prosperity (briefly), led to the construction of the city of Colón on the Atlantic and exposed locals to Americans. In 1869, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the US reduced passenger and freight traffic.

Ideas for a canal through the isthmus first sprang up under Spanish colonial rule, and throughout the nineteenth century, investors and governments in the US, Britain and France displayed varying levels of interest in a canal. In 1846, the US and Colombia signed a treaty which removed restrictive tariffs, granted free passage to all US citizens over any road or canal which might be constructed, while the US guaranteed the isthmus’ neutrality and Colombian sovereignty. But the first attempt to build a canal was that of France’s Ferdinand de Lesseps, who obtained a concession to build a canal in 1879. Work began in 1880, but the project foundered due to corruption (the scandale de Panama became one of the major political scandals of the French Third Republic), damaging speculation from rivals, financial troubles, tropical diseases and the impracticality of a sea-level canal despite de Lesseps’ obstinacy. In 1889, the company was bankrupt. Nevertheless, the French canal had completed excavation for 2/5 of the future canal and it left behind infrastructure and an Antillean black labour force, part of which would stay and eventually work on the US canal.

As an isolated backwater region of Colombia, there had been separatist conspiracies and movements in Panama for most of the nineteenth century, culminating in five failed secessionist attempts. Yet, Panama was also affected by spillover from the decades-long on-and-off political violence, civil wars, coups, riots and regime changes in Colombia (which affected Panama’s degree of autonomy: a federal state with significant devolved powers from 1863 to 1886, it became part of a very centralized and conservative-minded Colombia after 1886). In 1885, a riot in Panama basically destroyed Colón and Colombia called on US forces to restore order. After Colombia adopted a centralist constitution in 1886, many Panamanians became to support the idea of independence. Between 1899 and 1902, Panama was a major battleground in the Thousand Days’ War between Colombia’s warring Liberal and Conservative factions. Once again, Colombia called on the US to intercede and mediate the signature of an armistice on board an American warship off Panama in 1902. As a backdrop to all this, the US retained interest in building a canal, and an obstacle to this was dropped in 1901 when Britain agreed to the idea of a canal built solely by the US. The difficulty of moving warships from the Caribbean to the Pacific theaters during the Spanish-American War convinced President Theodore Roosevelt of the necessity of a canal.

In January 1903, the US and Colombia signed the Hay-Herrán Treaty under which Colombia conceded a 100-year lease on a canal zone 10km wide in return for fairly small financial compensations to Bogotá. The Colombian Senate unanimously rejected the treaty, a move which led to the formation of a separatist revolutionary movement in Panama which sought to negotiate directly with the US. The US actively encouraged these separatists. Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French engineer who owned stock in the new French canal company and who had successfully sold the idea of a canal in Panama to the US Congress (which appropriated $40 million to buy land from the French), now provided financial assistance to the Panamanian rebels. In October and November 1903, they staged a successful uprising, while the US used the USS Nashville to impede Colombian troops from landing troops to suppress the uprising. Colombia resented the US’ actions, but was powerless to do anything. In 1921, Colombia finally recognized Panamanian independence in exchange for a financial indemnity from the US.

Within days, the US and other countries recognized Panamanian ‘independence’. Bunau-Varilla, from the Waldorf Astoria in New York (he had not lived in Panama for 17 years) wrote the Panamanian declaration of independence and served as Panama’s negotiator with US Secretary of State John Hay. In the hastily negotiated treaty ratified by Panama (having little choice), the US was granted, in perpetuity, the use, occupation and control of a 16km-wide zone for the construction and operation of a canal (in exchange for $10 million and subsequent annuities). The treaty further allowed the US to extend the Canal Zone if it believed it to be necessary for defensive purposes. The 1903 constitution of Panama gave the US the right to intervene anywhere in Panama to “to reestablish public peace and constitutional order”, in exchange for guaranteeing its independence. Therefore, Panama became a de facto American protectorate. In the Canal Zone, the US interpreted the treaty to mean that it could exercise complete sovereignty. The treaty and the constitution would rankle Panamanian nationalists for decades.

After independence, Panama inherited Colombia’s Liberal and Conservative parties, although these labels had little meaning. The Liberals having been behind the revolutionary movement, they came to dominate politics in Panama until 1932, although it remained an extremely factionalized and fractious array of caudillos. During this era, politics remained the exclusive preserve of a small oligarchy.

The US took control of the canal zone from the French in 1904 and began work on the canal, building on the foundations laid by the French and trying to avoid their mistakes. The US Army Corps of Engineers successfully rid the region of deadly mosquitoes carrying the yellow fever, allowing construction to begin with a workforce of approximately 65,000 men – mostly from the West Indies. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. The canal has remained an issue at the core of Panamanian politics, and it has had a major impact on the country’s society and political culture. New forms of discrimination and segregation arose, and US presence in Panama began to generate resentment in the country. In the Canal Zone, the US assumed full sovereignty, despite Panama’s opposition. The US naturally retained deep interest and involvement in Panamanian politics, intervening directly – often at the request of the Panamanian government – to restore order, protect American citizens and property, or quash local riots at the government’s request. Disgruntled factions in domestic politics turned to the US to secure their rights.

In 1932, Harmodio Arias Madrid, a mestizo from a poor provincial family who led, alongside his brother Arnulfo Arias Madrid, through a middle-class mestizo nationalist, anti-oligarchy and anti-American movement, was elected President. He instituted relief efforts for the countryside and established the University of Panama, which would become the focal point for middle-class nationalist agitation. His election came at a time when the US were moving to a more conciliatory stance, with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. In 1933, the US pledged sympathetic consideration of arbitration requests on non-vital economic issues, efforts to protect Panamanian businesses from smuggling cheap goods from the Zone and agreed that US rights in the Zone applied only for the maintenance and operation of the canal. However, the devaluation of the US dollar in 1934 reduced the gold content and meant that the annuities paid to Panama were effectively cut in half.

In 1936, Panama and the US signed the Hull-Alfaro Treaty ended the protectorate status, removing the US’ guarantee of Panamanian independence and its concomitant right to intervention, increasing the annuities and dealt with Panamanian business and commercial complaints (non-canal linked private commercial operations were banned in the Zone, free entry into the Zone for Panamanian goods). The US Senate reluctantly ratified the treaty in 1939.

In 1940, Arnulfo Arias, at the helm of a nationalist mass movement known as Panameñismo, was elected President. Panameñismo opposed American hegemony and wanted to rid Panama of non-Hispanics (Americans but also Anglophone blacks, Chinese, Hindus and Jews). He promulgated a new constitution which centralized powers behind the President and extended the presidential term to six years, but also barred Anglophone blacks from Panamanian citizenship. In October 1941, the National Police – Panama’s only law enforcement/military force at the time – removed him from office, much to the US’ delight. A new constitution adopted by a constituent assembly in 1946 erased Arnulfo Arias’ changes. Arias’ successor, Ricardo de la Guardia, proved a loyal American ally who leased 134 sites to the US for the duration of the war and declared war on the Axis on December 7, 1941. However, after the war, the US sought to hold the bases for an indefinite period, and compelled the Panamanian government to a draft treaty granting a 20-year extension of the leases. However, the National Assembly rejected the treaty in the face of an angry mob and in 1948 the US had evacuated the occupied bases.

Arnulfo ‘lost’ (but really won) the 1948 election, whose winner died in office. Colonel José Antonio Remón, the National Police chief, gained significant power and between 1948 and 1952 he installed and removed several presidents – he even gave the presidency to Arias in November 1949 (who was proclaimed in 1949 to have won the election), until Remón sided with the National Assembly when they removed Arias from office in May 1951. Remón, meanwhile, increased wages and benefits for his forces and transformed the police into a paramilitary force. In 1953, the police was transformed into the National Guard. In 1952, Remón, running for the National Patriotic Coalition (CPN), an hastily assembled coalition of different parties which would become Panama’s party of power until 1960, was elected President. He enriched himself, but also promoted a reformist program. Remón was assassinated in fairly murky conditions in 1955, and his First Vice President (who briefly succeeded him in office) was impeached and jailed (but never tried) for the crime. His impeachment may have been a cover-up to protect Panamanian political families and a US organized crime boss. Remón’s two CPN successors dismantled most of his reforms.

In 1955, Panama signed a treaty with the US which again limited commercial activities in the Zone, the annuity increase and discriminatory wage differentials in the Zone abolished to provide equal wages to all employees regardless of nationality. However, the nationalization of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1956 led to tensions with the US, which declined to invite Panama to a conference of global maritime powers, proclaimed that Suez could not repeat itself in Panama because the US possessed ‘sovereignty rights’ and clarified that the ‘equal wage’ clause of the treaty didn’t preclude a 25% wage differential for US citizens in the Zone. Between 1958 and 1960, several student protests and riots worried the US that Panamanian mobs might actually force entry into the Zone. The US toughened military presence in the Zone, strengthened security measures and relations with Panama worsened. In 1960, with the CPN having largely disintegrated, a Liberal candidate won free elections. Although he sought to implement a moderate reformist agenda, the National Assembly paid no attention. Once again, Panama and the US negotiated an agreement over contentious labour, social security and wage issues in the Zone and Panama received loans and grants from John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.

Popular resentment against the US, its policies and citizens boiled over in January 1964, originally due to a dispute over the flying of the Panamanian flag in the Zone (which was raised in 1960, but the US’ staging of the ceremony angered the Panamanian President, and Panamanians were still angry that their flag was one flown at one spot in the Zone). After an agreement to raise the Panamanian flag alongside the US flag at several spots in the Zone, including American high schools, it was now US citizens who protested and American high school students hoisted the US flag alone. In January 1964, over 200 Panamanian students marched into the Zone and the tensions turned into a bloody riot killing 20 people after the Panamanian flag was torn in a clash with US students. Panama’s government took the extraordinary step of severing relations with the US and appealed to the OAS and UN. Tensions and diplomatic deadlock lasted until April 1964, when diplomatic ties were restored. Nevertheless, relations remained strained for almost a year.

In the mid-1960s, Panamanian politics was still tenuously controlled by the oligarchy, while the middle-class – spearheaded by the vocal students – failed to unite with the rural lower-classes, which were generally disconnected from national politics. Political parties were, like elsewhere on the continent, clientelist parties and/or personal machines for a leader (such as the Panameñista Party for Arnulfo Arias). In 1964, Marco Aurelio Robles, the candidate of the moderate ruling Liberal-led coalition, defeated Arias’ nationalist (slightly toned down by now) and anti-oligarchic coalition and an equally nationalist CPN-led coalition. Arias alleged that Robles had rigged the election. Robles’ government faced challenges aggravated by the 1964 riots, and remained dependent on US aid to develop infrastructure projects.

the 1964 riots led to negotiations to draw up a new treaty to replace the increasingly loathed Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. Negotiations continued under Liberal President Marco Aurelio Robles, who won (officially) the 1964 election by a thin margin over Arias and his Panameñista Party. Negotiations resulted in a treaty in 1967, but Panama failed to ratify it. The draft treaties would have abolished the ‘in perpetuity’ clause  in favour of an expiration date in 1999, and would have compensated Panama on the basis of tonnage shipped through the canal. However, Panamanian nationalist opinion objected to clauses allowing for continued US military presence in the Zone and the right for the US to deploy troops anywhere in Panama.

In the 1968 election, the ruling Liberal coalition endorsed David Samudio, a middle-class engineer and cabinet minister under Robles. Arnulfo Arias ran again, largely concerned over the validity of the election itself. Charging that Robles was illegally interfering in the election to help Samudio, Arias and another candidate recommended the President’s impeachment. In March 1968, the National Assembly voted for impeachment and declared him deposed. However, Robles, backed by the National Guard, ignored the National Assembly and awaited the Supreme Court’s decision, which later ruled the impeachment proceedings to be unconstitutional. The election went ahead in May 1968, and despite delays in announcing the results, it was finally announced that Arias had won with 54.7% against 41.8% for Samudio. On October 1, Arias took office, his election having been guaranteed by the National Guard’s approval. Upon taking office, he demanded the return of the Canal Zone and reorganized the National Guard. On October 11, the National Guard removed Arias from office. Once again, he did not complete his constitutional term.

A new junta, with civilian and military members, took power and assumed control over the entire territory. The junta arrested several political leaders on trumped-up charges or grounds of subversion, disbanded the National Assembly and political parties, censored the media and closed the University of Panama for several months. Omar Torrijos and Boris Martínez, commander and chief-of-staff of the National Guard respectively, became the real leaders of the country – and within months, Martínez, who promoted radical agrarian reform, was ousted by Torrijos. In 1969, he survived a failed coup attempt by three colonels backed by the two-member governing junta, and promptly exiled the rebellious colonels and installed a civilian puppet president.

After 1971, Torrijos’ authoritarian regime shifted towards the left, although siding with a non-Marxist populist form of leftism rather than Marxism. He became a very popular lead with Panama’s impoverished rural masses, who saw him as ‘one of their own’ rather than a member of the old, predominantly white oligarchy. He regularly met with the rural poor, listened to their problems, created new jobs, opened schools and launched a public works program. Torrijos therefore built an alliance with the rural campesinos, students, the National Guard and a portion of the working-class and the left; this alliance was held together by nationalism, which reduced antagonisms between antagonistic elements, and patronage. In 1972, Torrijos filled a large National Assembly of Municipal Representatives with supporters, and tasked it to confirm his position as head of government and to approve a new constitution, which expanded state powers. Legitimated by the new constitution, Torrijos undertook land reform which aimed to distributed 700,000 ha of land to 61,300 families within 3 years, which had some successes but which ultimately didn’t go as fast and as far as expected.

The government restructured education to focus on vocational and technical training, expanded access to healthcare to workers and their dependent relatives, built hospitals and clinics outside Panama City and undertook an ambitious public works project which built roads in rural areas and expanded urban housing in the cities. Although nationalist and populist, Torrijos did not overly disturb the dominant position of the elite and successfully lured foreign investment. International banking was encouraged to locate in Panama and offshore banking was facilitated. Torrijos’ grand schemes became less ambitious after 1973, when the country was hit by economic stagnation and Torrijos’ alliance eroded by economic problems.

Torrijos’ main achievement came with regards to the Panama Canal. The canal remained of vital importance to both countries: for Panama, the level of traffic and revenue generated by the canal were key in the national economy; for the US, the Zone was of strategic military importance in the Cold War, using it as a key military centre for the whole region. In 1973, the UNSC considered a resolution (vetoed by the US) calling on the US to negotiate a new treaty. In 1974, both governments agreed to basic principles to guide future negotiations, including the recognition of Panamanian sovereignty in the Zone and an expiration date for US control of the canal. However, negotiations under President Gerald Ford in 1975 ended in deadlock, with Panama resenting the US’ demands for continued military presence. The election of Jimmy Carter, who proved more willing to relinquish physical military presence and to provide bilateral aid to Panama for canal operations, broke the deadlock and negotiations resulted in the signature of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in August-September 1977. The main treaty abrogated the 1903 treaty, the Canal Zone and Panama Canal Company would cease to exist, Panama would assume complete legal jurisdiction over the Zone, Panama granted the US the right to operate, maintain and manage the canal through a joint US-Panamanian agency and Panama would assume full control on December 31 1999. Under a neutrality treaty, the US and Panama would guarantee the canal’s neutrality. The US was allowed to retain military bases and training facilities in Panama until 2000. Despite the agreement, Torrijos spoke for many Panamanians when he expressed reservations about the transition period, the presence of US military bases in Panama during this period and the wording of the neutrality treaty (a later agreement explicitly clarified that the US’ right to act against any threat precluded US intervention in Panamanian affairs). The treaty was ratified by two-thirds of Panamanian voters in October 1977. In 1978, the US Senate ratified the treaties, but amendments and reservations passed by the Senate incensed Panamanian opinion again. The treaties finally came into force in October 1979.

Carter had conditioned the signature of treaties to domestic democratization in Panama, which forced Torrijos to amend the 1972 constitution to legalize political parties, allowed exiled leaders to return and promises for legislative elections in 1980. In 1978, Torrijos also relinquished his titles of head of government and ‘Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution’, but retained actual control as head of the National Guard. Torrijos’ supporters founded the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), a coalition which aimed to bring together Torrijos’ socially diverse coalition in a kind of patronage and corporatist party of power similar to Mexico’s PRI. In the 1980 election, actual electoral competition only concerned 19 of the National Assembly’s 57 seats (the rest were appointed by the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives, effectively all Torrijos supporters). The PRD won 40% of the vote and 11 of the 19 elected seats, with the Liberals winning 5 and the Christian Democrats winning 2.

The PRD was widely expected to nominate Torrijos as its presidential candidate in the direct presidential elections promised for 1984, but Torrijos was killed in a plane crash in July 1981. His death opened a political vacuum, filled by Colonel Florencio Flores and Torrijos’ handpicked civilian President, Aristides Royo. Royo soon alienated his backers in the National Guard and Torrijos’ clique with his leftist, anti-American nationalist rhetoric, contributing to the breakup of Torrijos’ carefully-assembled coalition of the National Guard and the PRD. In March 1982, Flores retired in favour of General Rubén Dario Paredes, Torrijos’ initial handpicked military successor, and in July 1982, Paredes removed Royo from office. Manuel Noriega, assistant chief of staff for intelligence since 1970, gained in power and standing within the military circles. In late 1982, Noriega became chief of staff of the National Guard. In November 1982, constitutional amendments reduced the president’s term from 6 to 5 years, banned electoral participation by members of the National Guard and provided for the direct election of all legislators. These changes, approved in a 1983 referendum, reduced the National Guard’s powers but it remained clear that they retained as much power as they wished. In August 1983, Paredes retired from the Guard to stand as the PRD’s presidential candidate in 1984. He was succeeded as military boss by Manuel Noriega. However, Noriega declined to support Paredes’ candidacy, which compelled him to effectively withdraw from the race as a serious contender (he was nominated by a small party, but only won 2.5%). Noriega consolidated the National Guard into a formal military, the Panamanian Defense Forces (FDP).

For the 1984 elections, the PRD joined forces with smaller parties on the right and left to nominate Nicolás Ardito Barletta, a little-known US-educated economist. Opposing him was Arnulfo Arias, backed by his Authentic Panameñista Party (PPA), the Christian Democrats (PDC) and the conservative MOLIRENA. The government and the media favoured Ardito Barletta, and election day was marred by serious reports of misconduct, fraud, purged voter lists and vote buying. The vote counting process was extremely slow and opaque, before being stopped altogether when results showed Arias to be leading. The courts rejected the opposition’s challenges and the electoral tribunal proclaimed Barletta’s victory with 47% to 46.7% for Arias. The FDP’s power was comforted; they had already silently deposed the civilian president who had been speaking out for free elections a bit too loud for their tastes.

At any rate, Barletta’s presidency was brief. He sought economic assistance from the IMF to refinance the country’s huge debt, implemented unpopular austerity measures to meet the IMF’s loan conditions and presided over mounting unrest which worried the FDP. His policies and style ran into conflict with traditional politicians dependent on patronage politics, and Noriega finally moved against him in September 1985 by forcing him to resign (unofficially because Barletta wanted to investigate the suspicious death of a critic of the FDP who claimed to have evidence linking Noriega to drug and arms trafficking).

The US opposed Barletta’s ouster and relations with Noriega deteriorated. Noriega had been a CIA asset since 1967, and convinced the US to turn a blind eye to his corruption, money laundering and drug dealing (notably with Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel in Colombia). At home, Noriega faced rising opposition after the new president was forced to continue Barletta’s austerity measures. In the US, there was mounting congressional concern with Noriega’s regime and the first allegations of the Panamanian government’s involvement in narcotrafficking and the murder of the military critic in 1985 were published in the US press. In June 1987, the forced retirement of one of Noriega’s rivals in the FDP led to riots when that dismissed officer alleged that Noriega had been involved in the death of Torrijos and the military critic. Noriega responded by declaring a state of emergency, suspending constitutional rights and instituting censorship, while the opposition organized a general strike to paralyze Panama. While the Catholic Church called for calm and criticized the government, the military responded with heavy-handed actions and tough rhetoric against the protesters. Smaller protests continued for much of 1987, while relations with the US deteriorated further as the government claimed that the US supported the opposition. The US froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the summer of 1987, and in 1988, Noriega was indicted in the US for drug trafficking.

Presidential elections were held in May 1989, featuring a contest between Carlos Duque, a PRD candidate and Noriega ally; and Guillermo Endara, the candidate of a broad opposition alliance including the PPA (Arias had died in August 1988), the MOLIRENA and the PDC. Although the opposition’s parallel counts showed that Endara had won in a landslide, with 71% of the vote, it soon became clear that Noriega had every intention of fabricating the results to proclaim Duque as the winner. Eventually, Noriega annulled the election results and his thugs beat up Endara and his running-mate. The US began preparing for an invasion of Panama, and did so on December 20, after the Panamanian puppet legislature had declared war on the US. President George H.W. Bush, who had previously worked with Noriega when he was CIA Director and Noriega was a CIA asset, cited threats to US citizens in Panama (the FDP had killed a USMC First Lieutenant at a roadblock in Panama City a few days before), defending democracy and human rights, fighting drug trafficking and upholding the 1977 treaties (Bush claimed that Noriega threatened the canal’s neutrality). In a flash invasion, the US quickly neutralized and destroyed Panamanian military targets and resistance within days. Noriega sought refuge at the Vatican’s diplomatic mission, but American psychological pressure forced him to surrender to US forces on January 3, 1990. He was later tried and sentenced to 40 years in jail in the US, he was released early in 2007 for good behaviour.

The US’ military actions had a fairly heavy toll on civilian lives, with estimates ranging between 500 and 3,000 civilian deaths, while the US lost 23 military personnel and 205-314 Panamanian soldiers were killed. The invasion was condemned in a UN resolution and by many Latin American countries.

Guillermo Endara had been sworn in as President of Panama in the Canal Zone on December 20, 1989 by American forces and he became the country’s official president at the end of the invasion. Endara promoted democracy, human rights and civilian rule – a month after he left office in 1994, the National Assembly voted, on Endara’s recommendation, to abolish the country’s military forces. Since then, Panama’s law enforcement forces, the Public Forces, include the police, border security, a presidential protection force and a small naval and aerial security force. Endara’s anti-military coalition soon fell apart, largely due to tensions between Endara’s Arnulfista Party and Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderón’s PDC, the most intransigent party with regards to the military. Arias resigned the vice-presidency in December 1992, and the PDC never regained prominence as an autonomous force in Panamanian politics. Endara’s popularity collapsed over the course of his term, due to the unpopularity of neoliberal reforms he implemented and especially to perceived incompetence and corruption scandals (his wife was accused of reselling food donated by Italy, and when she won the lottery, she chose to keep the money).

In 1994, Ernesto Pérez Balladares (PRD), a former minor Noriega ally, was elected President in a close contest with 33.3% against 29.1% for Arnulfista candidate Mireya Moscoso and 17.1% for Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades. Under his presidency, the pace of liberal economic reforms – privatizations, deregulation, labour market changes, spending cuts and so forth – were accelerated despite opposition from construction workers and teachers. He controversially rehabilitated a number of former Noriega officials and supporters during his presidency, and he too was hit by corruption allegations (he was forced to admit that he had indeed received campaign contributions from an agent of the Cali Cartel in Colombia, he was investigated after he left office in a number of corruption cases, including allegations that he illegally sold US visas to Chinese immigrants). His unpopularity help explain why voters rejected a 1998 constitutional amendment supported by the President and the PRD to allow Pérez Balladares to seek reelection in 1999.

In 1999, Mireya Moscoso – Arnulfo Arias’ wife, the Arnulfista candidate, was elected President with 44.8% against 37.8% for Martín Torrijos (PRD), the illegitimate son of Omar Torrijos. Moscoso’s party was in the minority to the PRD in the National Assembly (which passed strict spending restraints), restricting her ability to make policy. Instead, she sought to avoid making important decisions, and faced protests when she did make one – firing the head of the social security administration, in an apparent attempt to privatize social security. When she left office in 2004, her government was widely perceived as corrupt, incompetent and ineffectual. Before leaving office, she pardoned Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban terrorist who had bombed a Cubana flight in 1976 and committed other terrorist acts.

In 2004, Martín Torrijos won his bid for the presidency, winning 47.4% against 30.9% for former president Guillermo Endara, standing for the ‘Solidarity Party’ and 16.4% for the Arnulfista candidate. As President, Torrijos maintained the orthodox ‘Washington Consensus’ economic policies which all presidents since Endara had implemented – he raised pension contributions and the retirement and, in 2007, signed a FTA with the US (finalized in 2011), as he had promised in 2004. But his term was more successful than that of his predecessors, buoyed by solid economic growth until 2009 – peaking at 12% growth in 2007. A lot of that growth came with the launch of a major $5.2 billion canal expansion project, announced by Torrijos in 2006 and ratified by voters in a referendum. The Panama Canal has been working at full capacity and has faced congestion problems for a number of years; additionally, the size of ships which can transit through the canal is constrained by the size of the locks. The project, which formally began in 2007, will notably build a third set of locks to allow more ships – and larger ships – to transit through the canal. The immigration of affluent elite families from Ecuador and Venezuela, ‘fleeing’ the left-wing Correa and Chávez administrations back home, also led to an infusion of capital in Panama, which has established itself as Central America’s main financial centre and proved very resilient in the 2008-2009 economic crisis (growth fell to 4% in 2009 but Panama has escaped recession). Internationally, Torrijos’ administrations improved the country’s diplomatic standing after Moscoso’s whimsical foreign policies. His government, while fairly successful, was unable or unwilling to tackle corruption. In the 2009 campaign, the PRD’s candidate was hit by allegations of illegal campaign financing from a Colombian national who was wanted in the US for extortion, money-laundering and drug-trafficking, and who received protection from the presidential protection force.

However, the PRD was badly divided as it entered the 2009 election. The PRD’s nomination went to Balbina Herrera, Torrijos’ housing minister and a former President of the National Assembly; she defeated Juan Carlos Navarro, the PRD mayor of Panama City. The PRD’s divisions and Herrera’s reputation as a ‘henchwoman of Noriega’ and concerns that she was too far to the left, allowed Ricardo Martinelli, a wealthy supermarket magnate who ran as a centrist independent backed by his Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD) party and the Panameñista Party, to win in a landslide – 60% against only 37.7% for the PRD’s embattled candidate. Guillermo Endara, who would die a few months later, won 2.3%. Martinelli had previously served as president of the Panama Canal Authority under Moscoso’s presidency (the CD, formed in 1998, had been part of her winning coalition in 1999) and ran for president in 2004, winning only 5% of the vote. He had hatched an alliance with the Panameñista Party’s Juan Carlos Varela, who became his Vice President (allegedly the deal was negotiated by the US). Martinelli’s platform mixed anti-political sentiment (the idea of a centrist outsider solving problems), a typically liberal promotion of free enterprise, a tough-on-crime attitude (security was one of the main failures of Torrijos’ government) and some populist promises for the poor. He was not hurt by Herrera’s concerns over Martinelli’s wealth (which she claimed represented $400 million, or 2% of the GDP!) and conflicts of interest.

Martinelli’s coalition, the Alianza por el Cambio, won 42 seats to the PRD coalition’s 27 seats. However, the CD elected only 14 deputies against 22 for the Panameñista Party and 26 for the PRD. That being said, thanks to the defection of venal deputies, the CD now has 36 seats to the PRD’s 17 and the Panameñista Party’s 12.

In office, Martinelli has mixed liberal economic policies with populist measures. He reduced tax rates, simplified tax brackets, cut the corporate tax and worked to improve tax collection; yet tax collection never met the expected and projected goals and the government has been forced to ask for exceptions to legal limits on deficit targets. The government moved aggressively to attract foreign investment, with the stated aim of transforming Panama, already Latin America’s fastest-growing economy and one of the five richest countries in mainland Latin America. Martinelli’s government built on Panama’s low import tariffs by announcing a five-year, $13.6 billion investment plan. In 2011, Martinelli oversaw the finalization of the Panama-US FTA, which was ratified by Congress in October 2011 after Panama had agreed to a tax information sharing system with the US, resolving American concerns about Panama’s banking secrecy laws and tax haven reputation. He also passed populist measures, which have made him popular with voters: a $100-per-month pension for the elderly poor, subsidies for students and an increase in the minimum wage. One of his main infrastructure projects was the Panama City metro, a subway system inaugurated in April 2014.

Economic growth is projected to reach 7% in 2014, down from 8% in 2013 and nearly 11% in 2011-12, still making Panama the fastest-growing economy in Latin America. Unemployment was only 4.5%, when it had stood at nearly 15% in 2001. Despite a strong and growing economy and government dreams of making Panama into a ‘Singapore of Latin America’, income inequality remains a major problem in Panama. The country’s Gini coefficient was 51.9 in 2010, making it the seventh most unequal country in Latin America, just behind Chile and ahead of Mexico. The flashy skyscrapers of booming Panama City (although the city has its own challenges too, with substandard infrastructure) contrast with extreme levels of poverty in Panama’s three indigenous comarcas (self-governing reserves), where over 80% of the population is poor. The poverty rate has declined significantly, from 36.5% in 2007 to 27.6% in 2011.

Martinelli gained a reputation as a ‘bully’ with little tolerance for the opposition or separation of powers. In 2009, a Wikileaks cable from the US embassy revealed that Martinelli had asked for help in the wiretapping of his opponents, and reported his penchant for bullying and blackmail. In office, he moved to make CD the dominant force of the coalition, first moving to encourage prosecutors to investigate former PRD officials while simultaneously inciting PRD MPs to defect in return for pork, committee assignments and patronage. In 2011, the Panameñista Party and Juan Carlos Varela, Martinelli’s estranged VP and foreign minister, left the coalition. Martinelli had been trying to adopt a two-round system for the presidential election and allegedly considered amending the constitution to allow him to run for reelection in 2014. Martinelli is guilty of autocratic penchants, but the cause of many of Panama’s problems are corrupt and inefficient administrations and public institutions; institutional weakness has been a constant in democratic Panama since 1990, and corruption remains widespread (and the corrupt politicians continue to act with impunity).

In September 2012, Varela accused officials in Martinelli’s administration of taking bribes from an Italian company. The scandal involves a close associate of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former Prime Minister. Martinelli pugnaciously fought back against all charges, and tried to pack the Supreme Court with allies.

Martinelli’s style and policies also mobilized significant public opposition. The National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), made up of teachers and unionized workers, protested the government’s policies and demanded economic fairness. The Panamanian Chamber of Commerce lost confidence in the President’s policies. In 2011, his mishandling of a proposal to change the legal framework regulating the mining in native lands mobilized significant indigenous groups against the government and blocked the Pan-American Highway for a few days. The government scrapped it plans. In October 2012, the government’s aborted plans to state-owned land on which Colón’s free-trade zone is built led to major protests in Colón. Once again, protests forced the government to backtrack. But the protests represented an upswell in popular dissatisfaction with the political system and Panama’s weak institutions.

Candidates and Issues

Panama’s three main parties – the PRD, CD and Panameñista Party – ran autonomously this year.

Unable to run himself, Martinelli and his CD is supporting José Domingo Arias, a former minister of housing between 2011 and 20134. He’s relatively unknown, but at the same time he’s probably seen to be a pliable candidate for Martinelli. Indeed, Arias is widely seen as a proxy candidate for Martinelli, who would exert power behind the scenes. To add to that perception, Arias’ running-mate is Marta Linares de Martinelli, President Martinelli’s wife who has no formal political experience herself. Although Article 193 of the Panamanian constitution fairly clearly bars relatives within ‘the second degree of martial relations’ of the incumbent President from being elected Vice President, the courts, which favour Martinelli, have not blocked her candidacy.

Arias’ platform, like that of Martinelli in 2009, was fairly eclectic. He proposed a Ciudad Mujer program almost identical to that implemented by El Salvador’s left-wing government, they are government service centre for women with specialized services in sexual and reproductive health, support for victims of violence against women and courses to promote economic autonomy. His platform also promised university scholarships, increasing the value of the $100 monthly pension to the elderly poor over 70 to $120 per month and indexing it to the minimum wage, technical training courses to single mothers and the youth, strengthening the fight against criminality, expanding Panama City’s new metro, lowering food prices, building new houses to help families buy their first homes and a very vague promise to create new social programs. His platform stated that he would continue the infrastructure projects started by Martinelli and maintain the subsidies for transportation, gas and electricity.

Arias appeared on the ballot as the candidate of the CD and the small right-wing Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA).

The PRD nominated Juan Carlos Navarro, the former mayor of Panama City between 1999 and 2009 who narrowly lost the PRD’s 2009 presidential nomination to Balbina Herrera (but was her running-mate in the election). Navarro is a vocal opponent of Martinelli, and Martinelli really hates him with a passion.

Navarro’s platform talked of the unacceptability of poverty and inequality in Panama, but his platform was not all that left-wing. Indeed, it is mostly a grocery list of various projects and policies, but hardly anything indicates a major change with the economic policies of the current and past governments. Some of Navarro’s promises included plans against extreme poverty and malnutrition, a new agricultural policy to help farmers and consumers, vague pablum about security, a preventive health program, policies to help poor people buy medicine and access clean water, new infrastructure projects, 100,000 new or improved houses, creating jobs for the youth (Latin America’s famous ‘nini’ – people between 16 and 29 who do not study or have a job) with the private sector and tax incentives and increased pensions. Navarro was critical of Martinelli’s record on the country’s public debt, which has increased significantly under his administration, and the perception of corruption in public work contracts.

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, a sworn opponent of the government, ran for the Panameñista Party. His platform struck a fairly anti-establishment and anti-political tone (Varela says he’s no professional politician but an entrepreneur who knows how to create jobs and obtain results), with the usual clichéd promise of ‘working above parties’ to ‘solve problems’. Overall, though, his platform is hardly different on the whole from the broad economic framework in place since 1990. It is rather ambitious (but probably too ambitious), with promises of reducing poverty (with plans for 100% access to clean water and 0% of latrines/unimproved toilets), improving access to healthcare, emergency price controls to reduce food prices, job creation, bilingual ‘first world’ education, building 150,000 new houses and a plan for safer towns with more job opportunities. He also talked of a constituent assembly, but made no promise of actually adopting a new constitution.

Varela appeared on the ballot as the candidate of the Panameñista Party and the Popular Party (PP), the old PDC which is now a very minor party.

The ideological differences between the top three candidates were very thin, and all three pledged to maintain Martinelli’s popular social programs, public works projects and the neoliberal economic framework. Martinelli/Arias’ two opponents instead presented themselves as more transparent and democratic candidates than the outgoing President.

Genaro López, the former lead of the construction workers union – one of Panama’s largest and most vocally left-wing unions, ran for the new Broad Front for Democracy (Frente Amplio por la Democracia, FAD). The left-wing FAD proposed ‘economic democracy’ – opposition to neoliberalism, ‘political democracy’ and patriotism.


President (96.8% reporting)

Juan Carlos Varela (Panameñista-PP) 39.11%
José Domingo Arias (CD-MOLIRENA) 31.45%
Juan Carlos Navarro (PRD) 28.07%
Juan Jované (Ind) 0.59%
Genaro López (FAD) 0.58%
Esteban Rodríguez (Ind) 0.11%
Gerardo Barroso (Ind) 0.09%

National Assembly (90.9% reporting, unofficial projection for all seats)

CD 42.49% winning 28 seats (proj. 28)
MOLIRENA 1.28% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
Unidos por Más Cambios 43.77% winning 29 seats (proj. 29)
PRD 33.84% winning 22 seats (proj. 26)
Panameñista 17.87% winning 11 seats (proj. 14)
PP 2% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
El Pueblo Primero 19.86% winning 12 seats (proj. 14)
Independents 2.3% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
FAD 0.23% winning 0 seats

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela was elected to the presidency, a somewhat surprising twist of events in one of Panama’s most closely fought elections since 1990 with a genuine, open-ended 3-way contest for the top job. Most polls had showed either Arias or Navarro placing first, with a narrow edge to the former on advantage, although in most cases all three candidates were within the margin of error. On preliminary results, Varela won about 39% of the vote against 31.5% for Arias, his closest opponent. The PRD’s Juan Carlos Navarro, a major contender, placed a solid but ultimately quite disappointing distant third with 28% of the vote. None of the other four candidates registered on the map. It is a major defeat for the pollsters, none of which had predicted that Varela would win (and only one poll showed him in second place). Pollsters, although their methodologies are often concealed and are unregulated by the electoral tribunal, had been fairly successful in past elections. One pollster has suggested that there was a significant swing in public opinion in the final days of the campaign, during a poll black-out period.

Varela’s victory and Arias’ defeat is a major blow for Martinelli, who had been counting on his protege and his wife’s victory to continue influencing politics from behind the scenes. However, since the US invasion, no incumbent party has managed to win reelection – in every presidential election, the president’s party was defeated. Martinelli, however, was significantly more popular than most of his predecessors, except Torrijos (who was fairly popular when he left office in 2009), with approval ratings in the 60% range. However, there were serious concerns in Panama about corruption and authoritarianism in the outgoing government (two issues which Varela, who as a VP estranged from his original running-mate at the top of the ticket in 2009, seized on in this campaign) and public discontent about inequality and the high cost of living. Varela, much like Navarro, promised to keep Martinelli’s popular policies and projects (pensions for the poor, the new metro in Panama City, public works) while campaigning strongly against corruption and the President’s ‘bully’ and autocratic personality. Panamanian analysts have suggested that voters were left unconvinced by Navarro’s fairly tame and conciliatory campaign, in contrast to Varela’s tough, aggressive anti-incumbent campaign. Former PRD president Perez Balladares claimed that Varela benefited from a ‘protest vote’/’punishment vote’ against the government.

That thesis is certainly confirmed, at least in part, by the results of the legislative vote. On preliminary results, the CD-led coalition won 43.9% of the legislative vote against 33.8% for the PRD and only 19.8% for Varela’s Panameñista coalition. The new President will find himself lacking a majority in the National Assembly, with his coalition holding only 14 seats (projected) against 29 seats for the CD-led coalition and 26 for the PRD. Varela has so far said that he would work with the opposition parties and ‘respect’ the distribution of seats, rather than try to convince opposition deputies to convince to his party like Martinelli had successfully done since 2009 (when his party, the CD, only held the third-most seats when the legislature convened).

There was also a very close race for mayor of Panama City. The Panameñista candidate, José Blandón, narrowly won with 35.7% – with 92% reporting. The PRD’s candidate, Jose Fabrega, won 34.4% while incumbent CD mayor Roxana Méndez won third with 29.2%. It appears that the PRD has performed fairly well, compared to its poor presidential showing, in the local elections.

Varela assumes the presidency with no majority in the National Assembly, and a rather ambitious grocery list of promises to fulfill. Although his election does not signal a major shift in the country’s direction or the broader policy framework, of the three candidates, Varela perhaps had the more ‘ambitious’ platform and thus faces the challenges of living up to them. Although Panama’s economy remains in fairly good shapes, there are signs that trouble may lay ahead. On the one hand, heavy borrowing has significantly increased the country’s debt under Martinelli’s presidency. The economic growth of the past years has been unequal, sparking discontent in rural areas but also in the better-endowed cities of Panama City and Colón.

Macedonia 2014

Note to readers: May will be an extremely busy month for elections – Panama, South Africa, India, the EU, Ukraine, Colombia, Belgium and other local/regional elections. Due to time constraints, not all elections will be covered or will be covered with less details. The Guide to the South African Election will not be completed before the RSA election, although it will be completed in the coming months. I welcome guest posts on any of these upcoming elections. Please bare with me as I will try to cover as much as I can, and forgive me for not covering all elections.

Parliamentary and presidential (runoff) elections were held in the Republic of Macedonia on April 27, 2014. Macedonia is a parliamentary republic with the Prime Minister as head of government. The unicameral Assembly (Македонско Собрание) has 123 seats, with 120 members elected by proportional representation (d’Hondt) in six 20-member electoral units and an additional three members elected by Macedonian citizens living abroad, in three overseas constituencies (respectively: the Americas, Europe-Africa and Asia-Oceania). There were 23,782 registered voters abroad (up from about 7200 in 2011, when the three expats seats were created). The Prime Minister is nominated by the President from the largest party(ies) in the Assembly, and the government is responsible to the Assembly which may remove it through a vote of no confidence.

The President is directly elected by voters to serve a five-year term, renewable once, using the two-round system. To win in the first round, a candidate must obtain 50%+1 of the vote of all registered voters; if no candidate is elected, a second round is held two weeks later between the top two candidates, and turnout must be over 40% for the election to be valid. In the first round, held on April 13, the incumbent President won over 50% of the votes cast, but because of low turnout he won only 25.3% of registered voters, forcing a runoff with his closest rival. The President’s role, especially in domestic policy, is largely ceremonial, but the President has more significant powers in foreign policy, by making diplomatic appointments, and as Commander-in-Chief of the military.


The Republic of Macedonia covers part of a region of the southern Balkans which has been disputed between regional powers for hundreds of years. The region of Macedonia includes the territory of the Republic of Macedonia (formerly known as ‘Vardar Macedonia’) but also ‘Pirin Macedonia’ (Blagoevgrad Province) in Bulgaria and Greek Macedonia in Greece; the latter of which is the second most populous region of Greece, with 2.4 million inhabitants, which is also greater than the population of the Republic of Macedonia, with a population just over 2 million. Macedonia takes its name from ancient Macedon, the mythical kingdom which expanded into a regional and later world power between 359 and 336 BC under the rule of Philip II and Alexander the Great. The core of the historic kingdom of Macedon laid in present-day northern Greece, while what is currently the Republic of Macedonia was the peripheral kingdom of Paeonia, later conquered by Macedon. Under Roman rule, however, Macedonia came to refer to a province included much of northern and central Greece but also most of the Republic of Macedonia and parts of Albania. Under late Roman and Byzantine rule, the name Macedonia was given to administrative divisions whose boundaries shifted dramatically, to include most of the Greek Peninsula or Thrace (while, after 1018, the present-day Republic of Macedonia was in the Byzantine theme of Bulgaria, while the theme of Macedonia was centered around Thrace). After the Ottoman conquest, the name Macedonia came to refer to a geographic region rather than an administrative division.

Traditional region of Macedonia and modern state borders (source: Wikipedia)

Under Ottoman rule, which lasted until 1913, Macedonia was a diverse and disputed regions inhabited by Slavs (who likely migrated southwards to the Balkans in the 6th century), Greeks and smaller minorities of Albanians, Turks, Aromanians and Jews (who constituted the majority of the population of the southern Macedonian city of Thessaloniki/Salonica). Today, both the Slavic (Macedonian Slavs and some Bulgarians) and Greek inhabitants of greater Macedonia self-identify as ‘Macedonians’. In the late nineteenth century, with the rise of romantic nationalism, Macedonia, under fledgling Ottoman rule, was a highly disputed battleground between the newly-independent states of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia with each state claiming Macedonia (or parts thereof) as their one and the inhabitants of Macedonia as legitimately theirs. Most of the Slav population of Vardar and Pirin Macedonia were described as Bulgarian, by Bulgarians themselves but also foreign observers. Indeed, the Slavic population of northern Macedonia spoke Bulgarian (or dialects closely related to it) and most self-identified as Bulgarian, a label which coexisted a nascent sentiment of Macedonian regional (but not national) identity. The Bulgarian Exarchate, created in 1870 as part of a broader ‘Bulgarian national revival’ played a major role in promoting education and nationalist-regionalist sentiments. Simultaneously, the Greek population of southern Macedonia strongly identified with Greek nationalism (the Megali Idea) and were driven by the goal of enosis, or union with Greece. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and Greek nationalists tried to win the allegiance of non-Greek Macedonians on religious (shared Christian, Orthodox, religion) and historical (the legacy of Macedon) grounds. Serbian nationalism viewed Serbs as the leaders of the Southern Slavs, with the destiny of uniting all Southern Slavs in a single state (Yugoslavia); however, Serbia lacked the tools with which to promote its own version of nationalism in Macedonia and was originally more interested by Bosnia and Kosovo. Later, Serbian propaganda in Macedonia aimed to wean Macedonian Slavs from their identification as Bulgarian (to counteract Bulgarian influence), by promoting the idea that they were ‘Macedonian Slavs’ rather than Bulgarians. A small number of Macedonian Slav intellectuals did develop ideas that Macedonian Slavs formed their own nation, distinct from Bulgaria. Above all, however, identity in the region was still very fluid – definitions of locals as Bulgarian, Serb and so on was rather arbitrary, often based not only on political conviction but also on calculations of personal safety and financial benefits.

The 1878 Treaty of San Stefano granted almost all of Macedonia to a new Bulgarian state, but the 1878 Treaty of Berlin returned all of Macedonia to Ottoman control, leaving the new Bulgarian state with only the northern portion of present-day Bulgaria, without Eastern Rumelia, Macedonia or Thrace. The result was to intensify Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian rivalry over Macedonia, giving rise to the ‘Macedonian Question’. In 1893, what became the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (Vnatrešna Makedonska Revolucionerna Organizacija, VMRO) in 1920 was founded. The VMRO’s members largely identified as ethnic Bulgarians, but the aims of the VMRO remained fairly murky for most of its existence; it originally supported autonomy for Macedonia and Thrace within the Ottoman Empire, but members were divided between the goal of unification with Bulgaria or the creation of a Balkan Federation in which Macedonia and Thrace would be equal members (federalism was generally supported by socialists in the VMRO, who envisioned a Balkan Socialist Federation). Generally, however, the aims of political autonomy did not imply secession from Bulgarian identity, although the VMRO later opened its doors to all ethnic groups in Macedonia and it was not controlled by the Bulgarian government. The VMRO quickly became a guerrilla/terrorist organization, and in 1903, despite internal disagreements, the VMRO staged the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which was violently and bloodily crushed by the Ottomans. Following the failure of the 1903 uprising, the VMRO became increasingly divided between left-wing federalists and the right (favouring annexation by Bulgaria), and VMRO members clashed among one another almost as often as they fought Greek and Serbian guerrilla groups in Macedonia.

Turkey was defeated by the Balkan League alliance of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro in the First Balkan War (1912-1913), sealing the loss of almost all of the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. However, the First Balkan War left the contentious issue of Macedonia unresolved, with the territory now occupied by the Balkan League states. Unsatisfied by the outcome, Bulgaria attacked its former allies, joined by Romania and Turkey, in the Second Balkan War (1913). Defeated, the territory of Macedonia was now partitioned between Greece (southern Macedonia) and Serbia (the bulk of the present-day Republic/’South Serbia’) with only a small portion to Bulgaria. Under Greek and Serbian rule, Macedonia was forcibly ‘Hellenized’ or ‘Serbianized’, with the use of the Bulgarian language banned and the local population either resettled or assimilated. In Vardar Macedonia, however, pro-Bulgarian and anti-Serb sentiments remained widespread, and Bulgarian troops were welcomed and supported by the VMRO when they occupied Serbian Macedonia between 1915 and 1918. In the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria lost Macedonia and other territories to its neighbors.

During the interwar years, the VMRO carried out terrorist and guerrilla attacks in Yugoslavian and Greek territory, and their original solid back-base (called ‘a state within the state’) in Pirin Macedonia (Bulgaria) made it a destabilizing element in interwar Bulgarian domestic politics. In 1923, for example, the VMRO assassinated Bulgarian Prime Minister Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who favoured reconciliation with Yugolsavia and Greece. At the same time, the Comintern tried to use the Macedonian issue as a weapon to destabilize the Balkan monarchies. In 1924, the Comintern voted in favour of an independent and autonomous unified Macedonia in a Balkan Socialist Federation. In 1934, the Comintern published a resolution recognizing a distinct Macedonian national identity. Attempts at cooperation between communists and the VMRO fell through, although the left-wing minority in the VMRO founded the VMRO (United) in 1925. The VMRO remained internally divided, with fratricidal killings and assassination of rival leaders being common through the interwar period.

During World War II, Axis-allied Bulgaria occupied and annexed much of Yugoslav Macedonia, Greek Thrace and parts of Greek Macedonia. Initially welcomed by much of the local Slavic population and supported by the VMRO, resentment against Bulgaria grew. Macedonian communists originally refused to link up with the Yugoslav communist partisans and allied with Bulgarian communists, but after Bulgarian and Macedonian communists advocated for armed resistance after the German invasion of the USSR, local communist partisan units were formed in Macedonia. Some VMRO members, such as Ivan Mihailov, collaborated with Bulgaria and later Nazi Germany.

After the war, Tito’s Yugoslavia regained the territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia. In 1943, the communists had recognized the ‘Macedonian nation’ as a separate entity and, at war’s end, Macedonia was proclaimed as a Socialist Republic within the Yugoslavian federation. Between 1945 and the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (supported by the Greek communists, defeated in the Greek Civil War) maintained friendly ties, envisioned to form a Balkan Socialist Federation and Bulgaria recognized a distinct Macedonian identity. However, the split between Belgrade and Moscow altered the situation dramatically. The Yugoslavian government now actively (and successfully, in the end) promoted the construction of a Macedonian identity, both as a means to counteract Bulgaria and to reduce Serbian influence and power within Yugoslavia. Under communist rule in Macedonia, the authorities codified a standard Macedonian language (it is most closely related to Bulgarian), encouraged the development of a national culture, reinterpreted history (notably by appropriating ancient and Bulgarian figures as symbols of Macedonian nationalism), established an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church. However, Macedonian nationalists (separatists), former VMRO (United) members and VMRO members who had collaborated with Bulgaria were the target of state repression. The Bulgarian government reversed its earlier position and denied the existence of a Macedonian identity.

With the fall of communism, Macedonia, still a republic of Yugoslavia, held free elections in November 1990. The ruling League of Communists, which would transform itself into the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija, SDSM) in early 1991, won 31 seats against 38 for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (Vnatrešna makedonska revolucionerna organizacija – Demokratska partija za makedonsko nacionalno edinstvo, VMRO-DPMNE), a new right-wing Macedonian nationalist party which appropriated the VMRO’s tradition in its name. The VMRO-DPMNE, although it won the most seats, refused to form a coalition with the ethnically Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (17 seats), which instead joined a coalition with the SDSM. In September 1991, 96% of voters voted in favour of the independence of the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ and the country’s independence was officially declared on September 25, 1991. Macedonia was the only country of the former Yugoslavia whose independence was not resisted by Yugoslav forces. Although the most radical Serbian irredentists claim Macedonia as part of ‘Greater Serbia’, Belgrade had more pressing concerns in 1991 than Macedonia.

The SDSM was reelected in 1994, with the VMRO-DPMNE boycotting the second round of voting. Branko Crvenkovski formed a new government with the Party for Democratic Prosperity. In 1998, the VMRO-DPMNE won the elections and, under Ljubčo Georgievski, formed a government with an Albanian party.

The Republic of Macedonia’s application to join the UN was blocked by Greece, which contested the country’s name, flag and constitution. The Greek Foreign Ministry justifies its position by claiming that the Republic of Macedonia promotes irredentist territorial ambitions over Greek territory through the “counterfeiting of history and usurpation of Greece’s national and historical heritage.” Greece considers the ‘Macedonian nation’ to be an “artificial and spurious notion, which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.” Greece considers the culture and heritage of ancient Macedon to belong to the ‘Hellenic nation’ and forming an inseparable part of Greek culture; the 2.4 million residents of Greek Macedonia consider themselves to be descendants of the ancient Macedonians, while considering the Slavic inhabitants of Macedonia to be more recent settlers who arrived 1,000 years after the Macedonian empire. Greece also claims that the Macedonian government has territorial ambitions over Greek Macedonia, ambitions which Athens claimed were first expressed by Tito in 1944. There is a small Slavic minority in Greece, which is denied or severely downplayed by Greece and inflated by Macedonia.

The current Macedonian constitution explicitly states that the country has no territorial pretensions towards any neighboring states, although an article of the constitution states that “The Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighboring countries (…) assists their cultural development and promotes links with them. In the exercise of this concern the Republic will not interfere in the sovereign rights of other states or in their internal affairs.” (Article 49). Greece and critics of the Macedonian government claim that Macedonia still unofficially supports irredentist visions of a ‘United Macedonia’ including Pirin Macedonia and ‘Aegean Macedonia’, by promoting such views in school curriculum or through thinly-veiled endorsements of organizations or groups espousing such views (the VMRO-DPMNE, now the ruling party, originally supported a ‘United Macedonia’).

In 1993, after Greece (and, thanks to Greek lobbying, the European Community) had blocked Macedonia’s UN application Skopje and Athens reluctantly agreed to a provisional compromise which allowed Macedonia to join the UN as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), which remains the name under which the UN recognizes Macedonia. Greece, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Australia (among others) recognize Macedonia as FYROM, while the US, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, Bulgaria, Serbia and most UN member states recognize the country as the Republic of Macedonia.

Despite the provisional compromise, dogmatic nationalist agitation ran high on both sides of the naming dispute in the subsequent years. In 1995, Greece and Macedonia agreed to an interim accord. Macedonia agreed to remove allegedly irredentist clauses from its constitution and remove the Vergina Sun (a symbol used in ancient Greece and Macedon which has become a national/regional symbol for both Greek and Slavic Macedonians) from its flag. In exchange, Greece pledged to allow Macedonia to join any international organization under the name FYROM. Since 1995, both sides have accused one another of breaking the Interim Accord.

Negotiations over the naming dispute have continued, under UN auspices, since 1995 but they have reached a stalemate. Greece currently wants a compound name with a geographic qualifier (Upper Macedonia, Northern Macedonia etc) for use by all parties (it had previously objected to any name including ‘Macedonia); Macedonia, while trying to depict Athens as the ‘irrational’ and intransigent party in the dispute, effectively rejects a name with a geographic qualifier (such as ‘Upper Macedonia’, although it may accept something clunky like ‘Upper Republic of Macedonia’). Talks have reached a stalemate, with both sides rather intransigent in their stances and increasingly resorting to nationalist provocation. In April 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, a veto reiterated at successive NATO summits (officially, an invitation will be extended to Macedonia only once the naming dispute is resolved in a mutually acceptable manner). In 2011, the ICJ ruled in favour of Skopje’s argument that Greece’s veto on Macedonia’s NATO invitation represented a breach of the 1995 agreement, but it refused to instruct Greece to refrain from similar behaviour in the future.

Ethnic map of Macedonia, 2002 (source: Wikipedia)

The Republic of Macedonia has a significant ethnic Albanian minority, which numbered about 509,000 (or 25% of the population) at the last census in 2002. Ethnic relations, especially in comparison to those in other ex-Yugoslav republics, were relatively good. Nevertheless, Macedonians were reluctant to grant extensive minority rights to the Albanians (such as recognizing Albanian as a second official language). In 1999, ethnic relations worsened with the Kosovo conflict, which forced thousands of Albanian refugees to flee to Macedonia. Macedonians worried of an ‘Albanian invasion’ or a spillover of the Kosovo conflict.

In January 2001, a group calling itself the National Liberation Army (Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare, UÇK), founded and led by former KLA commander Ali Ahmeti, attacked a police station near the majority-Albanian city of Tetovo in western Macedonia. The UÇK reappeared in March 2001 in the mountains surrounding Tetovo, mounting a low-scale insurgency. The conflict escalated when the government ordered a counter-attack on the UÇK’s positions. In July 2001, a ceasefire agreement was reached and, in August 2001, both parties signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement. According to the Ohrid agreement, the Albanian language received certain rights throughout the country while, in all municipalities where a language other than Macedonian is spoken by more than 20%, it is recognized as a second official language. In Parliament, laws related to linguistic/cultural issues, local government, constitutional amendments and the appointment of the Public Attorney (Ombudsman) must be approved by a majority of MPs who claim to belong to ethnic minorities. A majority of these MPs, alongside a majority of all members, also elect three members of the Judicial Council and of the Constitutional Court. In Parliament, MPs were allowed to use Albanian (not explicitly cited as such, but as ‘a language other than Macedonian spoken by over 20% of the population’).

In 2002, the VMRO-DPMNE government was defeated by a coalition led by the SDSM. Crvenkovski returned as Prime Minister, until his election as President in 2004, in coalition with a small liberal party and the Democratic Union for Integration (Bashkimi Demokratik për Integrim/Demokratska unija za integracija, BDI/DUI), a new Albanian party led by former UÇK leader Ali Ahmeti which had won 16 seats (becoming the largest Albanian party). In 2006, the VMRO-DPMNE, led by former finance minister Nikola Gruevski, won the elections and formed a coalition with two small parties and the smaller Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (Partia Demokratike Shqiptare/Demokratska Partija na Albancite, PDSH/DPA). The BDI was angry that it had been excluded from government, in a move which it claimed disrespected the will of Albanian voters. The DUI boycotted Parliament in 2007, and successfully pushed the VMRO-DPMNE to hold snap elections in June 2008. The ruling coalition led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE was reelected with an expanded majority, taking 63 seats against 27 for the SDSM-led opposition, 18 seats for the DUI and 11 for the DPA. After the election, Gruevski changed his Albanian partner to the DUI.

After the SDSM had boycotted Parliament for months after the police raided the building of a private TV channel critical of Gruevski (and later arrested it’s tycoon owner), ostensibly for tax fraud, the government took the SDSM by surprise by giving in to its demand for snap elections. The government was reelected in 2011, with the VMRO-DPMNE coalition taking 56 seats against 42 for the SDSM coalition, 15 for the BDI and 8 for the PDSH. The BDI’s leader, Ali Ahmeti, had been hurt by allegations that he had been an informer for Yugoslavian intelligence.

Parties and issues

The VMRO-DPMNE has become the dominant party in Macedonian politics since winning power in 2006. It was reelected with comfortable majorities in both 2008 and 2011, it gained the presidency in 2009 (with Gjorge Ivanov, a quiet sycophant of the Prime Minister) and it won the local elections in 2013. Gruevski himself, born in 1970, is a young politician who was largely known as a technocratic finance minister under the first VMRO-DPMNE government (1998-2002), when he deregulated the economy, created a VAT and a flat tax. Since then, he has successfully transformed himself into a formidable politician and a popular nationalist and populist leader.

Macedonia hasn’t performed very well since 2006. Although growth is now back to a solid 3% per year, the country was in recession in 2012 and the official unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, at 30% (although that’s better than what it was in 2005: 37%). The government nevertheless plays on the low inflation rate, the low public debt (35.5% of GDP) and populist policies it has adopted (5% increase in wages and pensions, subsidies for agriculture) and promotion of foreign investment. The VMRO-DPMNE supports EU and NATO membership, but NATO membership remains deadlocked and EU accession talks are stalled. In 2001, Macedonia signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU and it was granted candidate status in December 2005. Since 2009, the European Commission has recommended that accession negotiations be launched, but every time, the Council of the European Union decided against due to Greece’s veto. In 2012, Bulgaria, which has difficult relations with Skopje due to disputes over conflicting views over the two countries’ shared history and the ethnic distinctiveness of Macedonia, also vetoed accession talks. Greece conditions membership to a resolution of the name dispute. In 2014, the European Parliament voted in favour of beginning accession negotiations, but it remains to be seen if the Council of the European Union will agree with the EP’s opinion.

Since 2008, the Macedonian government has promoted a more aggressive brand of Macedonian nationalism. The existence of a ‘Macedonian nation’ is a highly contentious issue; both Greece and Bulgaria deny the existence of a distinct ‘Macedonian nation’, while a handful of Serb nationalists still claim Macedonia as part of Greater Serbia. In reality, the Macedonian nation is no more or less of an artificial construct than any other national identity. Since the communist era, the governments in Skopje have controversially laid claim to historic figures as ‘symbols’ of Macedonian nationalism. Since independence, for example, the government – especially under the VMRO-DPMNE – have tried to appropriate the historic VMRO and its leaders as icons of Macedonian nationalism, distinct from Bulgarian nationalism. The VMRO-DPMNE claims descent from the VMRO, although no such links exist and the party is merely using the VMRO’s name for symbolic purposes. VMRO leaders and heroes such as Gotse Delchev, Dame Gruev and Yane Sandanski are mentioned in Macedonia’s national anthems and considered to be national heroes by Macedonia (but also by Bulgaria); Delchev, killed in the 1903 uprising, was an internationalist and supporter of a Balkan federation, but saw himself as Bulgarian, as did most other VMRO leaders.

Far more controversial has been the Gruevski’s government so-called ‘antiquisation’ policy, notably as conveyed by the government’s landmark Skopje 2014 architectural project. Launched in 2010 and nearly completed in 2014, the Skopje 2014 is the government’s large-scale plan to massively revamp Skopje, a fairly drab capital destroyed by a 1963 earthquake, in a classical style. The project included the construction of flashy new buildings and landmarks, often in Greek classical style, housing ministries, museums, the national theater and new bridges. Skopje 2014 is also a calculated, deliberative and ideologically-motivated nationalist project, part of a wider government project to lay claim to the legacy of ancient Macedon and claim that the ‘Macedonians’ are descendants of the ancient Macedonians rather than Slavs. This nationalist project serves the purposes of domestic identity-building and nationalist provocation to put pressure on Greece in the naming dispute. In 2011, a massive statue of Alexander the Great (officially ‘Warrior on a Horse’) was inaugurated in downtown Skopje. Another monument, an even larger statue of Philip II of Macedon, is under construction. In January 2012, a triumphal arch – Porta Macedonia – said to commemorate the struggle for independence, with carved reliefs including references to ancient history, was inaugurated and was met by loud protestations from Athens. The government also renamed Skopje’s airport after Alexander the Great, the highway leading to Greece is now known as ‘Alexander of Macedon’. In 2008, Gruevski welcomed a delegation from the Hunza people of northern Pakistan to Skopje; in mythology, the Hunza people claim to be descended from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army. In 2009, the public television aired a 9-minute long ‘Macedonian Prayer’, a PSA-type message with heavy religious and ultra-nationalist influence: it notably claimed that the Macedonian people were the ‘progenitors of the white race’ as ‘Macedonoids’ (Your mother Earth I have inhabited with three races: the White-Macedonoids, the Yellow-Mongoloids and the Black-Negroids. The rest-all are mulattoes. From you, Macedonians, the descendants of Macedon, I have impregnated the White race and everything began from you, to the Sea of Japan. All White people are your brothers because they carry Macedonian gene.)

The government’s controversial rewriting of history and its Skopje 2014 have been heavily criticized at home and abroad. Greece in particular has been incensed with ‘antiquisation’, because it considers that Alexander the Great and ancient Macedon are part of Hellenic culture. Bulgaria has been critical of the way in which the VMRO-DPMNE has claimed Bulgarian-Macedonian heroes as symbols in the pantheon of Macedonian nationalism. The international community, which had usually sympathized with Macedonia and judged Greece to be the irritant party in the naming dispute, has been disappointed with Macedonia’s government. At home, the opposition SDSM has opposed the Skopje 2014 project, while local academics have decried it as nationalist, historicist kitsch. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have also voiced concern with the government’s project, which they viewed as an attempt to ram ‘Macedonism’ down their throats and assimilate them into a constructed Macedonian nation. There were disputes between Albanians and the government over the construction of churches, with Albanians demanding construction of mosques in exchange. To accommodate their concerns, Skopje 2014 included statues of Mother Teresa and Skanderbeg.

The opposition has sounded the alarm over an alleged loss of media freedom. According to Freedom House’s 2013 report (which classifies Macedonia as ‘partly free’), the media faces political pressure and harassment. The most famous episode came in late 2010, when a private opposition TV channel owned by Velija Ramkovski, a business tycoon, was shut down and the owner arrested and subsequently sentenced for tax fraud. The government claimed that the arrest had nothing to do with the TV channel’s anti-government stance, while the opposition claimed that it represented a decline in media freedom under the VMRO-DPMNE government. The EU has criticized the government for the little progress made on issues of judicial independence, impartiality and competence.

President Gjorge Ivanov, elected in 2009, became the first President to seek reelection. Ivanov is fairly popular, although he is a very low-key and compliant ceremonial president who largely bows to Gruevski. Ivanov has been criticized for not taking a major role in foreign policy (although he boasted about having sat close to Obama in DC in 2012, he later admitted that he hadn’t talked to him, although he claimed that Obama winked at him). He has never used his right to block legislation, always toeing the party line. Ivanov’s renomination came as the VMRO-DPMNE refused to nominate a ‘consensus candidate’ like its coalition partner, the DUI, had demanded. The DUI supported no candidate and called on Albanians to boycott the first round of the election. The VMRO-DPMNE, however, acquiesced to the DUI’s request for snap legislative elections. Gruevski announced elections for the Parliament on March 1. However, many said that the dispute between the governing party and the DUI was staged or used as a pretext by the government to hold snap elections, in which it was confident of victory.

The government’s campaign focused on its popular nationalist stance in the naming dispute with Greece, but also on its economic record (emphasizing lower unemployment, low debt) and promised lower VAT in many sectors, no tax increases and tax advantages for businesses which take on new employees.

Defeated in every election since 2006, the opposition SDSM, a moderate and effectively centrist ‘social democratic’ party with liberal stances on minority issues and the naming dispute, has continued to struggle. It has been dogged by poor leadership and low credibility – despite the many issues faced by the country which might hurt the government, the opposition SDSM, which was in power between 2002 and 2006, dealt with the same problems and was unable to fix them. The SDSM has led an energetic and uncompromising opposition to the government, accusing it of authoritarianism and creating a state of fear, but its behaviour was little help to the party’s sagging fortunes. In 2013, the SDSM boycotted Parliament after police had expelled rowdy opposition MPs who had tried to block passage of the 2013 budget. The SDSM’s boycott, protests against the government and threats to boycott the spring 2013 local elections precipitated a major political crisis, which was only resolved by EU mediation. The SDSM was once again defeated in a landslide by the VMRO-DPMNE in last year’s local election, although it gained the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. Late last year, the SDSM mayor of Strumica, Zoran Zaev, replaced Crvenkovski as party leader. The party’s presidential candidate was university professor Stevo Pendarovski.

The opposition accuses the government of having made the country dependent on foreign loans, increasing inequalities and disrespecting the rule of law. Gruevski called the opposition’s promises unreasonable, accusing them of either lying or being ignorant. Zaev has tried to pin corruption scandals on governing politicians, notably allegations of 1.5 million bribe to Gruevski for expediting the sale of a Macedonian bank to a Serbian businessman in 2003-4.

The two main Albanian parties, the DUI and the DPA, do not appear to be divided by ideological differences. The DUI, founded by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, was originally a more radical party whose platform focused on the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement, but it has been a government partner since 2008. The DPA has accused the DUI of backtracking on its tough stance in favour of minority rights and of being increasingly marginalized in Gruevski’s government. After the 2011 election, the DUI obtained the EU integration but also the defense portfolio, and to respond to the DPA’s criticisms that it hadn’t been doing enough for Albanian rights, the DUI took various symbolic steps – in 2012, the defense minister laid a wreath on a monument honouring Albanian guerrillas in the 2001 conflict, and the DUI unsuccessfully opposed a government bill to extend social benefits to members of the Macedonian armed forces in the 2001 conflict. The DUI has sometimes been uneasy with the government, pressing it to resolve the name dispute to facilitate EU and NATO membership.

The DPA, traditionally the more moderate party and the VMRO-DPMNE’s Albanian partner, has been in opposition since 2008. While the DUI was angry at having been excluded from Gruevski’s government in 2006, the DPA became increasingly angry at what it correctly perceived as the VMRO-DPMNE’s aims to dump it in favour of the DUI, which it did after the 2008 election. Led by Menduh Thaçi, the DPA has been very critical of both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI. It supported a new agreement between Macedonians and Albanians, with the creation of a bicameral legislature and a new administrative map of the country. The DPA, unlike the DUI, did not boycott the first round of the presidential election, nominating Iljaz Halimi.

Other Albanian parties include the National Democratic Revival (NDP/RDK), a party founded in 2011 which took 2 seats in that year’s legislative election. It is the local branch of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Kosovo’s right-wing opposition party.

The Citizen Option for Macedonia (Grajanska Optsiya za Makedoniya, GROM) is a new party founded in 2013 by Stevco Jakimovski, the mayor of Karpos, who quit the SDSM after opposing the party’s plans to boycott the local elections. The GROM is a vaguely centrist party, which claims to be open to all ethnic groups.


President (first round, April 13)

Turnout was 48.86%, therefore no candidate was elected in the first round even if Ivanov won over 50%.

Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 51.69%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 37.51%
Iljaz Halimi (DPA) 4.48%
Zoran Popovski (GROM) 3.61%

President (second round)

Turnout was 54.36%, validating the election.

Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 55.28%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 41.14%


Turnout was 62.96%.

VMRO-DPMNE and allies 42.97% (+3.99%) winning 61 seats (+5)
SDSM and allies 25.34% (-7.44%) winning 34 seats (-8)
DUI 13.71% (+3.47%) winning 19 seats (+4)
DPA 5.92% (+0.02%) winning 7 seats (-1)
GROM 2.82% (+2.82%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NDP 1.59% (-1.08%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VMRO-NP 1.5% (-1.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.78% (-4.13%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Macedonia 2014

The VMRO-DPMNE and President Ivanov were both reelected with comfortable majorities (with a fourth term in office for PM Gruevski), while the opposition SDSM suffered substantial losses in the parliamentary election.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev immediately alleged serious violations and claimed that the elections had been stolen by the government. The opposition claimed that there was massive vote buying and irregularities on the voter roll. The police and the state electoral commission both said that the election was calm with only minor irregularities reported, while the VMRO-DPMNE claimed that the opposition had concocted reports of irregularities from NGOs as an ‘alibi’ for their poor electoral result and decried the opposition’s decision to ‘negate the will of the country’ and work against national interests.

The opposition and domestic NGOs claimed that they had registered cases of family voting, political propaganda at polling stations, busing of voters and vote buying by the VMRO-DPMNE. In the 2013 local elections, there had also been major concerns over the voter roll, which is suspiciously large, with claims of 30-50 people being registered at the same address. It is also said that the rolls include dead people, people who have emigrated and non-citizens (in 2013, there was a publicized case of ethnic Macedonians from an Albanian village being registered in Skopje-Centar). The OSCE’s reports in 2011 and 2013 said that the ruling party was using state resources for electoral benefit and pressured civil servants to provide ‘lists’ of reliable voters. The media is also biased in favour of the government.

The SDSM has decided that it will refuse to take its seats in the Parliament, and it may call for protests. It wants a technocratic national unity government and new elections..

The OSCE’s report stated that the elections were “efficiently administered” and candidates were free to campaign without obstruction. However, it said that “the campaign of the governing party did not adequately separate its party and state activities” and was concerned of systematic media bias in favour of the government and the ruling party. Some concerns over the voter roll were still expressed, notably with reports of many voters registered at the same address. The voter rolls have 1.78 million registered voters, for a population of 2.06 million. On election day, election observers from the OSCE evaluated the process as good or very good in 96% of their observations. While there were significant problems and issues with the electoral process, and the VMRO-DPMNE merged activities of the party and the state to its electoral advantage, a good chunk of the SDSM’s post-electoral behaviour is likely stemming from their inability to accept responsibility for their defeat.

With 61 seats, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE fell just one seat short of an absolute majority. Gruevski had asked ethnic Macedonian voters to give him 62 seats, so that nobody (read: the DUI) could ‘blackmail’ them. During the campaign, the VMRO-DPMNE played on anti-Albanian and nationalist sentiment, notably attacking the DUI’s ‘illogical demands’ (allegedly extending official use of Albanian throughout Macedonia). The governing party also manipulated fears and cultivated a ‘siege mentality’, describing Macedonia as surrounded by enemies (Albania, Kosovo, Greece and Bulgaria). The VMRO-DPMNE, in government, has managed a very coherent and well-managed communication effort, with government advertising in the media, regular press conferences, ministerial visits, statements promoting implemented projects and successes, tailor-made policies to attract different demographics and populist promises (this year: writing off poorer people’s electricity bills, heating bills and unpaid bank loans). As the OSCE reported, the VMRO-DPMNE was also the beneficiary of the uneven playing field and media bias. In the OSCE observations, 40 hours of paid political advertising on private TV channels were purchased by the VMRO-DPMNE or Ivanov, against only 3.3 hours for the SDSM and their candidate (the GROM and DUI had more advertising time than the SDSM). According to official financial reports, the VMRO-DPMNE reported revenues of $1.18 million and expenditures of $987k, while the SDSM reported revenues of approximately $181,000 and expenditures of $180,600. Ivanov also had a huge financial advantage over Pendarovski (SDSM). Finally, by calling early elections, the VMRO-DPMNE once again took the SDSM unprepared, the opposition party lacking sufficient time to complete its rebranding, and Gruevski was not hurt by the bribery allegations against him.

The DUI had sought to win 25 seats, which would have represented a massive gain of 10 seats from the last election, but they ended up with 19 seats, nevertheless a significant gain of 3.5% and 4 seats. Although both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI played to their ethnic bases’ nationalism sentiments in a very ethnically-polarized campaign, the relations between the two parties appear to be fairly good behind the tough nationalist façade and it is very likely that they will continue to form a coalition government.

In the presidential election, VMRO-DPMNE incumbent Gjorge Ivanov was easily reelected with 55.3% against 41.1% for his SDSM opponent, the remaining votes cast being invalid. Turnout in the presidential race was 8.6% lower than in the simultaneous parliamentary election, because the DUI had renewed its call for a boycott in the second round. Officially, the DUI’s boycott of the presidential race was because they felt that no candidate could be a ‘consensual’ president uniting the divided country. In reality, as this article suggests, the DUI boycott was a tool to divert growing Albanian discontent (over the DUI’s extremely mediocre, to say the least, record in government) towards nationalism, and to prevent the SDSM’s Pendarovski from winning on the back of ethnic Albanian support. The article claimed that the DUI and VMRO-DPMNE were accomplices in a game of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic chauvinism and narrow ethnic parochialism (reminiscent of Malaysia’s BN coalition). Pendarovski, a young political outsider, and the SDSM, which does not resort to nationalist sentiments, could be seen as a threat by Ahmeti and the DUI.

In the 1999 presidential election, Albanian voters had made the difference in favour of the VMRO-DPMNE’s candidate over the SDSM candidate, who had led the first round. In 2004, SDSM candidate Branko Crvenkovski had won his best result in Albanian regions of the country. In 2009, Albanian voters had voted for their own candidates in the first round, but had mostly sat out the runoff, allowing Ivanov to defeat the SDSM in a landslide. A similar scenario repeated itself this year. Although Pendarovski won a few municipalities (almost all of which have an Albanian plurality or majority), turnout was low in these places – 5.3% in Lipkovo, 12.8% in Bogovinje, 18.2% in Arachinovo (where Pendarovski took 72.3%), 19.7% in Vrapchishte and 31.3% in Tetovo. Turnout had been just as low or even lower in the first round. The only Albanian candidate, the DPA’s Iljaz Halimi, won a handful of quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns (despite very low turnout, those who turned out were still Albanians) while Ivanov was able to place first in majority-Albanian towns with a significant Macedonian minority, such as Tetovo (which is 23.2% Macedonian). Turnout was also low, in both rounds, in the two municipalities with a Turkish majority, the one municipality of Skopje with a Roma majority and the one municipality with a Serbian minority.

In the parliamentary elections, turnout was significantly higher in the Albanian regions, although in the quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns, turnout remained significantly below the national average, usually landing in the 40-50% range (it was 49.7% in the 6th constituency, which has an Albanian majority and was won by the DUI). In Albanian towns, the DUI predominated in all municipalities, with the DPA and the small NDP proving to be the only other parties polling a significant amount of votes (although the VMRO-DPMNE did have some support in some towns). In Macedonian towns, the VMRO-DPMNE dominated, with the SDSM topping the poll only in the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. The VMRO-DPMNE had particularly strong results in Macedonian towns bordering Albanian towns. The DUI won the 97% Turkish town of Plasnica with 61% although turnout was 39.9%, while the VMRO-DPMNE won Centar-Zhupa (81% Turkish) with 48% on the back of 29% turnout. On 45% turnout, the VMRO-DPMNE won 58% in Shuto Orizari, which is majority Roma; it narrowly won (with 30.4% against 25.2% for the SDSM and 21.9% for the DUI) the multiethnic (47.3% Macedonian, 28.6% Serbian, 22.9% Albanian) town of Čučer-Sandevo.

The VMRO-DPMNE reelected for another term in office, emerging with a strengthened majority and a badly defeated opposition, it seems unlikely that much will change in Macedonia. A compromise in the naming dispute with Greece appears unlikely, given that both sides have intransigent positions and Gruevski’s government prefers nationalist provocation and rhetoric for electoral purposes. And as long as there is no agreement with Athens, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids will likely find themselves delayed as well.

Quebec 2014

Provincial general elections were held in Quebec on April 7, 2014. All 125 members of the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), elected by first-past-the-post in single-member constituencies (riding, or comtés/circonscriptions in French), were up for reelection. Right before the last provincial election in 2012, I posted an election preview which included a political history of Quebec and profiles of all the main parties; most of the information in there should naturally still be accurate and provides a useful backgrounder to the main issues in Quebec politics and the provincial parties.


These elections came less than two years after the September 4, 2012 provincial elections, which returned a minority government led by the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ) under Premier Pauline Marois. The PQ, which ostensibly seeks the independence of Quebec, won a minority government with 54 seats out of 125. Although he was personally defeated in his own riding of Sherbrooke, Premier Jean Charest’s governing Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), which had been in power since 2003, performed better than anyone could have expected. Although polls taken right before the election showed the PLQ lingering in third place between François Legault’s new centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the Liberals came within a hair of actually winning the election, and ended up very close behind the PQ both in terms of votes and seats – 31.2% of the vote, against 31.9% for the PQ, and 50 seats. The CAQ had a good result in the popular vote, taking 27.1%, but the nature of FPTP and their rather inefficient vote distribution meant that the party ended up with only 19 seats.

The Liberals’ third term in office had proven extremely difficult for them, and they entered the 2012 election at a net disadvantage. Although Quebec’s economic situation between 2008 and 2012 was comparatively strong given the global economic situation, the Liberals faced major corruption scandals, voter fatigue and student protests. Quebec politics at the municipal and provincial levels have been rocked by a series of corruption scandals, many of them in the construction industry, which is now being investigated by the Charbonneau Commission, a public inquiry launched by Charest’s government in October 2011. The bulk of the commission’s work thus far has focused on corruption at the municipal level, revealing the existence of cartels of construction contractors which monopolized public works projects in cities such as Montreal in return for kickbacks to the mafia, municipal employees and municipal politicians. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities, were forced to resign following some of the revelations at the commission directly involved them. It is also clear, however, that similar cartels and corrupt dealings exist(ed) at the provincial level, albeit under a slightly different system because most public works projects are designed and supervised by private engineering firms employed by the Ministry of Transportation. Developers and construction contractors, and ‘figurehead employees’ (to circumvent electoral laws), illegally contributed to political parties at the municipal and provincial level, with the PLQ and PQ receiving the lion’s share of illegal contributions. It has also been alleged that engineering firms and contractors used public funds to make their contributions to political parties (contractors were compensated by being granted fake cost overruns by engineering firms). In November 2012, an investigator for the commission found that several high-ranking provincial politicians, including senior cabinet ministers in then-Premier Charest’s government, were invited to exclusive dinners or events at a private club in Montreal by contractors. Notably, two Liberal cabinet ministers were found to have contractors tied to construction cartels and the Rizzuto mafia clan (a Sicilian clan which controlled the Montreal mafia underworld from the 1980s until 2006-2007). Charest refused to give in to mounting public pressure to call a public inquiry into the construction industry, weakening his personal and political credibility, before finally doing an about-turn in late 2011.

In spring 2012, the Liberal government’s decision to increase post-secondary tuition fees by 75% over five years (from $2,168 in 2012 to $3,793 in 2017, increasing by $325 every year) sparked major student protests, which earned the sobriquet printemps québécois or printemps érable (‘Quebecois spring’ or ‘maple spring’). The government claimed that the tuition increase was required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities, while student federations found it unacceptable given the rising burden of student debt. Some student leaders demanded free post-secondary education. Unable to resolve the growing crisis, the Liberal government, in May 2012, adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricted freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval.

Despite the PLQ’s countless challenges and voter fatigue after nine years in power, the PQ very much won by default. In 2011 and 2012, PQ leader Pauline Marois, who took the reins of the party after its third-place result in the 2007 election, faced a major challenge to her leadership within PQ ranks. In June 2011, four PQ MNAs quit the party to protest the party’s decision to support a government bill which immunized the controversial construction of a new hockey stadium in Quebec City from judicial proceedings. However, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs (hardline supporters of sovereignty) with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Jacques Parizeau, himself a critic of Marois), two well-known hardline sovereigntists within the PQ. Jean-Martin Aussant, another of those who stepped down in June 2011, went on to create his own party – Option nationale (ON), a hardline sovereigntist party, in October 2011. Marois weathered the crisis, although at the cost of some concessions to the hardline nationalist opinion within the PQ (a “popular initiative referendum”, where voters themselves could spark a third referendum on sovereignty if they gathered signatures, which she personally opposed but which was inserted into the PQ’s platform; the extension of language legislation to post-secondary college education, or Cégep). As a result of a lackluster campaign heavily marred by kerfuffles over these and other issues (notably an ill-advised suggestion that Anglophones or allophones with poor French-language skills should be barred from running in elections), the PQ failed to win a majority government and it ended up with only 31.9% of the vote, which was actually down 3.2% on the 2008 election, in which the PLQ won a majority government.

Elected with an uncertain mandate and the support of only a minority of the National Assembly, Marois’ government needed to tread carefully as far as governing went but also to govern in a way which would allow the PQ to return to the voters seeking a majority mandate. Pauline Marois’ government had trouble finding its cruising altitude. Her government began with the immediate cancellation of the tuition fee increase, the repeal of most articles of Law 78 and the closing of the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant. The latter decision was met with significant local opposition in Bécancour, where Gentilly-2 was located. The new government also took action against corruption, passing integrity laws for construction contracts (contractors bidding will have to obtain a ‘certificate of good ethics’), limiting individual contributions to parties to $100 (down from $1,000, a 1977 law passed by René Lévesque’s first PQ government banned donations from corporations and unions) and passing a law allowing courts to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms.

The PQ government was rapidly forced to break a number of major campaign promises. In October 2012, finance minister Nicolas Marceau announced that the PQ would not, unlike it had promised in the election, abolish a controversial $200 health tax created by the PLQ government. Instead, the PQ government made the health tax progressive, with those earning less than $18,000 being exempted while those earning over $150,000 would pay $1,000, with intermediate levels in between. The government raised taxes on those earning over $100,000 to 25.75%, a 1.75% increase. The first PQ government budget, announced in November 2012, projected a return to a balanced budget in FY 2013-2014. Savings would be achieved by capping increases in government spending to 1.8% in 2013-14 and 2.4% in 2014-5, increased taxes on alcohol and the loss of 2,000 jobs through attrition at Hydro-Québec. In 2013, the government’s cuts and reforms in social welfare measures and programs was criticized by numerous social organizations.

In its 2014-2015 budget, the government did not achieve a balanced budget and delayed a return to ‘fiscal balance’ until FY 2015-2016. The budget included an increase in the fees of Quebec’s generous subsidized daycare system (from $7 to $8 a day).

The government held a post-secondary education summit with student federations in February 2013. While student federations wanted either free post-secondary education or a tuition fee freeze (as they had been between 1994 and 2007), the PQ decided on a “3% indexation of tuition fees”, or, in other terms, an increase of about $70 every year. The PQ had the chutzpah to portray it as “another kind of freeze” because increases will be offset by increases in income, even if that isn’t really the case (largely because it isn’t an actual indexation). Student organizations, including those (the FÉUQ and FÉUC) who had participated in the summit (the more leftist ASSÉ, which supports free tuition, demonstrated outside the summit and boycotted the event), criticized the government’s decision. Any goodwill for the PQ from the anti-fee hike students evaporated.

In 2012, the PQ opposition had roundly criticized the Charest government’s Plan Nord, a plan for over $80 billion in public and private investments over 25 years to promote economic development, sustainable development and growth in the province’s northern regions. The plan was criticized by environmentalists and others who decried the low royalties for mining companies and fears that the government was ‘selling off’ Quebec’s natural resources to foreign mining companies. In government, the PQ effectively readopted the PLQ’s plan, with minor changes. On mining royalties, the PQ announced in May 2013 a much lower set of expectations: under their new plan, the government would receive $690 million less than they originally projected.

The Liberals, in opposition, were called to chose a new permanent leader at a leadership convention in March 2013. Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon who served as health minister between 2003 and 2008 in Charest’s cabinet, and was, until his retirement in 2008, often suggested as a potential successor to Charest, took the somewhat surprising decision to reenter politics. As the candidate with the highest profile, Couillard easily won the PLQ leadership, winning 58.5% on the first ballot against 22% for Pierre Moreau, a former transportation minister under Charest and 19.5% for Raymond Bachand, Charest’s finance minister between 2005 and 2013.

In July 2013, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed in central Lac-Mégantic, a town in the Eastern Townships, killing 47 people and causing massive devastation to the town. The provincial government’s response, which included the announcement of a $60 million aid package for Lac-Mégantic, was positively received. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the PQ government seemed to have found its cruising altitude.

The issue of national identity and, closely connected to that, the status of the French language, has been a highly contentious matter in Quebec. In 1977, the first PQ government under René Lévesque passed Bill 101 (loi 101 or Charter of the French Language), which made French the official language of work in the public and private sectors, education, advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received most of their instruction in English. While Bill 101 is largely popular with Francophones in Quebec, it has been heavily criticized by Anglophones in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. In 1988, the PLQ government of Robert Bourassa adopted Bill 178, which used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to impose unilingual French advertising outside private businesses. In 2009, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a clause of Bill 104 (which strengthened language of education rules, limiting access to English schools and closing loopholes used by some to send their children to English schools), passed by Bernard Landry’s PQ government with the support of all opposition parties in 2002. In the 2012 campaign, the PQ had proposed extending Bill 101′s provisions to the Cégeps, two-year post-secondary collegiate institutions, and to all businesses with over 11 employees (until then, it was applicable for businesses employing more than 50 people). In April 2013, the PQ government proposed Bill 14, which would have extended Bill 101 to businesses with 26-49 employees, removing the bilingual status granted to municipalities which now have less than 50% of Anglophones, removing the language of education exemption for military families and enforcing French as the language of communication in the public, para-public, healthcare and social sectors. Lacking support from the PLQ or the CAQ, the PQ was forced to withdraw the bill.

Far more controversial, however, was the PQ’s Charter of Values (Charte des valeurs québécoises). The PQ presented its project as a defense and affirmation of laïcité (secularism), and the Charter’s most notable proposal was to ban all public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols (veil, cross, turban, hijab, kippah) and public servants would need to be religiously neutral. Critics accused the PQ of inventing a problem which didn’t actually exist, or using laïcité  as a pretext to stigmatize minorities (particularly Muslims). Others felt that the PQ was proposing ‘two-speed laïcité‘ because the party supported keeping the crucifix (very much a visible and conspicuous religious symbol) in the National Assembly.

The federal NDP, federal Liberals and the federal Conservative government all expressed opposition to the Charter; the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Bar of Quebec, McGill University, the Université de Montréal, the Université de Sherbrooke and many academics have also opposed the Charter. Notably, both men behind the Bouchard-Taylor commission, came out against the Charter. Polls have shown a narrow plurality/majority of Quebecers, and a larger (but not overwhelming) majority of Francophones support the Charter.

The PQ’s Charter was the party’s response to a long-running debate on ‘reasonable accommodations’ in Quebec, which has been a hot-button issue in the province in the last 10 years. Between 2006 and 2007, several incidents of religious groups demanding special ‘accommodations’ incensed public opinion in Quebec – a court decision allowing a Sikh student to wear a kirpan to school, Hasidim Jews asking for tinted windows at a local YMCA in Montreal (so that children would not see women in athletic clothes), Muslims asking for a prayer room at work, a Muslim girl wearing a hijab in a soccer match and so forth. Responding to the controversy, the Charest government created a commission, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, to debate the issue of reasonable accommodations in 2007. In 2008, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s final report recommended that government employees with coercive powers (police offices, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens but not teachers) be barred from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, but also that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly and to ban opening prayers at municipal councils. The Charest government rejected the commission’s proposals, and the PLQ government completed its terms without doing anything on the issue. In 2012, the PQ had announced that it would draft a Charter of Quebec values and secularism if elected. The issue of ‘reasonable accommodations’ has been used as a wedge issue by a good number of politicians, especially in the old Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), a conservative third party whose shocking second place showing in 2007 (ahead of the PQ) was often assigned to the debate on reasonable accommodations, or the PQ.

The PQ has been accused of using the Charter as an electoral wedge issue, catering to a conservative and suburban/rural Francophone Catholic electorate’s primal fear of multiculturalism or (Muslim) immigration. The PQ’s opponents have in turn compared the PQ to the far-right FN in France, which is a very unfair comparison, regardless of one’s view on the Charter. The PQ has, especially under René Lévesque, traditionally been a fairly progressive civic nationalist party; a far cry from the conservative, Catholic, inward-oriented nationalism of survivance which existed prior to the Quiet Revolution. Nevertheless, given history and persistent concerns (real or exaggerated or imagined) about the status of the French language, there has always been a dose of cultural nationalism in the PQ’s generally civic nationalist outlook. The Charter does represent a move away from civic nationalism towards cultural nationalism, although one which remains couched in ostensibly progressive and liberal nationalist rhetoric (secularism). It is, above all, however, an electoralist ploy and wedge issue designed by the PQ to please the base, mobilize the PQ’s traditional electorate and seize the advantage over the PLQ and the CAQ.

François Legault’s CAQ said that it supported some kind of charter of secularism, but denounced the PQ’s electoralist use of the Charter and felt that it went too far. The CAQ suggested that government employees with coercive or moral (school principals) authority be banned from wearing religious symbols.

The PLQ is uncomfortable on identity. The PLQ is the party of choice for Quebec’s Anglophone and allophone minorities, therefore, unlike the PQ/CAQ, it must be careful of not burning bridges with them by supporting linguistic legislation or identity projects which are strongly opposed by linguistic minorities. Although the Liberal Party’s hold on the minority vote is extremely solid, there remains the precedent of 1989, when the Equality Party won 4 seats (all Anglophone seats on Montreal’s West Island) in reaction to the Bourassa Liberals’ language legislation (Bill 178 etc). On the other hand, the PLQ has a sizable Francophone electorate to appeal to, which is susceptible to supporting some sort of soft nationalism. Indeed, the Charter badly hurt and divided the PLQ. For months, the Liberals lacked a clear position on the issue. In October 2013, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard stated that he would never work with the PQ in adopting the Charter, but he remained uncomfortable on the issues which the Charter rose, notably public servants wearing religious symbols. In November 2013, Liberal MNA Marc Tanguay said that the PLQ would, hypothetically, accept a candidate who wore an Iranian-style chador. His colleague, Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, the only Muslim member, publicly criticized Tanguay’s comments. A longstanding opponent of political Islam and religious extremism, Houda-Pépin supported banning government employees with coercive authority from wearing religious symbols. Then, Couillard himself contradicted Tanguay, saying that, no, the Liberals wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a chador as a candidate.

In January 2014, Houda-Pépin quit the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent MNA. She could not bring herself to agree with the PLQ’s opposition to the Charter. The whole affair was terribly handled by Couillard and the PLQ leadership; hitherto a relatively little-known backbencher, Houda-Pépin was allowed to gain a significant presence in the media by opposing the party line and reinforcing views that the PLQ was badly divided over the Charter and lacked a coherent position on the issue.

Premier Pauline Marois called an election for April 7 on March 5. After opting against calling a snap election for December 2013, it looked very likely that the PQ government would fall on the budget, given the PLQ and CAQ’s opposition to Nicolas Marceau’s 2014-5 budget.

Parties, Issues and Campaigns

The PQ entered the campaign clearly seeking a majority government from voters. The PQ trailed the Liberals in polls between March and December 2013, with the PLQ leading the PQ by up to 10 points in poll. The PQ managed to close the gap beginning in the fall of 2013, reducing the PLQ’s advantage to single digits and finally stealing the lead from the PQ in the New Year. A CROP poll in mid-February 2014 showed the PQ leading the PLQ by 6 points, 40 to 34, which would have been enough for a PQ majority. The first polls during the campaign showed a close race in the popular vote, with a statistical tie or narrow PQ lead (up to 2 points). However, given that the PLQ’s vote is inefficiently distributed, a tied race in Quebec translates into a PQ lead in terms of seats. In 1998, the PQ narrowly lost the popular vote to the PLQ but it was reelected with a majority government.

The PQ remains committed, on paper, to the independence of Quebec. The PQ’s platform opened with the traditional commitment to ‘make Quebec a country’. In reality, however, the prospects of an independent Quebec are low: support for independence is stuck at around 40%, there is no public interest outside nationalist circles for a third referendum and a lot of ‘soft nationalist’ voters (who voted or would have voted oui in 1995) have lost interest in the cause and are more interested in daily life issues. The federal Bloc Québécois’ massive defeat at the hands of the NDP in the 2011 federal election was correctly interpreted by most as a sign that Quebec voters had lost interest in the ‘national question’. The NDP, historically a non-entity in Quebec, attracted a lot of ‘soft nationalists’ (and even not-so-soft nationalists) thanks to the appeal of Jack Layton’s energetic campaign but also the party’s progressive, centre-left politics which is generally a good fit for Quebec (which leans to the left of the rest of Canada on most issues except identity and immigration). The Bloc’s campaign, which doubled down on sovereignty, further alienated voters. To be sure, however, the NDP successfully pulled Tory and Liberal voters as well. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was entirely by default, and owed little to nothing to the PQ’s raison d’être. Pauline Marois, largely to placate the base, promised a vaguely-defined gouvernance souverainiste which, in reality (especially given the minority mandate), amounted to nothing out of the ordinary. The PQ government did disagree with the federal government on issues such as the fed’s reform of employment insurance, but beyond tougher words and pablum, it wasn’t of much importance.

The PQ’s platform clearly stated that it would not hold a referendum until it judged the population to be ready and the moment ‘appropriate’. To placate the base, the PQ promised to draft a ‘white book on the political future of Quebec’ and submit it to the people for ‘consultation’; to fight the fed’s interference and assuming all powers at its disposal. On the campaign trail, the PQ largely sought to downplay the referendum question. Instead, it emphasized the Charter, protecting the French language (likely adopting Bill 14) and affirming Quebec’s culture.

On economic issues, the PQ largely relied on the aborted budget, which focused on limiting growths in public spending, cutting spending in many ministries and some fee/tariff increases (daycares, from $7 to $9, electricity bills) to eliminate the deficit in 2015-2016. They promised 115,000 new jobs in 3 years, resource development (allowing oil exploration on Anticosti Island), assisting export-oriented companies and income and payroll tax cuts once the budget is balanced.

The PQ thought that it had recruited the top star candidate in Pierre Karl Péladeau, a media mogul who announced his candidacy for the PQ in Saint-Jérôme. Péladeau, colloquially known as PKP, was the president of Québecor Inc., a media and communications giant with a revenue of $4.28 billion in 2013. Québecor owns Vidéotron, one of Quebec’s main cable television, wireless internet and phone providers; TVA Group, centered around TVA, the single largest French-language TV channel in Quebec; Sun Media, the owner of many local tabloid newspapers across Canada including Le Journal de Montréal (a populist tabloid which is Quebec’s most popular newspaper), Le Journal de Québec (the third largest newspaper in Quebec) but also the Sun conservative tabloids (Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Ottawa Sun etc), local/regional dailies (The London Free Press, The Kingston Whig-Standard);, a web portal; and Groupe Archambault, Quebec’s largest music (but also books, DVDs, magazines etc) retailer. Québecor also owns, through TVA Group and Sun Media, the Sun News Network, a conservative news channel launched in 2011 which self-describes as a ‘less politically correct’ and ‘straight talk’ channel (it is often referred to as ‘Fox News North’). Ironically, the Sun newspapers in English Canada are known for their strongly anti-separatist stances. Overall, Québecor’s newspapers account for about 31% of the average daily circulation of all newspapers in Canada (in 2012).

As part of an expansion into sports, Péladeau acquired naming and management rights for Quebec City’s new indoor arena (the city hopes to regain its NHL franchise). The city’s decision was contested in court by a former city manager, and in 2011, the National Assembly passed Bill 204, forbidding any judicial challenges. The PQ’s support of the bill, alongside the PLQ government, led to the 2011-2012 crisis in the PQ. Péladeau’s father, Pierre Péladeau, was openly nationalist, but PKP was fairly quiet about his own politics. Prior to the election, there were persistent rumours that PKP would run for the PQ, which he initially denied.

Péladeau was always a risky bet, since he public perceptions of the man in Quebec aren’t universally positive, especially on the left. In 2009, Québecor locked out over 200 unionized employees of Le Journal de Montréal, and employed strike-breakers to continue publishing the newspaper. As a powerful businessman and media mogul, his politics unsurprisingly lean towards the right. In recruiting Péladeau, the PQ knowingly took the risk of further alienating firmly left-wing nationalist voters away from the PQ, in exchange for attracting centrists and right-leaning nationalists/soft nationalists, primarily from the CAQ.

In his first speech as a PQ candidate, Péladeau enthusiastically declared, in the form of a fist pump, his ambition to ‘make Quebec a country’. Péladeau’s fist pump reignited the issue of a third referendum, which proved a clear liability for the PQ given that the majority of voters do not want a third referendum. The PQ’s campaign was badly hurt by Péladeau’s fist pumping, forcing the PQ to reiterate that there would no referendum and, in the first debate, Marois restated the PQ’s position that it would only hold a referendum when ‘the people is ready’ and took no commitment to hold a referendum during the next government’s term. Nevertheless, the can of worms had been opened. The PQ fell badly behind the PLQ in polls after PKP’s candidacy.

Instead, the PQ shifted focus back over to the Charter, hoping to successfully use it as a wedge issue to weaken the PLQ and take voters from the CAQ. But the PQ’s Charter focus was hit by three incidents. Firstly, at the end of March, Janette Bertrand, a popular feminist comedian and writer, spoke at a PQ event to promote the Charter. She stressed that the Charter was essential to ensuring gender equality and that there was a religious fundamentalist ‘danger’ if it was not adopted. Then she told a story about ‘two men’ (rich, presumably Arab, students from McGill) who obtain from the apartment building’s owner a special men’s-only day at the pool, and several months later, Bertrand said, they have the pool all the time. She used this largely invented story (which has only one fact: that Bertrand goes to the pool at her apartment building to do aqua-gymnastics) to describe ‘le grugeage‘ (process of ‘chewing’ or ‘nibbling’) and the dangers of the absence of the Charter. Besides, the Charter would not apply to private businesses like Bertrand’s apartment building. Her comments were widely criticized. Later, Marois stated that she would use, if necessary, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to protect her Charter, after months of PQ claims that the Charter was compatible with the federal Charter. Finally, Marois confirmed that public employees could be fired if they did not respect the Charter’s secular dress code.

Panicking, the PQ tried to latch on to stupid and irrelevant issues. It accused Couillard, who worked as a neurosurgeon in Saudi Arabia, of not sufficiently criticizing the Kingdom’s human rights record. It then played on ‘alleged electoral irregularities’, with reports of ‘abnormally high’ numbers of Anglophones and allophones seeking to register to vote, so obviously the PQ blew the issue out of proportion with concern trolling.

The PLQ focused its campaign on economic issues, under the slogan ensemble on s’occupe des vraies affaires (together, addressing of the real issues); the term ‘real issues’ was also a direct criticism of the PQ’s alleged focused on identity politics, the threat of a third referendum and nationalism – which the PLQ implicitly defined as less important issues.

In terms of actual proposals, the PLQ’s platform (or the equivalent thereof, there does not seem to be a single document acting as platform, but rather a financial breakdown of major promises and a series of commitments, some of them micro-targeted to certain regions) focused on rather populist economic proposals to help create jobs and oriented towards the ‘middle class’. Like the PQ, the PLQ supported a rigorous management of government spending (a $1.3 billion in cuts) to return to a balanced budget as soon as possible. But it accused the PQ of mismanaging the economy, of having a poor record on job creation and cutting infrastructure spending instead of cutting in government administration. It proposed creating over 250,000 jobs over 5 years, reestablishing funding for the maintenance and modernization of infrastructures (cut by the PQ), introduce a tax credit for home renovations, creating a property savings plan to help people purchase their first homes, relaunching the Plan Nord (which the PLQ accuses the PQ of having destroyed), an ‘aggressive export strategy’ (to take advantage of the new FTA with the EU, and NAFTA), tax cuts and debt reduction with a budget surplus, a gradual elimination of the health tax over 4 years beginning in 2016-17, an indexation of daycare daily fees, reducing the bureaucracy in education and healthcare to ‘invest in patients and students’ and opening 24/7 ‘super clinics’. The PLQ also made a big deal of their ‘Maritime Strategy‘, with investments of over $7 billion, 30,000 new jobs and profits of over $3.5 billion over 15 years in Gaspésie, the Magdalen Islands and the Côte-Nord. The PLQ’s landmark strategy talked about developing maritime transport, tourism and supporting the fisheries industry. The PQ and independent economists criticized the PLQ’s costings and platform, notably for relying on predictions of high economic growth and unfounded assumptions.

To reinforce the party’s economic focus, the PLQ recruited a number of candidates with economic or financial backgrounds.

In their commitments, the PLQ makes no specific mention of language and identity issues, besides the usual platitudes. There is also no mention of the Charter or the issues that it raised; the PLQ is against the PQ’s Charter, but it is vague on what it wants instead. It talked of ‘guidelines’ for religious accommodations, and leaving it up to police chiefs to determine whether their officers may wear religious headgear and other symbols. Because of the PLQ’s extremely vague positioning on language issues and Couillard’s statements about bilingualism being an asset, the PQ and CAQ said that Couillard was incapable of defending Quebec values and the French language.

The PLQ also talked little of corruption and integrity, besides vaguely assuring voters that things had changed. During the second televised leaders debate, Couillard was attacked for his one-time association with Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Center, who faces criminal charges over an alleged $22 million fraud and kickback scheme. He was arrested by Interpol in Panama in May 2013 and is awaiting extradition to Canada. He was also criticized for keeping an offshore bank account in Jersey while he was a doctor in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, which, while not illegal, gives a bad reputation.

The CAQ began the electoral campaign in an unfavourable position. After the party won 27% (but only 19 seats) in 2012, the CAQ began its campaign with only 15 to 16% support in polls, and in polls in the early half of the campaign, its support fell further to lows of 12-14%. Given the party’s rather inefficient vote distribution, such a low result could see the CAQ win only 4-6 seats, and CAQ leader François Legault faced a tough challenge from the PQ in his riding of L’Assomption, an historically péquiste area. The CAQ was also hurt by the retirement of two of its first term MNAs: Hélène Daneault (Groulx) and, above all, Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme). Duchesneau, a former Montreal police chief and later a leader in the fight against corruption in Quebec since 2009, had been one of Legault’s leading star candidates in 2012 (as part of a heavy focus on integrity and ethics). Legault also lost Gaétan Barrette, a former president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (federation of medical specialists), who had run and lost for the CAQ in Terrebonne in 2012. Barrette ran for the PLQ in La Pinière, against ex-PLQ independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin (who was supported by the PQ, which ran no candidate in the solidly Liberal seat).

The CAQ is a vaguely centre-right party, which largely consists of vacuous platitudes balancing out to a right-wing lean. It was founded in 2011 by François Legault, a former PQ cabinet minister and CEO of Air Transat until 1997. Legault resigned his seat as PQ MNA in 2009 but returned to politics with speculation that he would create a new centre-right party, which sought to go beyond the old federalist/separatist debate, opposed a new referendum and focused on more ‘urgent issues’. The conservative Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), founded in 1994 by right-leaning but autonomist/soft nationalist Liberals and a minor party under the leadership of Mario Dumont (the ADQ’s only MNA between 1994 and 2003) until it surged to become the second largest party in 2007. The ADQ, which was totally unprepared for prime team, did horrendously in opposition and the ADQ collapsed to 7 seats (from 41); Mario Dumont quickly retired from the party leadership, leaving the party without its historic leader and badly divided in the wake of a jumbled leadership contest. The ADQ merged into the CAQ; the ADQ’s remaining MNAs, led by ADQ leader Gérard Deltell, became the parliamentary backbone of the CAQ prior to the 2012 election, although it also welcomed three PQ defectors.

In this election, the CAQ presented itself as the ‘party of taxpayers’ and defended a conservative populist platform promising austerity, spending cuts, tax cuts, reducing the size of the bureaucracy but also a large project to make the St. Lawrence Valley into a new Silicon Valley. The CAQ’s platform decried Quebec’s high taxes and economic stagnation. It promised to return to a balanced budget as early as 2014-15, with major spending cuts in government expenditures, abolishing school boards and health agencies, reducing the size of the civil service through a 4-year hiring freeze, adopting a ‘taxpayers charter’ banning tax and utility price increases beyond the rate of inflation, abolishing the health and school taxes (projected to give ‘families’ $1,000), cutting the recent increase in electricity rates by half, limiting future increases in electricity rates and daycare prices to the rate of inflation, ending partisan nominations and exorbitant severance pays and fighting corruption. By cutting bureaucracy, the CAQ says it wants to improve services, notably in healthcare and education.

The CAQ’s landmark project, which headlined its platform, was the St. Lawrence Project, a major plan to turn the St. Lawrence into a ‘valley of innovation’ like the Silicon Valley, focusing on the high-tech and knowledge economy, with the promise of creating 100,000 ‘high quality’ jobs. The platform talked of stimulating investment and innovation, increasing the number of university graduates and a lot of vague statements about plans and policies. The costings for the project and the government’s role therein seemed extremely vague.

The CAQ has a mildly autonomist stance on the national question, which it styled as ‘Quebec first’ (as opposed to the PLQ’s ‘Canada first’ and the PQ’s ‘Quebec only’, in the CAQ’s words). It still opposes a referendum on independence. The CAQ supported the idea of a Charter, guaranteeing the religious neutrality of the province and gender equality, and banning judges, police officers, prison wardens but also school teachers and principals from wearing religious symbols. It also vaguely supported ‘respect for Quebec’s heritage’, which meant opposition to removing the crucifix from the National Assembly and protecting symbols associated with Christian religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. The CAQ’s platform also wished to limit federal spending power, seek a single tax return for Quebec (Quebec is the only province where taxpayers need to fill out two separate tax returns, for the federal and provincial governments) and eliminating costly duplication of services between the provincial government and Ottawa. While Legault attacked Couillard for his allegedly weak stance on the French language and has stated that French is ‘in danger’ in Montreal, the CAQ’s platform made no specific mention of linguistic legislation.

The CAQ had 122 candidates, failing to put up candidates in Soulanges, Saint-Laurent and Westmount-Saint-Louis.

Québec solidaire (QS), a left-wing nationalist party, was founded in 2006 by the merger of a political party, the Union of Progressive Forces (UFP, itself a coalition of three parties including the former Quebec NDP and the Communist Party of Quebec, PCQ), and a social movement, Option citoyenne. QS describes itself as a feminist, environmentalist, democratic and alter-globalist party supporting social justice, equality, pluralism and the independence of Quebec. QS claims to be the only left-wing party in Quebec, judging that the three major parties have become right-wing neoliberal parties. Since its foundation in 2006, QS has enjoyed significant success at the polls. In 2008, QS elected its first MNA, Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and one of QS’ two spokesperson at the time. In 2012, QS increased its vote share from 3.8% to 6% and elected its second MNA, Françoise David, a well-known feminist and QS spokesperson. The loss of much of the PQ’s left flank to QS has become a major electoral issue for the PQ, which has been split between strategies to attract left-wing votes from QS or by sacrificing a few left-wing votes to QS in exchange for attracting right-wing votes from the CAQ. The PQ often charges the QS of dividing the nationalist vote and QS voters of ‘wasting their votes’, but the idea that QS voters would just all vote PQ if QS wasn’t there is an extremely faulty one.

QS’ platform focused on three main themes: ‘a fair Quebec’, ‘a free Quebec’ and ‘a green Quebec’. Under the first theme, QS proposed to create additional tax brackets for high incomes, raise corporate taxes, restore the capital tax on financial institutions, offer financial aid to low-income families, move towards free post-secondary education within 5 years, creating a universal public drug insurance program, investing $400 million in healthcare over 4 years, transfer all subsidies from private to public schools by 2020, fighting precarious work conditions, creating a guaranteed minimum income (initially to be set at $12,600), creating 50,000 new green housing units, reducing class sizes and increasing the number and length of paid holidays. QS was the only major party which did not set a balanced budget as a priority; its financial framework called for a 4% annual increase in government expenditures, higher than any of the three other parties, and it opposed the idea of ‘zero deficit at all costs’. On environmental issues, QS supported reducing GHG emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2020 through a plan to stop using fossil fuels, and QS strongly opposes oil exploration on Anticosti Island, nuclear power and shale oil and gas. On the issue of natural resources, QS’ platform supported nationalizing production of strategic resources, increase the royalties paid by mining companies, strengthen environmental oversight and approval of mining projects. QS has been very critical of the PQ’s record on economic and environmental issues, decrying cuts in social services and programs by the PQ’s austerity-minded budgets and some of the PQ’s environmental policies, notably with regards to Anticosti Island.

QS supports the independence of Quebec, but it calls for it through the election of a constituent assembly which would draft a constitution for Quebec, which would be ratified by voters in a referendum. QS’ platform called for improving First Nations’ rights, opposing current free trade agreements, opposition to ‘imperialism’ and militarism and adopting a MMP electoral system. QS seeks to strengthen Bill 101 by broadening its scope, but QS is pro-immigration and it opposed the PQ’s Charter. QS criticized the Charter for dividing Quebecers and for ‘two-speed’ secularism.

QS had no electoral agreement with Option nationale (ON), a more ‘hardline’ separatist party founded by ex-PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant in 2011. ON’s first priority is independence, and the party’s line is that a ON majority government would be understood as a mandate to break constitutional ties with Canada by repatriating powers over laws, treaties and taxes from Ottawa, before drafting a constitution confirming Quebec’s independence and ratifying said constitution in a referendum. Although ON says that independence is neither left nor right, the rest of ON’s platform leans to the left, similar to QS, supporting free education, the nationalization of natural resources, a public drug insurance program and opposition to private healthcare. In 2011, ON and QS had a non-aggression pact, with neither party opposing the other’s leader(s) in their constituencies. Aussant lost reelection in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour and ON’s profile in the media declined significantly, and in June 2013 Aussant left ON’s leadership to accept a job at Morgan Stanley in London. The major differences between ON and QS is over the priority assigned to independence: QS supports independence, but it is much less of a priority, often featuring below goals of social justice. ON ran 116 candidates. QS ran candidates in every constituency except Nelligan.

The new Conservative Party of Quebec, founded in 2009, ran 59 candidates. The PCQ is led by Adrien Pouliot, a former ADQ member and conservative economist. It is federalist and right-wing.

The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ), which won 3.9% in 2007 and 2.2% in 2008, has been struggling for years with unstable leadership and poor electoral results. In 2012, the PVQ ran only 66 candidates and won 1% of the vote across the province. Under a new leader, Alex Tyrrell, the party now proclaims itself as an ecosocialist party. The PVQ claims to be the only party uniting federalists and separatists, who place a common emphasis on environmental issues. The PVQ ran only 44 candidates.


Turnout was 71.43%, down from 74.6% in 2012 but still far higher than the 2008 record low, which saw only 57.4%. Compared to other provincial elections, turnout in Quebec’s provincial elections is significantly higher, with turnout in the 70% range since 2003, with the exception of 2008 (an ‘unwanted’ election called by the PLQ to regain a majority government, only a bit after a year from the last election, with no suspense or major issues in the campaign). The higher turnout indicates the greater interest of Quebecers in provincial politics compared to other provinces, which isn’t very surprising.

PLQ 41.52% (+10.32%) winning 70 seats (+20)
PQ 25.38% (-6.57%) winning 30 seats (-24)
CAQ 23.05% (-4%) winning 22 seats (+3)
QS 7.63% (+1.6%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ON 0.73% (-1.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green 0.55% (-0.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Conservative 0.39% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.36% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.39% (+0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

qc 2014


The Quebec Liberals, only 18 months after losing power, were returned to government with a wide majority government. What the PQ expected to be an election which would return them to power with a majority government ended up being a major rout for the PQ, which throws the PQ into disarray and forces péquiste leaders and supporters to ask themselves some tough questions.

The 2014 election will go down in history as an excellent example of an horribly run electoral campaign, which turned what could have been a comfortable victory into a terrible rout. The PQ called the election optimistic that it would be able to win a majority government. Since the summer of 2013, after a tough start, Marois’ government had finally found its cruising altitude and had steadily eaten into the Liberal opposition’s sizable lead over the PQ before finally stealing the lead themselves. Polls at election call favoured the PQ: even if the popular vote matchup between the PQ and PLQ was tight, the PQ’s net advantage over the Liberals in the Francophone vote, the historic inefficiency of the Liberal’s vote distribution and the CAQ’s loses allowed the PQ to be confident that it would win a majority. In late February, Marois also sought to take advantage of the PLQ’s disarray bred by the debate over the Charter. PLQ MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin had just left the Liberal caucus with a bang, seriously weakening Couillard’s leadership and giving the image of a party which was divided and incoherent over a major political issue.

In the first days of the campaign, the PQ’s recruitment of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a candidate made headlines and was a major coup for the PQ. In the second half of Marois’ government, the PQ had taken the decision to reorient more towards the centre/centre-right, targeting CAQ voters, at the expense of less important loses on the left to QS. With PKP’s candidacy, the PQ aimed to appeal to CAQ voters and to gain a clear advantage over the PLQ and CAQ on economic issues, strengthening the PQ’s ‘economic credibility’. However, perhaps to calm the queasiness of the PQ’s left-wing and QS, PKP’s entrée en scène came with a stirring declaration of attachment to sovereigntist values (the infamous PKP fist pump and ‘Dean Scream’-like moment of faire du Québec un pays!). To many voters, opposed to a referendum, it really appeared as if the PQ was running on a third referendum if it was reelected. Despite the PQ and Marois’ later reassurances that there was no commitment to a quick referendum within the government’s term and that there would be no referendum until the people were ready and the conditions assembled, the damage had already been done and the incident flash polarized the electorate. The CAQ, which included a lot of voters who had backed the Liberals in 2008 and a plurality of CAQ supporters, in polls, indicated that the Liberals were their second choice, bled towards the PLQ, although some soft nationalists likely shifted from the PQ to the CAQ at this point. At this point, Couillard and the Liberals’ slogan of taking care of les vraies affaires began to benefit the Liberals. The PLQ seized on the fear/threat of an unwanted third referendum, accusing the PQ of focusing on divisive issues and issues of lesser importance rather than the ‘real issues’ (like the economy, healthcare, education, jobs) which polls showed to be the top issues in voters’ minds. The Liberal federalist base was mobilized by the threat of a referendum, even if in reality the threat was no greater than it was pre-PKP fist pump.

Marois applying the brakes on the referendum idea failed to have an effect. The Liberal base was already strongly mobilized. The PQ’s hardcore nationalist base was now losing enthusiasm (again) for Marois and demobilizing. The CAQ regained some lost votes from the PQ, while QS consolidated gains it had made from the PQ’s left after PKP’s candidacy.

The Charter was, by the looks of how the PQ played it, designed to be an electoral wedge issue to benefit the PQ rather than an actual policy which the PQ genuinely wanted to see passed rapidly with a large consensus. If the PQ had wanted to pass the Charter rapidly, it could probably have done so, given that there was wide agreement between the parties on the major goals of the Charter – the secularism of the state, affirmation of gender equality, the ban on receiving public services if one’s face was veiled, covered or masked. Instead, the PQ began using the Charter as a wedge issue, hoping to mobilize a culturally nationalist and conservative electorate, with a primal fear of multiculturalism (defined by many as a threat to Quebec’s French Catholic character) and Muslim immigration. Initially, the PQ was fairly good at playing the Charter as a wedge issue, as evidenced by the major division in the PLQ. However, during the campaign, the PQ’s decision to refocus the rhetoric on the Charter in a hope to forget the referendum frenzy failed. As mentioned above, the Charter blew up in the PQ’s face. On the left, many left-nationalist and progressive voters, strongly opposed to the Charter, moved towards or stayed with QS, which consolidated its gains with the PQ’s urban left/progressive flank. The Janette Bertrand story, the announcement that the PQ might need to use the notwithstanding clause to protect the Charter (despite Bernard Drainville having previously stated that the Charter was in line with the federal Charter) and the confirmation that people would be fired for breaking the Charter’s dress code (an issue on which a lot of people, including Charter supporters, had reservations with). The Charter’s more moderate supporters moved towards the CAQ, and solidified the Liberal hold on its base.

The PQ failed to benefit from the issue of corruption, which had been a major factor in the PLQ’s defeat (of sorts) in 2012. The PQ could no longer exploit the issue because it too had been targeted by some allegations at the Charbonneau commission; Marois’ own husband, a businessman, had come up in allegations of a political deal between him and the FTQ, Quebec’s largest labour union and later in allegations that he had sought donations from engineering firms to Marois’ 2007 PQ leadership campaign. The election call came days before Marois and her husband were due to attend a parliamentary hearing. The Liberals were lucky that the election came before the press revealed that Charest’s former Deputy Premier (Nathalie Normandeau, who resigned in 2012) was at the heart of a criminal conspiracy (construction companies bought themselves favours by illegally funding the PLQ) and that one incumbent PLQ MNA and three ex-MNAs were being investigated by the anti-corruption unit (UPAC).

The result was a disaster for the PQ, which was largely of its own making. The PQ won only 25.4% of the vote, which is the PQ’s worst result since 1970, the PQ’s first election in which the party won 23.1%; it is the lowest amount of votes received by the PQ since 1973 and the lowest number of seats won by the party since 1989. After the shortest provincial government since Confederation in 1867, Marois’ PQ government also becomes the first government to lose reelection since the Union Nationale (UN) government of 1966-1970, which lost reelection to the PLQ in 1970. Marois, like Charest before her, was defeated in her own constituency. The defeat raises some pretty existential questions for the PQ and its cause. In an election which inadvertently became a ‘referendum on a referendum’, the PQ was soundly defeated on the opposition of a large portion of the electorate to a third referendum. The issue isn’t dead, given that a significant share of the electorate – about 30% – are still attached to the old cause of Quebec independence. The PQ’s base is largely made up of such faithfuls to the cause. Nevertheless, for the past couple of years, the PQ and broader nationalist movement (including the federal Bloc Québécois) have struggled to come to terms with the electorate’s diminishing appetite for talks of a referendum, independence and even linguistic/cultural identity issues. The Bloc’s thumping in 2011 was the first major blow to the nationalist movement, and a year out from the next federal election, nothing indicates that the BQ will perform significantly better in 2015 than it did in 2011. In 2012, the PQ’s victory was a victory by default, with a lower share of the vote than in the 2008 election despite a dreaded, unpopular and exhausted Liberal government. The PQ has been defined and held together by the issue of nationalism and independence; with clear signs that the PQ loses when it talks about independence and referendum, the PQ faces an existential question. With declining support for the cause, can the PQ survive as a major party without redefining itself?

The catastrophic sense of this defeat for the PQ and its cause stems from the generational challenges of the PQ. A blog post by UdeM public opinion specialist Claire Durand during the campaign showed the aging nature of the nationalist PQ base: in 1979, support for independence was strongest (63%) with voters aged 18 to 34, and weakest with older voters (36% with those 35 to 54, 22% with those over 55); in 2013, 41.5% of voters over 55 supported independence against 45% of those over 35 and 39% of those less than 35. Léger Marketing’s last poll, which was relatively accurate (38 PLQ, 29 PQ, 23 CAQ, 9 QS), showed that the PQ’s support tended to increase with age: with those between 18 to 24, the PQ registered only 19% of voting intentions, placing fourth behind the Liberals (37%), QS (22%) and CAQ (21%). The PQ’s strongest support, in that poll, came with those 55 to 64, the only age group where the PQ led the Liberals, with 37% against 31% for the Liberals and 24% for the CAQ. The PQ also polled 35% with those 45-54 and 31% with those over 65. With young adults and younger middle-aged voters – those between the ages of 25 and 44 – the PQ was a distant third behind the PLQ and PQ. There are, therefore, increasing indications that the PQ and its cause is supported by older voters, likely those young, dedicated and faithful nationalists of the 1970s who have grown older. The Charter debate didn’t do the PQ any favours on the left, with non-Francophones and with minorities. PKP’s candidacy, which ended up hurting the PQ, may have done serious damage to the PQ’s traditional identification as a social democratic party and ally of organized labour. With the rise of QS, which the PQ has failed to check since 2007, the PQ no longer has the monopoly on the nationalist vote.

Again, the PQ needs to ask itself what its future is. The problem is that it cannot totally abandon independence, because a large portion of the PQ’s militant base remains very attached to the cause and any PQ leader who once again tries to place independence on the backburner as Lévesque did in 1984 with the beau risque or Marois in 2011-12 will find himself faced with the wrath of a good part of the caucus and the base. However, because of this, the PQ is in a bit of a dead-end, because focus on independence doesn’t sell well right now (and hasn’t really sold well for about a decade now). The challenge for the PQ is to find a way to retain the nationalist base’s loyalty while also expanding the PQ’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who just don’t care about independence and don’t want a third referendum. That’s easier said than done.

With 70 seats, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals has won a solid majority government which will last until the fall of 2018. Despite being a rookie campaigner, Couillard ran a fairly successful campaign, even if a lot of the PLQ’s victory owes to the PQ’s disastrous campaign rather than a particularly good Liberal campaign. Couillard’s own campaign was assisted by the expertise of former Liberal Premier Daniel Johnson Jr., who played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the PLQ’s victorious campaign. Couillard faced several major challenges during the campaign, particularly in the debates where he was attacked for his links to Arthur Porter, the conditions in which he left politics for the private sector in 2008 and the PLQ’s weak stance on the French language. Nevertheless, none of those attacks really took their toll on the Liberal leader.

Couillard personally won his risky gamble by standing in Roberval, a traditionally péquiste seat in the Saguenay, known as one of the most nationalist regions of Quebec. Couillard had represented the Montreal-area riding of Mont-Royal between 2003 and 2007, before winning reelection in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon in 2008 and returning to the National Assembly late last year with a by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Couillard wanted to be elected for Roberval because he lives in Saint-Félicien (where his wife is from) and really enjoys hunting in the region. Politically, it was a risky gamble for Couillard, who would likely not have won the seat if the PQ had won the election but may also have lost, like Robert Bourassa in 1985, despite winning the election. In that sense, some have speculated that it was an up-or-out decision: if he wins, that would mean that the PLQ has won the province and he becomes Premier; if he loses, that likely would have meant that the PLQ lost and Couillard would have had an easy exit. Ultimately, Couillard won handily, winning 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. In 2012, the PQ won 46.7% in Roberval against 28.4% for the Liberals.

The Liberals were hugely successful at mobilizing their base. The core, rock-solid Liberal vote – that is, ethnic minorities and the Anglos – were motivated and mobilized to vote by the threat of the referendum and the unpopularity of the PQ’s Charter with non-Francophones. Although turnout decreased province-wide, turnout increased significantly in solidly Liberal ridings on Montreal Island, Greater Montreal and the Outaouais with a significant Anglo and/or allophone majority/minority. In Robert-Baldwin, a seat in Montreal’s West Island, turnout increased from 69.1% to 77%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a plurality Jewish riding in Montreal and the safest Liberal seat in the province, turnout increased from 65.8% to 72.1%. Overall, all ridings where turnout increased, often quite significantly, have a significant Anglophone or allophone population. In Francophone ridings, turnout decreased, with the steepest decreases in traditionally PQ strongholds of the Laurentides, Lanaudière, Montérégie, Centre-du-Québec and Gaspésie. In their strongholds, the Liberals faced even weaker opposition than in 2012 or past years. For example, in D’Arcy-McGee, where the PLQ had won 84.7% in 2012, it won 92.1%. The CAQ, which had polled decently (comparatively) in Anglo ridings in 2012, suffered some particularly significant loses in those same places this year. The PQ, which was already at a floor, stayed at its usual lows. QS lost support in many of these ridings, while the Greens - in 2007 and 2008 they’d been distant seconds to the Liberals in a lot of Anglo ridings – had no presence.

The CAQ can be quite pleased with its performance. The party came in the campaign with low poll numbers and most predictions placing them with no more than a handful of seats, against 19 seats in 2012. It ended up winning 22 seats – that is, a net gain of 3 seats since 2012, although the CAQ’s popular vote did fall by 4% to 23.1%. The CAQ, as in 2012, benefited from a fairly good campaign. Support for the CAQ increased in the final days of the campaign, in the aftermath of a strong debate performance by Legault (pounding Couillard on language and Marois on referendums) in the second televised leaders’ debate, as the PQ campaign continued to falter. Standing at about 15% as late as March 23, the CAQ grew to 18-19% (March 31-April 1), 21% (EKOS, April 3), 23% (Léger and Forum, April 3) and 25% (Angus-Reid, April 4). The CAQ’s gains in the final stretch came primarily from the PQ, which definitely fell below the 28-30% range.

The CAQ saw loses to the Liberals compensated, partially, by gains from the PQ. According to Forum’s last poll, 15% of the PQ’s 2008 voters said they were going to vote for the CAQ, compensating for the 29% of the CAQ’s 2008 voters who said they were going to vote for the Liberals. The results confirmed this: in terms of seats lost, the CAQ lost five seats to the Liberals – all but four of them in the Quebec City area (the final one, La Prairie, is in Montreal’s suburban South Shore), and one seat to the PQ (Saint-Jérôme, where CAQ star candidate/MNA Jacques Duchesneau was retiring and PKP picked up the seat for the PQ; it was the only seat to be gained by the PQ). In the Quebec City area, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PLQ. In contrast, the CAQ gained 9 seats from the PQ – ridings located in the 450 suburbs of Montreal, in the North Shore, the South Shore and the more rural areas of Montérégie and Centre-du-Québec. The CAQ’s vote held up remarkably well in these seats (with the exception of the CAQ-held seats of Groulx and Blainville), and the party benefited from a significant decline in the PQ’s vote share to gain these seats. In almost all of these seats, the CAQ’s main challenger was/is the PQ rather than the PLQ. In his riding of L’Assomption, Legault was reelected with an expanded majority – he won 49.4% against 30.4% for PQ star candidate Pierre Paquette, a former senior Bloc MP for Joliette, defeated by the Orange Crush in 2011. In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained three seats for the PQ, so that the CAQ now holds a majority of the North Shore suburban seats.

The CAQ’s performance on election night was interesting: as the first results came in, the CAQ was performing very poorly and for most of the night, it seemed as if the CAQ would lose seats. There was a late surge, as later results streamed in, which saw the CAQ steadily climb in the seat count; an unusual event on an election night. This may indicate that the CAQ performed poorly in advance voting, which were likely the first ballots to be counted after polls closed; advance voting began on March 28, before the CAQ climbed in the polls. Votes cast on election day were likely significantly better for the CAQ than those cast beforehand. Perhaps if all votes had been cast on election day, the CAQ may have formed the official opposition…

QS once again improved its result, gaining over 1% in the popular vote since 2012 and gaining their third seat – the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where perennial QS candidate Manon Massé, a fairly well-known feminist and social activist, was narrowly victorious with 30.6% against 30.3% for the PLQ and 27.6% for incumbent PQ MNA Daniel Breton, an environmentalist who briefly served as Minister of the Environment before being dumped over some petty ethics concern. Both QS incumbents – Amir Khadir in Mercier and Françoise David in Gouin – were reelected to their third and second terms respectively, with David winning 51% and Khadir taking 46.2%. QS also performed very well in Laurier-Dorion, where QS co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla won 27.7%, and the PQ stronghold of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where QS won 30.6%, coming threateningly close to the PQ (30.6%). QS placed a strong third with 18.7% in Rosemont. However, outside these Montreal ridings which now form QS’ strongest ridings, QS largely stagnated on Montreal Island and fell back in some of the Montreal PLQ strongholds. In the regions, QS’ support generally held up or gained marginally.

Regional results

There was some significant movement in Montreal (the island itself), traditionally extremely polarized between Liberals and PQ, with little change from election to election and only a tiny number of actual swing seats. This year, the PLQ won well over 50% of the vote on Montreal Island, and gained one seat from the PQ – Crémazie, traditionally the only consistent marginal riding disputed between the PQ and the PLQ. Crémazie, which largely covers the Ahuntsic neighborhood in northern Montreal (please note that I’m using Montreal’s demented and totally bizarre compass rather than the normal compass directions), had been held by the PQ since 2007, and in 2012, Diane De Courcy won the seat with a solid majority of 10% over former federal Liberal MP Elena Bakopanos. De Courcy was Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the PQ government. She won 31.6% against 39% for PLQ candidate Marie Montpetit. In Crémazie, the PQ has solid support in Ahuntsic, a Francophone middle-class neighborhood, but the PLQ has strong support in areas with a larger visible minority or Italian population (immigrants make up 28% of the riding’s population).

QS gained its third seat, Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, with 30.6% for QS candidate Manon Massé, who was finally successful in her fifth candidacy in the riding. The Liberals increased their support by nearly 11 points, winning 30.3% of the vote, placing second ahead of PQ incumbent Daniel Breton, who won just 27.6%, down from 35.8% in 2012 and 46.6% in 2008. The riding is fairly demographically similar to QS’ two other seats in Montreal: Mercier (which borders the riding to the north) and Gouin – that is, largely gentrified, young adults, well-educated, professionals (with high percentages employed in the arts, culture, education, social assistance). QS is particularly strong in the riding’s part of the municipal borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal – the stereotypical gentrified bobo borough of Montreal, but finds strong support in the Gay Village and Sainte-Marie (an historically French working-class neighborhood). The riding, predominantly Francophone (67% mother tongue), had been held by the PQ since the riding’s creation in 1989. The Liberals having been traditionally a distant second behind the PQ (28.2% in 2008), it was a major surprise to see them come in a very close second ahead of the PQ. The Liberals are strong in the revitalized areas of the Old Port and Old Montreal, with high-end condos and apartments.

QS easily held both its seats, Gouin and Mercier, which cover the gentrified and bobo neighborhoods in the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie. QS’ other major target was Laurier-Dorion, where QS’ extraparliamentary co-spokesperson Andrés Fontecilla ran, having placed a solid third with over 24% of the vote in 2012. This year, QS increased its vote share to 27.7%, sending the PQ tumbling down from 26.4% to 15.9%. However, while QS finds strong support in Villeray, a newer gentrified bobo neighborhood with demographics similar to that of the QS strongholds, the riding is a much tougher nut to crack: the Liberals, who won 46.2% (up from 34.1% in 2012), have an extremely solid hold on Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant (traditionally Greek, nowadays more South Asian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) neighborhood (46% of the entire riding’s population are allophones, and immigrants/visible minorities constitute a large majority in Parc-Extension itself). While the Liberals placed third in Villeray in 2012, they retained well over 70% of the vote in Parc-Extension.

With the loss of two seats in Montreal, the PQ is left with only four seats on the island – and three of them were won by less than ten points. QS came within 4 points of winning Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (30.6% vs 34.9% for the PQ), historically a low-income Francophone working-class neighborhood, although with gentrification and younger residents seeking affordable housing, it is more mixed socially now. In Rosemont, the PQ Minister of International Relations Jean-François Lisée, a former journalist first elected in 2012, was reelected with 34.3% against 30% for the Liberals and 18.7% for QS. In Bourget, PQ Minister of Culture Maka Kotto was reelected with 37.8% against 28.9% for the PLQ.

In 2012, the Liberals had narrowly held Verdun and Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the two generally Liberal-leaning seats on the Island in which the PQ usually has some potential. Both seats include a mix of old linguistically-diverse working-class neighborhoods (Irish, Francophone or blacks in Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Saint-Henri, Pointe-Saint-Charles and Verdun) which have all seen major gentrification in recent years, and affluent areas (especially Nun’s Island, high-end condos and mansions, in the riding of Verdun); the Liberals usually have the edge, thanks to solid margins in the affluent polls of Nun’s Islands or the allophone/Anglo areas of Griffintown and Little Burgundy. In 2012, the PQ had fallen short by 1.6% and 6.4% respectively. This year, the Liberals won both seats with huge majorities: 26.2% and 30.6% respectively, polling over 50% in both ridings. In Verdun, Liberal star candidate Jacques Daoust, the former president of Investissement Québec, won 50.6% against only 24.4% for PQ star candidate Lorraine Pintal, a former theater director. In 2012, Liberal MNA Henri-François Gautrin (a former provincial NDP leader, who was forced to retire by Couillard) won 35.4% against 33.8% for former Bloc MP Thierry St-Cyr. In Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the PQ won only 21.9%. The Liberals also expanded their majority in Anjou-Louis-Riel, a middle-class suburban riding in eastern Montreal: what was a 9-point lead for the PLQ in 2012 turned into a hefty 28% majority this year.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their other Montreal seats; which are predominantly affluent Anglophone ridings, allophone immigrant areas or ethnic suburbs – in other words, the safest Liberal ridings possible. In Outremont, a riding which includes the affluent town of Outremont (a rather mixed area; with bobo areas in the Mile End giving strong results to QS, some Hassidic Jewish areas and upper middle-class Francophones), the Francophone Université de Montréal and parts of the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Côte-des-Neiges, the Liberal candidate, Hélène David (a former deputy minister and academic, who is the sister of QS MNA Françoise David), won 56.3% against 16.9% for QS and 14.6% for the PQ. In Robert-Baldwin, which mostly covers the affluent and predominantly Anglophone/allophone suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, PLQ star candidate Carlos Leitao, a renowned economist from the Laurentian Bank who is groomed to become finance minister, won 87.3%. In D’Arcy-McGee, a 43% Jewish riding centered around the affluent and majority-Jewish municipalities of Hampstead and Côte-Saint-Luc, the PLQ won 92.1% of the vote – the strongest Liberal result in years in what is the safest Liberal seat in the province (and probably one of the safest seats for any party in a Western democracy).

The CAQ remained weak on the Island, with sharp loses to the Liberals in the West Island but a stronger resistance in the péquiste-leaning areas in the east. The CAQ’s best result, 24%, came from Pointe-aux-Trembles, a heavily Francophone residential suburban area (it is also the only seat which we can still say is safe for the PQ) at the eastern extremity of the island which is demographically closer to off-island suburbs in the 450 than to other parts of Montreal.

The Liberals swept all six seats in Laval, holding four seats and gaining two from the PQ. In Laval-des-Rapides, a middle-class suburban area, PQ MNA Léo Bureau-Blouin, one of the main student leaders in the 2012 protests, was defeated after only one term in office. The Liberals won 44.2% against 31.2% for the PQ. In Sainte-Rose, a growing mishmash of older suburbs and new cookie-cutter subdivisions, the Liberals increased their support from 28.5% to 42.2%, going from third to first place. The PQ won 27.3% and the CAQ, which had placed second with 29.6% in 2012, won 24.1%. The Liberals held their four other seats, winning over 50% in all of them and peaking at 73% in Chomedey, a plurality allophone riding. In Mille-Îles, a seat at the eastern extremity of the island, PQ star candidate Djemila Benhabib, a writer known for her opposition to Muslim fundamentalism, was defeated by the PLQ incumbent, losing by about 25 points (25.5% to 50.5%). She has already been defeated in 2012, standing in Trois-Rivières.

On the South Shore suburbs of Montreal, the PQ faced serious challenges from both the CAQ and the Liberals. The PQ lost Chambly and Borduas, two upper middle-class Francophone outer suburbs/exurbs of Montreal. The CAQ won 34.2% and 33.5% respectively, their vote holding up compared to 2012; it was the collapse of the PQ, which lost 7% and 6% respectively, which allowed the CAQ to gain those seats. The CAQ held Montarville, the wealthiest riding in the province, surviving a close challenge from the PLQ, winning 35% to 31.3%. However, the CAQ lost La Prairie, another very affluent suburban riding; the riding is something of a three-way tossup, with the Liberals and CAQ holding a strong base in the new McMansion-type subdivisions in Candiac and La Prairie while older and slightly less affluent neighborhoods lean to the PQ. The CAQ, which had won the new riding by 0.2% over the PQ in 2012, lost by 1.4% although their vote remained stable. The PQ held the ridings of Vachon (Saint-Hubert), Taillon, Marie-Victorin (Longueuil) and Sanguinet (Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Constant). In Marie-Victorin, a low-income riding which covers the poorest parts of the older suburban city of Longueuil, Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister behind the Charter, was handily reelected with 38.2% against 26.1% for the PLQ. However, in Vachon, which covers the middle-class suburb of Saint-Hubert, PQ MNA Martine Ouellet held on by barely half a percentage point against the PLQ, winning 33.1% to 32.6%. In Taillon, which mixes poorer parts of Longueuil (leaning towards the the PQ) with some affluent subdivisions (closely divided, especially between PLQ and CAQ), the PQ won by only 3.8% over the Liberals – after having won it by 12 points in 2012, over the CAQ. In Sanguinet, the PQ won by a small margin of 3.3% over the CAQ. The Liberals faced no trouble in their ridings. Former cabinet minister and unsuccessful leadership contender Pierre Moreau was easily reelected in Châteauguay (a middle-class suburban riding with a significant Anglo population, at 22%), taking 49.6%. In Laporte, a riding which includes the affluent leafy Francophone suburb of Saint-Lambert and the historically Anglophone suburb of Greenfield Park, the PLQ won 47.7%. In La Pinière (Brossard), the safest Liberal seat on the South Shore (with over 50% of Anglophones and allophones and 38% of visible minorities, with a large middle-class Chinese immigrant community), PLQ star candidate Gaétan Barrette (who had ran for the CAQ in 2012), who will likely become health minister under Couillard, won 58.3%, soundly defeating PLQ-turned-independent incumbent Fatima Houda-Pépin, who won only 23.5%. The PQ, which had won 17.9% in the riding two years ago, likely provided the bulk of her support. With PLQ support increasing by nearly 10 points, she seemingly won a totally different electorate than the one which had backed her in 2012.

The PQ held the exurban ridings of Beauharnois (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Beauharnois) and Verchères (Varennes, Sainte-Julie), with 38.8% and 42.6% respectively. The latter is a heavily Francophone affluent exurban area, extending into more rural areas outside Montreal’s CMA (metro area as defined by the census), while the former mostly lies outside the CMA and is a poorer, historically working-class area.

In the rest of Montérégie, the PQ lost two other seats to the CAQ – Iberville and Saint-Hyacinthe, both homogeneously Francophone ridings centered around small or medium-sized towns, historically nationalist and divided between the PQ and CAQ. The PQ held on against a tough challenge from the CAQ in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), holding the seat by only 1%. The CAQ easily held Granby, with incumbent MNA François Bonnardel, first elected for the ADQ in 2007, winning 53% – the CAQ’s best result in any riding. The PQ held Richelieu, a riding centered around the old industrial steel town of Sorel-Tracy, with a 12 point majority. The Liberals easily held their own seats – Brome-Missisquoi (16.6% majority over the CAQ) and Huntingdon (24.9% majority over the CAQ) along the American border (both still have small but significant Anglophone minorities); Soulanges (23% majority over the PQ, with no CAQ candidate) and Vaudreuil (45% majority over the PQ) in suburban Montreal (Vaudreuil has a large Anglo minority, making up over a quarter of the population and a majority in Hudson, it also includes many new affluent subdivisions, Soulanges has a smaller Anglo minority, especially in Saint-Lazare).

In the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, the CAQ gained four seats from the PQ. Quasi-homogeneously Francophone and rather affluent middle-class suburbia, the North Shore has tended to be a strongly péquiste sovereigntist stronghold which gave very strong results to the oui in the 1995. However, in recent years, the North Shore has become a perfect example of a Francophone and historically nationalist region which has lost interest in the ‘national question’ and adopted apathetic attitudes towards the issue. In 2007, the ADQ swept the entire North Shore suburbs, taking out all PQ incumbents (as well as the sole PLQ incumbent, in Groulx), but the PQ regained the whole region one year later in the 2008 election. In the 2011 federal election, the NDP swept the region with some of its best results in the province – hovering around 50%. In 2012, the CAQ performed very well in the North Shore, with many gains at the expense of the Liberals (especially in the most affluent communities, such as Rosemère and Lorraine, which had voted PLQ in 2008 but shifted to the CAQ in 2012), but the PQ nevertheless held most of its seats – the CAQ only won Groulx, Blainville and L’Assomption (with François Legault), as well as Saint-Jérôme (with anti-corruption star candidate Jacques Duchesneau), which comes closer to being a regional town in its own right rather than just a suburb. This year, with the PQ’s collapse, the CAQ – with results very similar to 2012 (except in Blainville and Groulx, where the CAQ suffered major loses with retiring incumbents), was able to gain four seats. It only lost Saint-Jérôme, won by PKP for the PQ. In Groulx, the one-term CAQ incumbent was retiring, resulting in a real three-way race, which switched back-and-forth throughout the night. The CAQ won 30.9%, losing nearly 8 points from 2012, while the Liberals gained 10 points, surging from barely 20% to 30.2%. PQ star candidate Martine Desjardins, a former student leader (FÉUQ), placed third with 30%. In Blainville, which the CAQ had won by nearly 6 points in 2012 (with PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent Daniel Ratthé), the seat was left open by the retirement of Ratthé, who was expelled from the CAQ caucus in 2013 after allegations surrounding corruption and illegal financing of a mayoral campaign back in 2005. Former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise, who had previously run, unsuccesfully, for the CAQ in 2012 in Argenteuil, was elected with 33.9% against 29.5% for the Liberals and 29.4% for the PQ – compared to 2012, the CAQ lost over 7 points while the PLQ gained nearly 14 points. In L’Assomption, which Legault had won with a narrow 2.6% majority over the PQ in 2012, he was reelected with 49.4% and a 19% majority over the PQ, despite a very strong PQ candidate – former Bloc MP Pierre Paquette. The CAQ gained neighboring Repentigny, with a 3-point majority; Masson (Mascouche) with a 1.6% majority; Deux-Montagnes, with former MNA Benoit Charette (a PQ-turned-CAQ defector, defeated in 2012 by the PQ) regaining his old seat with a 2% majority and Mirabel, with a majority of nearly 5% over the PQ. The only seat which the PQ retained was Terrebonne, where young PQ MNA Mathieu Traversy narrowly survived, with a 1.8% majority.

The only seat in the province gained by the PQ was Saint-Jérôme, where Péladeau took 36.8% (a result slightly lower than that won by the PQ in 2012) against 31.5% for the CAQ.

In the rest of the Laurentians, the PQ held their strongholds of Labelle and Bertrand handily, with majorities over 10% in both and no less than 45% of the vote in Labelle. The Liberals regained Argenteuil, a traditionally Liberal seat (with a small Anglo minority) which the PQ gained in a 2012 by-election and held in the general elections. The PLQ regained the seat with a 6.5% majority. In the rest of Lanaudière, a traditional péquiste stronghold, the PQ held their three seats, but in Rousseau, finance minister Nicolas Marceau, who had narrowly won his seat against a surprisingly strong CAQ performance in 2012, was reelected with a bare 2 point majority. Similarly, major loses for the PQ in Berthier significantly reduced the PQ’s majority over the CAQ. Only in Joliette did the PQ retain a comfortable majority, with social services minister Véronique Hivon, who had become quite popular for piloting the consensual euthanasia bill, holding a 17 point majority and winning 44.3% of the vote.

Once again, the PLQ swept the Outaouais‘ five seats by large margins. In addition to a significant Anglophone minority (making up 35% of the population in the riding of Pontiac, concentrated in small towns along the Ottawa River), the Francophone population of the region is the least nationalist/péquiste of any region of Quebec (with an estimated Francophone yes vote of only 34% in 1995) because a lot of them are public servants employed by the federal government in Ottawa or Gatineau (and, for obvious reasons, strongly oppose Quebec independence). The provincial Liberals have swept every seat in the region since 1981, and they increased their majorities in all seats in 2014. The majorities in Papineau and Hull had been within 10 points in 2012 (in fact, the PLQ had held Papineau by only 167 votes against the PQ); this year, the PLQ won over 50% of the vote in every riding – from 50.4% in Papineau (with a 26% majority) to nearly 76% in Pontiac.

The Liberals gained two seats from the PQ in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The PLQ won Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, two seats which it had lost to the PQ in 2012. It now holds majorities of 10.5% and 5.7% respectively. The PQ only held Abitibi-Ouest, where François Gendron, who has held the seat since 1976, was reelected with a 7.5% majority. He is now the longest-serving MNA in Quebec’s history.

In the Eastern Townships, it was a clean sweep for the Liberals, who gained two seats from the PQ and easily held their other seats. In Sherbrooke, Premier Charest’s old seat until his defeat by former Bloc MP Serge Cardin in 2012, the PLQ gained the seat with a 5.6% majority over the PQ. In 2012, there had been a lot of anti-Charest strategic voting for the PQ, which seriously dragged down the CAQ and QS, both of which made substantial gains this year at the PQ’s expense. In Saint-François, a riding which takes in some of Sherbrooke’s suburbs (Fleurimont, which was the PQ’s main base in 2012), the Anglophone borough of Lennoxville, the towns of Compton and Coaticook and some Anglo villages, PQ health minister Réjean Hébert, who had narrowly gained the seat from the PLQ in 2012, was defeated, taking 33% to the PLQ’s 38.5%. In the other PLQ-held ridings, all incumbents held on handily, despite PQ hopes in Mégantic and Richmond. In Mégantic, which includes Lac-Mégantic, the site of the train tragedy last year, the PQ ran Isabelle Hallé, the president of the regional chamber of commerce and a key player in reconstruction efforts. She won only 29.7% against 40.8% for the PLQ incumbent; although the PQ’s losses in the riding were significantly lesser than those in the rest of the province, perhaps signaling some positive impact for the PQ of the recovery efforts. In Richmond, Liberal MNA Karine Vallière (the daughter of former long-time PLQ MNA Yvon Vallières), who had won the seat by less than 300 votes over the PQ in 2012 (her victory owed a lot to strong margins in the asbestos mining town of Asbestos, where she is from and where the future of asbestos mining is a huge issue, which usually benefits the local PLQ), was reelected with a 13.6% majority in a rematch with the PQ. In Orford, finally, the Liberals won 44.1% against 26.2% for the PQ.

The CAQ had strong results in the Centre-du-Québec, with the party’s three incumbents winning reelection with expanded majorities and larger shares of the vote, and the CAQ gaining Johnson from the PQ. The CAQ held Nicolet-Bécancour (gained over ON leader Jean-Martin Aussant in 2012, his absence explains the PQ’s gains, although it only finished third with some 22%, miles away from the combined ON+PQ vote in 2012; the Marois government’s unpopular decision to close the Gentilly nuclear power plant likely hurt the PQ and helped the local CAQ MNA), Drummond-Bois-Francs and Arthabaska (popular CAQ, ex-ADQ, incumbent Sylvie Roy was reelected with 45.5% and the PLQ vote actually fell from 2012, because Roy had faced a PLQ MNA because of redistribution in 2012). The CAQ gained Johnson from the PQ, with a majority of nearly 5 points.

The Liberals swept Mauricie, taking all five seats – gaining two from the PQ and easily holding their own three seats. In Saint-Maurice (Shawinigan), the PLQ gained the seat with a 2.7% majority over the PQ while in Champlain (Cap-de-la-Madeleine, in suburban Trois-Rivières), former ADQ MNA Pierre-Michel Auger, running for the PLQ, won a three-way contest with 33.4% against 30.4% for the CAQ and 30.2% for the incumbent PQ MNA. The PLQ held Maskinongé and Trois-Rivières with expanded majorities despite retiring incumbents, while in Laviolette, popular Liberal MNA Julie Boulet, who has built a remarkable popular vote in a historically nationalist riding, was reelected with 52.6% against only 23% for the PQ.

In the Quebec City capital region, the Liberals gained four seats from the CAQ and one from the PQ. In 2012, the CAQ had gained four seats from the PLQ, in suburban and exurban areas of Quebec City. Although a very heavily Francophone city, Quebec City is not a nationalist stronghold – it gave only weak support to independence in the 1995 referendum, and the PQ/Bloc have struggled in the provincial capital for a number of years. In recent provincial elections, the main battles in most Quebec City ridings have been fought between the PLQ and the centre-right (ADQ, in 2007 and 2008, and now the CAQ) with limited support for the PQ. In Quebe City, the PLQ regained Vanier-Les Rivières, Charlesbourg and Montmorency – three suburban constituencies, which, while middle-class, are not extremely affluent or white-collar professional in nature. The CAQ had held the three of them with relatively thin majorities over the PLQ in 2012, and it stood no chance against a resurgent PLQ which ate into a good chunk of the CAQ’s 2012 vote. The Liberals won the three seats by margins slightly under 10% (with the former PLQ MNAs in Vanier-Les Rivières and Montmorency regaining their seats). The CAQ easily held Chauveau and La Peltrie, two large exurban ridings to the north of the city, held by the ADQ since 2007, with their incumbents (two ex-ADQ MNAs, Éric Caire and Gérard Deltell) winning over 50% of the vote. The Liberals also picked up Portneuf, a large and predominantly exurban/rural ridings on the western outskirts of Quebec City, with a 3.4% majority over the CAQ.

The Liberals had no trouble holding their three seats in Quebec City: Louis-Hébert (which covers the city’s most affluent suburbs, making it the third wealthiest riding in Quebec), Jean-Talon (which includes the traditionally bourgeois and affluent neighborhood of Sillery) and Jean-Lesage (a poorer riding, including the old working-class neighborhoods of Limoilou and some older suburbs).

The PQ held only one seat: Taschereau, which covers downtown Quebec City (the Vieux-Québec, among others); it stands out from the rest of the generally conservative city, as a rather poor but also well-educated downtown riding. The PQ’s Agnès Maltais was reelected with 31.7% against 30.4% for the PLQ; QS placed a strong fourth with 15.3%, QS (and, in 2012, ON) perform very well in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a young artsy/bobo neighborhood in central Quebec City.

However, Premier Pauline Marois lost reelection in her own seat of Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, a large riding which extends from the Quebec City exurbs (Ile d’Orléans) to the Charlevoix region. Marois, who won the seat in a 2007 by-election, was reelected with 40.7% in 2012, with a hefty majority over the PLQ (27.1%) and CAQ (26.8%). The map had shown a clear-cut division between areas closer to Quebec City, where the PLQ and CAQ placed first, and the more rural Charlevoix region up to the Saguenay estuary, which was solidly PQ. This year, Marois won 32.9% against 35% for the PLQ candidate.

In the Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas-Saint-Laurent, all parties held their seats. The CAQ held the South Shore suburban riding of Lévis, a 2012 gain from the PLQ, with 40.5% (a gain from 2012) for CAQ MNA Christian Dubé, the party’s finance critic. It held Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Beauce-Nord, two seats held by the ADQ since 2003, with large majorities, albeit reduced quite significantly from 2012. The Liberals held Lotbinière-Frontenac, Beauce-Sud, Bellechasse, Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata. These two regions stand out from the rest of Quebec in that while they are quasi-homogeneously white, Francophone and Catholic (and also predominantly rural or small-town), the PQ and sovereigntism in general has been very weak in the region (in 1995, the yes vote was significantly lower and the no won a number of ridings). Conservative parties of various shades, including the old Social Credit and Union Nationale, the ADQ in its heydays and the federal Conservatives after 2006, have been strong in the region, while the provincial Liberals remain powerful as well. Pierre Drouilly called this region, back in 2003, le Québec tranquille and described it as a largely poor, blue-collar (notably in primary and secondary sectors) region with an old and declining population, low levels of education, low incomes but also fairly low unemployment levels (which distinguishes it from poorer regions, with high unemployment, such as the Gaspé Peninsula). Voters exhibit a high degree of alienation from Montreal, and it is an ideologically conservative region (but with marked populist tendencies) with clear right-wing positions on issues such as taxes or government intervention, part of which comes from a strong entrepreneurial tradition, especially in Beauce (which is often noted for its entrepreneurial culture and its small businesses). Because of low levels of education and the fragility of the local economy, there has been little appetite for the uncertainty of independence.

The Québec tranquille region extends into the Centre-du-Québec, the more remote parts of the Eastern Townships, the Quebec City metro and parts of Mauricie – regions which have traditionally given low support to the nationalist option in referendums, and where the PQ performs poorly (with strong results for the PLQ and CAQ). But the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of the St. Lawrence across from Quebec City, stands out as the archetype: the PQ is extremely weak, with third place showings in all ridings and single-digit results in the Beauce; it also appears to be more ideologically conservative than the rest of the region, whose ideological preferences are vaguer and eclectic. For example, in 2012, the federal Tories held their seats in the Chaudière-Appalaches, but the NDP swept Quebec City (which had swung to the Tories in 2006).

The PQ held Rimouski, with 40.6% against 30% for the PLQ. There had been some local controversy with the retirement of the PQ MNA and the choice of a PQ candidate imposed by the national leadership over a local candidate; the local candidate was excluded from the party, and former Bloc MP Suzanne Tremblay endorsed the QS candidate, who took a very strong third with 16.4%.

The Liberals gained two seats in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, traditionally the most nationalist region of Quebec. In Roberval, Philippe Couillard was easily elected, with 55.2% against 33.3% for the PQ incumbent. The seat had been held by the PQ since 2007, and the PQ had held the seat with an 18% majority in the last election. There was likely a strong personal vote for Couillard (drawn by the advantages of being represented by the Premier, given the likelihood of a PLQ victory by election day), in a region which has tended to vote for personality over party in both federal and provincial election. The PLQ also regained Dubuc, which it had gained in 2008 but lost to the PQ in 2012. Former Liberal MNA Serge Simard, who has a strong base in the arrondissement of La Baie (he was president of the arrondissement between 2002 and 2008), won the seat with a 9% majority over the PQ. The PQ held the three remaining seats by fairly comfortable margins.

One of the few regions where the PQ performed well was Gaspésie, where the party held the three seats on the Gaspé Peninsula – by solid margins. In Matane-Matapédia, popular local PQ MNA Pascal Bérubé actually increased his share of the vote from 59% to 61.2% (it may be the result of ‘normalization’ after 2012, when he was reelected in a larger redistributed riding with one part of the riding where he was not as well known). In Gaspé, gained from the PLQ on a huge swing in 2012, the PQ’s vote fell from 56.8% to 52% but it held the seat by a large majority. The most surprising result was perhaps Bonaventure, the Gaspé’s traditionally Liberal riding, which the PQ gained from the PLQ in 2012. The PQ held the seat with a 3.5% majority.

The PLQ regained the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, a predominantly Acadian archipelago in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The PQ had gained the seat from the Liberals, who had won it in 2008. Former Liberal MNA Germain Chevarie won 50.1% against 40.2% for the PQ incumbent.

On the Côte-Nord, the PQ held both seats but the margin in Duplessis, a geographically huge but sparsely populated riding, was surprisingly tight (a 1.6% majority for the PQ). In Duplessis, the PQ dominates the three main population centres, the northern industrial towns of Port-Cartier, Sept-Îles and Havre-Saint-Pierre, by wide margins, but there is a strong PLQ presence in small, extremely remote Anglophone fishing villages on the coast up to the Labrador border. In the far north of the province, the PLQ gained the seat of Ungava, Quebec’s largest riding (in terms of area). The seat had been held by the PQ since its creation in 1981, although by its demographics that may seem odd. Indeed, Ungava is 64% Native, split fairly equally between Cree and Inuit. However, turnout in the Inuit and Cree villages is extremely low (often below 20%) and while those who do vote generally vote Liberal, these Native villages net them relatively few vote; while the PQ usually dominates the white areas, notably the resource-based industrial town of Chibougamau, by huge margins (and turnout is much higher). In 2012, the PQ won 45.5% to 34.7% for the PLQ; this year, the PLQ won 42.4% to the PQ’s 33%.


The Quebec Liberals are back in power for four years, with Premier-elect Philippe Couillard leading a government with a strong majority in the National Assembly. He will likely enjoy a fairly easy first few months, given that attention will largely be on the PQ’s upcoming leadership contest. Defeated in her own riding, Pauline Marois announced her resignation as PQ leader on election night. What preceded her concession speech was fairly unusual (and, for some, rather unceremonious) and sets the scene for a leadership battle: before the defeated leader took to the stage, the three leading PQ politicians – Bernard Drainville (the minister of democratic institutions, who spearheaded the Charter), Jean-François Lisée (the minister of international relations) and Pierre-Karl Péladeau – each gave speeches, which largely consisted of traditional nationalist rhetoric to feed the crowd (who responded with slogans of on veut un pays – we want a country) and to prove their nationalist credentials. These three men also happen to be the three who come up most often in leadership speculation. Péladeau’s intentions are unclear, but I doubt his motivation to join politics was to sit as an opposition MNA (his intention was likely to serve as cabinet minister, perhaps later as Premier; in the absence of that, opposition leader might be the next best thing). The interim leader selected by the PQ, Stéphane Bédard, is seen as somebody close to PKP. It is unclear to what degree the PQ’s defeat can be attributed to PKP’s fist-pump, and whether, in the absence of that, he could have had a positive impact on the PQ or if he was going to be a net liability regardless. A PQ led by PKP would likely focus heavily on the core cause of sovereignty, while also signaling a shift to the right with the aim of appealing to CAQ supporters. Lisée would be a safe choice, close to the PQ’s social democratic roots, and may focus less heavily on sovereignty and nationalism but rather on progressive unity, aiming to reconquer votes lost on the left to QS. Drainville may be blamed for the Charter, but it is unclear to what extent the Charter hurt the PQ during the campaign; it would seem that the PQ’s desperate use of the Charter as a wedge issue hurt it, but the ideas of the Charter may remain popular with the Francophone electorate which the PQ needs to reconquer. Some other names have also come up: Véronique Hivon, the popular Joliette MNA who gained a province-wide profile and popularity with her handling of the euthanasia bill, a matter of consensus between all parties (which the new PLQ government will likely pass itself) or Alexandre Cloutier, a young MNA from the Saguenay.

Once again, the PQ faces the issue of how to reconcile its fundamental raison d’être (the independence of Quebec) with the political reality, which makes a referendum (let alone independence) very unlikely. The party is held together by the cause, and it has a militant base which remains strongly committed to independence; as such, the PQ often has a problem at responding to shifts in public opinion, at times appearing deaf to it. It has a tendency to double-down on rhetoric and preach to the converted; and it did so again on election night, when the PQ’s election night event showed no signs of abandoning the party’s core values and the cause.

In the meantime, the CAQ, with a surprisingly strong performance, comes out strengthened. The party is in a good position to benefit from the PQ’s troubles at reinventing itself, navigating a divisive leadership battle and re-adapting itself to being an opposition party; it is also in a good position to benefit from the gradual decline in the government’s popularity and the PLQ’s support. Many wonder if the CAQ could replace the PQ, and some even ask if the PQ may disappear entirely. Parties, even those which have held power, often disappear in Canadian federal and provincial politics – in Quebec, the most recent example is the slow death of the Union Nationale, which disappeared from provincial politics after 1976. The PQ still has a clear niche to fill (unlike the UN when it died), because there remains a significant minority of voters who still are dedicated nationalists; but even that niche is no longer the PQ’s sole preserve – it faces strong competition from QS (whose electorate is less homogeneously nationalist) and, to a much lesser extent, ON. Similarly, while the CAQ has the potential support to overtake the PQ to form the official opposition (as the ADQ had done in 2007, after all), it still has clear troubles breaking through on Montreal Island, which holds a large number of seats, and in regions such as the Gaspé, the Saguenay, Abitibi and Outaouais. The CAQ also has a fickle electorate, as it almost learned this year. A lot of their vote is a ‘NOTA’ vote, which does not necessarily express agreement with the CAQ’s policies but rather rejection of the other parties and the old nationalist/federalist divide.

Only time will tell if this election was an unremarkable anti-incumbent election or if it was the beginning of a realignment in provincial politics.

Hungary 2014

Legislative elections were held in Hungary on April 6, 2014. All 199 seats in the unicameral Országgyűlés (National Assembly) were up for reelection.

Electoral system

These are the first elections being held under a new electoral system (and a new constitution) introduced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government in 2011. Under the old system, the Parliament had 386 seats (176 single-member constituencies, 152 multi-member regional constituencies, 58 national list compensation seats) elected under a complicated two-round system (candidates in single-member seats needed to win 50% of the vote and turnout to be over 50% in order to win, or the top three candidates and all other candidates who won over 15% proceeded to the runoff; results in multi-member regional constituencies were only valid if turnout was over 50%). In the list vote, parties needed to win 5% to qualify for seats, coalitions of two parties needed 10% and coalitions of three or more parties needed 15%.

Under the new system, the size of the Országgyűlés is cut down by nearly half to 199 seats. The 106 single-member constituencies are now elected by FPTP with no turnout requirement. The remaining 93 national party-list seats are distributed using a complex system based on the result of both the party and constituency votes: to the total of party-list votes, all votes cast for constituency candidates who were not elected are added to their respective parties and part of the votes cast for the victorious constituency candidates are added to their respective parties (the votes which are added are the votes which they did not theoretically need to win: the number of votes the winner won minus the the votes won by the runner-up, minus one). From this calculation, the party-list seats are distributed using the d’Hondt method, retaining the 5% threshold for parties, the 10% threshold for two-party coalitions and the 15% threshold for larger coalitions. Unlike in the former system, therefore, there is no turnout requirement (it was 50% in the first round and 25% in the second round under the old system) and the election takes place in a single round. Minority lists can elect members if they win over 5% of the minority list votes (rather than all votes), and those which do not meet this threshold will still send one non-voting representative.

The new electoral system was supported only by the ruling party. Although the reduction of seats in Parliament and the need to redistrict the single-member constituencies (which had remained unchanged since 1990) was widely agreed upon by all parties, the opposition criticized several aspects of the new law: the inclusion of the winners’ surplus in the calculation of the national list and the redistricting of seats being decided upon by the government (rather than an independent commission), leading to accusations of gerrymandering. The government has dismissed claims that the map is gerrymandered to favour the governing party, and the map does not ‘look’ particularly egregious but, of course, gerrymandering is often far more subtle.


Hungary’s political history since the fall of the communist regime bears many similarities with other formerly communist Eastern European countries. The first election following the fall of the Hungarian communist regime saw the victory of anti-communist opposition forces, while the reformed communists were trounced. The Hungarian Democratic Forum (Magyar Demokrata Fórum, MDF), a conservative and nationalist party which represented the most moderate and pragmatic faction of the anti-communist opposition during round table negotiations with the regime, won 164 out of 386 seats – largely due to a landslide victory in the single-member seats, where it won 114 of the 176 districts. The Alliance of Free Democrats (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége, SZDSZ), the liberal and more ‘radical’ wing of the opposition, was a close second in the popular vote and won 92 seats. The Independent Smallholders’ Party, a small conservative agrarian party which had existed in the interwar era, won 44 seats. The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt, MSZP), formed by the reformists and moderates in the old ruling party, the MSZMP, won 11% of the vote and 33 seats. The more radical unreconstructed faction of the MSZMP fell just below the 4% threshold, and would decline further into irrelevance. The Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), a small Christian conservative party, took 21 seats; tied with Fidesz (which means ‘Alliance of Free Democrats’ or Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége), which at this point was a radical anti-communist and liberal/libertarian party largely made up of students. The MDF, with József Antall as Prime Minister, formed government with the smallholders and KDNP. The new government sought to transform the country, beginning with the transition to a market economy through privatization and other difficult reforms. Under his government, unemployment jumped to nearly 15%, inflation raged at rates over 20%, many people – especially pensioners – saw their living standards collapse and fall into poverty, corruption festered and criminality increased. Antall, a moderate conservative in the MDF, faced a right-wing nationalist faction which agitated for very conservative policies and for the support of Hungarian minorities abroad. Antall died in 1993, and was succeeded by Péter Boross.

In 1994, the poor economic performance and a certain nostalgia for the communist era led to a landslide victory for the MSZP, which won 209 out of 386 seats and 33% of the vote (it won 149 of the 176 district seats). The governing MDF, further worn down by divisions between moderates and radicals, won only 12% and 38 seats, losing all but 5 of its district seats. The SZDSZ placed second, with about 20% and 69 seats. The smallholders won 26 seats, Fidesz won 20 and the KDNP won 22 seats. Although the MSZP had enough seats to govern alone, the prospect of the post-communists returning to power so quickly discomforted some Hungarians and foreigners, so the MSZP chose to form a coalition with the liberal and pro-Western SZDSZ, which had strong anti-communist credentials. Gyula Horn, the MSZP leader, became Prime Minister. With the economy in trouble and Hungary seeking to enter the EU, the new government turned to ‘shock therapy’ and tough austerity policies including a gradual devaluation of the forint, cuts in social programs, a significant decline in real wages and more rapid privatization. The so-called ‘Bokros package’ austerity policies, introduced in 1995, were deeply unpopular and was criticized both by the left and right, but the MSZP-SZDSZ government pushed forward.

In 1998, the MSZP’s support remained stable, at 32%, but it lost many single-member seats (winning just 54) and won 134 seats in total. Fidesz, which, following its defeat in 1994, shifted from a radical liberal party to a conservative party with strong dirigiste inclinations on economic issues and a certain nationalist tint, won 28% and 148 seats. The SZDSZ suffered major loses, winning only 8% and 24 seats. Fidesz, led by Viktor Orbán, a founding member who had engineered the party’s right-wing transformation, formed a coalition government with the MDF (which fell back further, winning just 17 seats, all of them district seats thanks to an alliance with Fidesz) and the smallholders (who took 14% and 48 seats). The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), a far-right nationalist party, won just over 5% and 14 seats.

Orbán’s government, as far as economic policy went, was not markedly different from the previous government. It pledged to continue the MSZP’s stabilization policy and to reduce the budget deficit, and the government aimed to reduce taxes and social insurance contributions while fighting inflation and unemployment. Showing the Hungarian right’s more interventionist penchants, Orbán abolished university tuition fees and reintroduced maternity benefits. The government successfully reduced inflation from 14% in 1998 to 9% in 2001 (and 5% in 2002), while the GDP grew by 3-4% throughout his term. Unemployment, declining since 1996, stabilized at about 5.5%. Orbán’s term was marked by a very bad relationship with the opposition and a marked autocratic tendency by the government. The cabinet and Prime Minister largely ignored the opposition and National Assembly, swiftly replaced the heads of some key institutions with partisan figures and the government was criticized for seeking to increase its influence in the media.

The 2002 election was extremely closely divided between the two major parties, Fidesz and the MSZP. They both won roughly the same number of votes, 41-42%, with a slight edge to the MSZP, but Fidesz won more single-member seats (95) than the MSZP (78) and therefore ended up with ten more seats overall, 188 against 178 for the MSZP. Only one other party won seats in the National Assembly: the SZDSZ, with 5.6%, won 19 seats. The MDF ran in alliance with Fidesz (and garnered 24 seats through it), while the smallholders, who had been embroiled in a bribery scandal, disintegrated and what was left won less than 1% of the vote. The far-right MIÉP won 4%, falling just below the threshold for seats. Although Fidesz and the MIÉP challenged the results of the election, both the electoral commission and OSCE ruled against a recount. In coalition with the SZDSZ, the MSZP’s candidate, Péter Medgyessy, a former finance minister under the first MSZP government, became Prime Minister.

The incoming government fulfilled its populist election promise of ‘changing the welfare regime’, by increasing wages of public servants by 50%, granting a one-time pension supplement to retirees, increasing academic scholarships. The policies were very popular with voters, but economists criticized it because it was a heavy drain on the budget (at the cost of 190 billion forint). In 2002, an opposition newspaper revealed that Medgyessy had been a counterespionage officer during the communist regime; he admitted this, but claimed that he was charged with defending Hungary from the KGB and securing IMF membership over Soviet opposition. In 2004, after the MSZP was defeated by a large margin the European elections, internal divisions and tensions with the SZDSZ eventually forced Medgyessy to resign from office in September 2004. Ferenc Gyurcsány, a popular sports minister in Medgyessy’s cabinet and one of those who had been agitating for his resignation, replaced him and renewed the coalition with the SZDSZ.

In 2006, both the MSZP and Fidesz won in the vicinity of 42-43% of the vote, with a slight edge to the MSZP both in the district seats (98 vs 68 for Fidesz) and in the regional constituencies, giving them 186 seats against 164 for Fidesz. The SZDSZ won 6.5% and 18 seats, while the MDF, running independently and opposed to a coalition with Orbán, won just over 5% and took 11 seats. Just a few months after the April 2006 election, the MSZP’s collapse into fiery inferno began with the leak of a secret speech given by Gyurcsány to MSZP MPs a month after the election. In an expletive-filled speech, the Prime Minister said that the government had been lying since he took office and that it had done nothing it could be proud of. There were massive demonstrations demanding Gyurcsány’s resignation in Budapest and across Hungary for most of September 2006, organized by Fidesz. The political conflict and deadlock, which lasted until 2010, poisoned the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. The government was also hurt by its austerity policies and the worsening economic situation, which saw unemployment rise from 7.5% in 2006 to 11% in 2010. In 2008, the government was defeated in a three-question referendum organized by Fidesz in which voters voted to abolish healthcare user fees, daily fees for hospital stays and tuition fees introduced by the MSZP government. Turnout was just above the 50% threshold to be valid, and over 80% of participating voters voted in favour of the repeal of these reforms.

In April 2009, Gyurcsány resigned and was replaced by Gordon Bajnai. A little-known politician, Bajnai was the result of a compromise between the MSZP and the SZDSZ, which had left Gyurcsány’s government in April 2008. He cobbled together a coalition with the SZDSZ, and took office on a program of major spending cuts. The Hungarian economy was badly in crisis in 2009, with growth falling by nearly 7% and the country struggling to cope with a high deficit and the largest debt in Eastern Europe (80%). In 2008, the IMF and the EU granted Budapest a $25 billion loan, but Hungary needed to cut spending and implement painful structural reforms (pensions, most notably) to keep up with IMF guidelines. The government, despite resistance from sectors of the MSZP, cut spending by nearly 4% of GDP, cut social spending and public sector wages and cut social security contributions (to increase Hungary’s low employment rate). The government won plaudits abroad for its orthodox fiscal management, but with high unemployment, high corruption, criminality problems and the legacy of 2006, the MSZP remained deeply unpopular at home.

Fidesz, which strongly opposed the government’s austerity policies, handily won the 2009 European elections, taking 56.4% of the vote and 14 MEPs against 17.4% for the MSZP and 14.8% for the far-right Jobbik. The economic and political crisis reawakened Hungarian nationalism, which had largely been dormant since the 1990s.

Nationalism has been a key issue in Hungarian politics since 1920, and Hungary’s contemporary politics and political culture cannot really be understood without understanding the legacy of the Treaty of Trianon (1920) on Hungary. Defeated in World War I, Hungary lost 72% of its pre-war territory and 64% of its pre-war population; it also lost access to the sea and the country’s industrial base was separated from its sources of raw materials. Although the territory which Hungary lost had a non-Hungarian majority, large ethnic Hungarians minorities now lived outside the country’s border, especially in Slovakia and Romania. Hungary’s conservative, nationalist and autocratic interwar government, led by Regent Miklós Horthy sought redress for Trianon. Horthy’s Prime Minister between 1932 and 1936, Gyula Gömbös, was a fascist sympathizer and anti-Semite (but, upon taking office, he toned down his anti-Semitism on Horthy’s orders), and his government built alliances with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy to push for territorial concessions. The alliance with Germany, built out of necessity and strategic calculations, was rather uneasy and Hungary’s slow drift into being a Nazi client state (culminating in Hungary being forced into joining the 1941 invasion of Yugoslavia) was strongly resisted by many conservative politicians. In return for its cooperation with Hitler, Hungary regained lost territory between 1938 and 1941 – southern Slovakia (1938), Carpathian Ruthenia (1939), Northern Transylvania (1940) and BačkaBaranjaMeđimurje and Prekmurje in Yugoslavia (1941). After World War II, Hungary returned to its Trianon boundaries (for good this time). The communist government muted all irredentism and nationalist claims.

Since 1990, Hungarian governments have not sought a revision of the borders, but it has, from time to time, advocated for the rights of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. Hungarians form 6.2% (1.2 million) of the Romanian population, with majorities in Székely, 8.5% of the Slovakian population (458k), 3.5% of the Serbian population (253k, mostly in northern Vojvodina) and over 156,000 in Ukraine (overwhelmingly in Zakarpattia Oblast, where they form 12% of the local population). Budapest’s intermittent interest in Hungarians outside its borders (which has come under Fidesz governments) have created tensions with Hungary’s neighbors, especially Slovakia which has restrictive linguistic legislation and strong nationalist sentiments clashing with Hungarian nationalism. Under Orbán’s first government, Budapest passed a ‘status law’ which provided education and health benefits to Hungarians in neighboring countries. The law sparked tensions with Romania and Slovakia. In 2009, a reform of Slovakia’s language laws by Robert Fico’s government (which was in coalition with the far-right and virulently anti-Hungarian SNS) led to tensions with Hungary.

The economic crisis led to an upsurge in nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary. Politicians on the right, including many in Fidesz, lashed out at ‘foreign speculators’ and foreigners (and Jews) who allegedly controlled Hungary’s wealth, and irredentist visions of Greater Hungary also increased. One Fidesz MP, later removed from the party, said that Israel was trying to colonize/buy out Hungary. In 2012, a Jobbik MEP with anti-Semitic and borderline neo-Nazi views was asked to resign after revelations that he had Jewish ancestors, although Jobbik claimed that they asked him to resign because he had tried to suppress the disclosure through bribery.

Anti-Roma views, a favourite of the far-right across Eastern Europe (and now Western Europe), also gained steam. The Romas numbered around 309,000 in 2011 (3-4% of the population). The Hungarian far-right depicts them as criminals, stealing Hungarian jobs and leeching on welfare money. That same ex-Fidesz MP, for example, claimed that ‘he knew’ that Roma women deliberately induce birth defects on their children so that they can receive higher government subsidies.

Jobbik is a far-right and ultra-nationalist party founded in 2003; it is one of the EU’s most distasteful far-right parties, in a league of its own with the likes of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, so disreputable that parties such as the FN, FPÖ, PVV and SD don’t want to publicly associate with them. In 2007, Jobbik founded its own civilian militia/paramilitary group, the Magyar Gardá, a charming collection of uniformed thugs and fruitcakes. The Magyar Gardá was ordered to be disbanded by a court order in 2008. Jobbik has the traditional populist, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, ethno-nationalist, socially conservative anti-European rhetoric of much of the far-right, but it adds particularly virulent anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic ramblings (it denies claims that it is anti-Semitic, claiming to be anti-Zionist/anti-Israeli, but denunciations of Israel/Jews as ‘conquerors’ and greedy capitalists is commonplace; and many Jobbik politicians have said anti-Semitic things in the past, and in 2012 a Jobbik deputy leader famously asked for the Jews in Parliament and government to be ‘tallied up’). Jobbik supports Hungarian irredentist claims and is supportive of Miklós Horthy.

Fidesz roared towards a landslide victory in the 2010 legislative election, winning an outright absolute majority by the first round of voting and ending up with 52.7% of the vote and 263 out of 386 seats when all was said and done. The MSZP, which was led by Attila Mesterházy, won only 19% and 59 seats. Jobbik won 16.7% and 47 seats; Politics Can Be Different (Lehet Más a Politika, LMP), a new green-liberal party, won 7.5% and 16 seats. Both the MDF and SZDSZ, leading forces in the 1990 transition, were wiped out: the MDF-SZDSZ won 2.7%. In the single-member seats, Fidesz won all but three of the 176 seats – 2, both in Budapest, were won by the MSZP while one seat went to an independent (who happened to be the charming ex-Fidesz MP mentioned previously for his anti-Semitic and anti-Roma inanities). Viktor Orbán returned to power with a huge majority, on a vague platform which promised many new jobs, cracking down on crime and played on nationalism by warning that Hungary would not be subordinated to the EU or IMF.

With a two-thirds majority, Fidesz and the very strong-headed Orbán quickly moved to shore up their own power over Hungarian politics. The result has been extremely contentious, giving Orbán (to outsiders, and many Hungarians) all the trappings of a Vladimir Putin-like autocratic leader who crushes independent institutions. Soon after settling in, Orbán dismissed the heads of several government agencies and institutions (the electoral commission, the state auditor, the state prosecutor, public spending watchdog, a financial regulator), tried to fire András Simor, the governor of Hungary’s central bank. While he was not fired, he lost his ability to nominate two of the seven members of a body which sets interest rates, which fell under Fidesz’s control. Pál Schmitt, a former Olympic fencer and Fidesz MEP, was elected President in 2010, replacing the independent-minded László Sólyom. He resigned in 2012 after revelations that he plagiarized his doctoral thesis.

The government forced all public buildings to display a notice proclaiming that Hungary had finally achieved ‘self-determination’, called the 2010 election victory a ‘revolution in the voting booth’.

In late 2010, the government picked a fight with the courts, after the Constitutional Court invalidated a law which would impose a 98% tax to all public sector severance payments over $10,000, backdated to January 2010. Fidesz reacted with legislation which removed the Court’s power over the state budget, taxes and other financial matters. The opposition, especially LMP and the MSZP, were very critical. In November 2010, after the head of the Fiscal Council, an independent body which monitored the budget, criticized Orbán’s ‘crisis taxes’, a Fidesz MP introduced legislation to dissolve the body. It was replaced by a new council stacked with Orbán allies.

In 2010 and 2011, a new media law attracted significant controversy, especially as discussion of the media law coincided with Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2011. The new law forced all media outlets (print, broadcast, online) to register with a new media authority, which can revoke licenses for infractions and a new media council, which can impose fines for violating some very vaguely defined content rules, allegedly to protect the people’s ‘dignity’ or for ‘inciting hatred’ against minorities, majorities and so forth. The members of these new bodies are all nominated by the ruling party. The furor over the media law caused Fidesz, which, while nationalistic and strongheaded, does still take heed to justify its decisions in the eyes of the foreign media and politicians (usually by saying that other European countries do the same or have same laws, ergo what we do is fine), temporarily retreated. In 2011, the Constitutional Court excluded print and online media from the scope of the media authority’s sanctioning powers and struck down clauses which limited journalists’ ability to investigate (confidentiality of sources etc)However, in 2012, the EU still felt that amendments to the law had not addressed most of its problems with Hungary’s law. Fidesz and its allies control most of the domestic media, and government is the largest advertiser in the country. In 2011, the media council did not renew the license of an anti-Orbán radio station.

Under new media rules, the funding for the public media is now centralized under one body, which had laid off over a thousand employees as part of a streamlining process. There have been major concerns with regards to self-censorship by journalists and the pro-government sycophancy of much of the media. In 2013, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report rated Hungary as ‘partly free’.

In April 2011, the Parliament adopted a new constitution. Hungary’s old constitution had been written by the communist regime in 1949, although it had obviously been very much modified in 1989 and in the past two decades of democracy. The new constitution, described as socially and fiscally conservative, beginning with preamble references to the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, God, Christianity, the fatherland and family values, a constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and a ‘golden rule’ limiting the public debt to 50% of GDP. Certain policy areas, such as family policy, taxation, pensions, public debt, morality, culture and religion were classified as areas of ‘cardinal law’ which may only be altered with a two-thirds majority. Clauses about ethnic Hungarians abroad, which opened the door to voting rights in Hungarian elections, irked Slovakia. The opposition MSZP and LMP walked out of the drafting process, dominated by Fidesz, demanding a referendum on the matter and decrying the lack of consultation. In Parliament, the new constitution was passed with only the support of Fidesz’s MPs, who constitute a two-thirds majority to themselves, while Jobbik voted against and the MSZP/LMP boycotted the vote. European politicians, the EU, the US, independent bodies and NGOs criticized various aspects of the new constitution. In December 2011-January 2012, protesters demanded the constitution’s withdrawal and drawing attention to serious issues with Hungarian democracy under Orbán.

In 2013, new controversial amendments removed the Constitutional Court’s ability to refer to judicial precedent predating the January 2012 enactment of the constitution and may no longer reject constitutional amendments on matters of substance (only on procedural grounds). The amendments also included other laws struck down by courts in the past, including strict limits on advertising during election campaigns (a rule seen as favouring Fidesz)

A judicial reform placed significant power over the judiciary in the hands of the new National Judicial Authority, whose head is the wife of a Fidesz MEP who drafted most of the new constitution. That body has the power to name a lot of local and higher-court justices. In July 2012, the Constitutional Court struck down a section which forced judges over 62 to retire.

In early 2013, the Constitutional Court also struck down a new electoral law which forced all voters to pre-register at least 15 days before the election (the rule was only upheld for ethnic Hungarian citizens residing outside Hungary, who gained the right to vote for the national list seats)

Upon taking office, the new government alarmed investors when some Fidesz leaders mentioned the word ‘default’ and warned that Hungary could become Greece. Foreign investors went into a frenzy, badly hurting confidence in the Hungarian economy even if its fundamentals were much stronger than those of Greece. Orbán quickly moved to smooth out the crisis by announcing new economic measures in June 2010: cuts in income and corporate taxes, the introduction of a 16% flat tax on incomes, a temporary windfall tax on banks, banning mortgages in foreign currencies and cuts in public spending. The government promised to reduce its budget deficit to 3.8% of GDP, a target agreed upon with the IMF and EU in 2008; its economic program aimed to reduce corruption, common petty scams and corrupt dealings in Hungarian businesses and create jobs.

The windfall tax on banks, aimed to raise 0.5% of GDP ($560 million), worried foreign banks in Hungary. In July 2010, the EU and IMF broke off talks with Budapest over the renewal of a $26 billion loan. The EU-IMF were worried about the windfall tax on banks, and demanded stronger commitments to spending cuts and structural reforms in state-owned enterprises. With talks broken off, Budapest announced new economic measures in October 2010: temporary ‘crisis taxes’ on largely foreign-owned telecommunication, energy and retail companies, renegotiation of public-private partnerships, a tax break for families with children and redirecting private pension fund contribution to the state. Orbán said that it was time for those with profits to ‘give more’. The main victims of the ‘crisis taxes’ on telecommunication, energy and retail were mostly foreign companies. The government announced that those in the private pension system who didn’t opt back into the state pension fund would lose all rights to a state pension.

In 2011, the government detailed its spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit to a targeted 1.9% of GDP in 2014. These included an extension of the bank tax, but also cuts in state subsidies for disability pensions, drugs and public transportation and a postponement of corporate tax cuts (from 19% to 10%) until 2013. The government refused to call these measures ‘austerity’. In November 2011, after disappointing economic results, the government reopened talks for assistance (which it called ‘a safety net’) from the IMF. Although the government successfully cut the deficit in 2011, growth remained low, the forint fell and bond auctions failed. The government’s opponents gloated at the failure of Orbán’s ambitious gamble of ‘economic independence’ from the major global financial institutions. In December 2011, the EU and IMF once again broke off preliminary talks, over concerns over new legislation which weakened the powers of the governor of the central bank at the expense of the Prime Minister. The EU was concerned over threats to the independence of the central bank, which added to its concerns with a judicial overhaul which included the forced retirement of over 200 judges over 62 and the independence of a new data protection authority.

In January 2012, the European Commission launched legal action against Budapest on those three issues. With mounting European concern over Orbán’s policies and legislative changes, the EU and IMF decided to play hardball with Budapest, whose poor economic record was forcing Orbán to be slightly more conciliatory. The government decried the EU’s actions as an inexcusable assault on its sovereignty, and pointed to its two-thirds majority won in a free election as a sign of its legitimacy. But the EU and IMF’s behaviour did take its toll on Fidesz, which quickly u-turned and appeared more conciliatory. The government’s new approach had a beneficial impact on the forint and the economy’s health. Nevertheless, in March 2012, the EU suspended nearly 500 billion euros in aid to Hungary, punishing it for failing to keep the deficit in check

Soon after taking office, Orbán’s government amended Hungary’s citizenship law, removing the residency requirement, requiring that applicants only have ethnic Hungarian ancestors and command of the Hungarian language. The law was designed to allow Hungarians in neighboring Slovakia and Hungary to easily acquire Hungarian citizenship (as a second citizenship). Slovakia’s government, under Robert Fico, retaliated by passing a law which would strip Slovak citizens who acquire another passport of their Slovak citizenship.

Parties and campaigns

Fidesz was the favourite in the campaign. The country’s unimpressive economic performance and a certain degree of annoyance with Orbán’s style led to a significant erosion in the party’s popularity in opinion polls, especially in 2011 and 2012, but it has recovered in 2013, partly thanks to populist policies including cuts in utility prices. The country’s economy still faces major issues – the country slipped back into recession in 2012 and growth was only 1.1% in 2013, unemployment has recently declined below 10% but remains high and Hungary remains Central/Eastern Europe’s most indebted country (79% of GDP). The deficit, however, has now fallen below the EU’s 3% limit. However, the economic performance of the country is not entirely negative, allowing Fidesz to take credit for the first signs of recovery. Many aspects of Orbán’s populist and nationalist economic policies (denouncing the IMF/EU, high taxes on banks and largely foreign-owned companies, cuts in income taxes for families, a law allowing Hungarians to repay their mortgages in foreign currency at very good terms while banks are forced to swallow the difference, have been very popular with Hungarian voters. To the crowds, Fidesz plays very heavily on nationalist sentiments – with speeches from Orbán and his stooges decrying ‘colonization’, lashing out at foreign bankers, European bureaucrats and IMF technocrats (compared to Soviet men during the communist era). During the campaign, Fidesz said that the utility price cuts needed to be defended against foreign utility companies, To the IMF and EU technocrats, Fidesz tries to be far more polished. Its nationalist grandstanding is not always matched by its real behaviour with EU leaders.

Fidesz also never missed an opportunity to blame the MSZP for Hungary’s problems or to justify its actions by the necessity to ‘clean up’ the mess it had inherited from the MSZP in 2010.

The left has struggled to pick itself up after the MSZP’s huge defeat in 2010. It has also been hurt by divisions. In 2011, former MSZP Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány founded the Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalíció, DK), a centre-left liberal party slightly to the right of the MSZP. Gyurcsány, who is the favourite target of Fidesz scorn, has become a very vocal opponent of the Orbán government. In October 2012, former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai (2009-2010), who led a MSZP-SZDSZ technocratic government between 2009 and 2010, announced the creation of his own party, Together 2014 (Eygütt 2014, E14). Bajnai’s party was created by three movements from civil society: the Patriotism and Progress Association, Bajnai’s think-tank founded in 2010; Milla, a group born on Facebook in opposition to Orbán’s media laws; and Solidarity, a trade union movement modeled upon Poland’s Solidarity movement. One Fidesz spokesperson charged that Bajnai had returned to politics to help the banks and multinationals. In March 2013, E14 joined forces with Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a green party founded by 8 dissident LMP MPs who opposed the LMP’s leadership refusal to ally with E14 in 2012 and later LMP’s opposition to an alliance with the other centre-left forces. In April 2013, former cabinet minister and SZDSZ leader Gábor Fodor (the SZDSZ dissolved in 2013, after it was wiped off the map in 2010) formed the Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP).

In August 2013, the MSZP and E14-PM formed an electoral alliance, with joint candidates in single-member constituencies but no agreement for a single prime ministerial candidate between Bajnai and MSZP leader Attila Mesterházy. In January, the two parties agreed to field a common list and appointed Mesterházy as their joint top candidate. A few days later, DK and the MLP, which had originally declined to join the alliance, joined forces with the MSZP and E14-PM, under the name ‘Unity’ (Összefogás).

As might be expected, the left-wing Unity’s campaign focused heavily on Orbán. Mesterházy said that Hungarians had the choice between a ‘modern, European republic’ or ‘the restoration of the Horthy era’. Bajnai said that Hungary was at risk of becoming a ‘post-Soviet country’ (which he called ‘Orbanistan’). The opposition also denounced a ‘Putin-Orbán pact’ over an agreement with Russia on the upgrade of a nuclear power plant, under which Russia will lend Hungary €10 billion of the €12 billion required to finance two Russian-built reactors. Orbán had been fairly anti-Russian and critical of the Kremlin in his first stint as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2002, but since taking office he’s been far less critical of Russia and, without being an ally, hasn’t had much to say about Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine recently.

Unity’s economic platform talked of a ‘New Deal’, with pro-growth policies and the abolition of the flat tax (Gyurcsány mentioned a tax rate of 30% for top earners), and a campaign against corruption. However, Fidesz, which described Unity as an alliance of old politicians with no new faces, scored a huge point with the revelation that Gábor Simon, a former MSZP deputy chairman, had the equivalent of $1,000,000 in an undeclared Austrian bank account. Simon, who denied all wrongdoing, was later arrested on charges of tax evasion and falsifying documents (he owned a false passport from Guinea-Bissau). It isn’t as if Fidesz is a shining example of probity either – under Orbán, many contracts and government jobs have been given out to friends and allies of the ruling party, and a new circle of petty oligarchs have replaced the old petty oligarchs who prospered under MSZP rule. However, while the pro-government media has played unrelentingly on the opposition’s corrupt politicians, it hasn’t talked much about corruption in the ruling party.

Jobbik has moderated or altered its rhetoric, toning down the anti-Roma and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favour of a traditional populist and nationalist platform. Jobbik styles itself as a defender of the weakest members of society; its economic platform proclaims as its main objective the defense of Hungarian industry, farmers, businesses, produce and markets. It supports state intervention in the economy to support poor families, farmers and small businessmen (it opposes privatization, the flat tax and promises tax cuts for families and lowering the VAT on basic goods), cutting taxes and regulations which stifle job creation and protectionism. A key aspect of Jobbik’s appeals to voters is resentment against ‘multis’ – multinational/foreign companies which took a large role in the Hungarian economy after 1990. Jobbik accuses them of exploiting Hungarians as cheap labour, job loses and for hurting Hungarian companies. Jobbik is strongly opposed to the EU (it wants a referendum on continued membership) but admires Vladimir Putin’s Russia, supporting closer economies ties with the east at the expense of the west.


Turnout was 61.73%, down from 64.4% in 2010 and the lowest turnout since 1998. The results were as follows (popular vote data is for the national list vote):

Fidesz-KDNP 44.87% (-7.86%) winning 133 seats (96 FPTP, 37 PR)
Unity 25.57% (+6.27%) winning 38 seats (10 FPTP, 28 PR)
Jobbik 20.22% (+3.55%) winning 23 seats (23 PR)
LMP 5.34% (-2.13%) winning 5 seats (5 PR)
Workers’ Party 0.56% (-0.45%) winning 0 seats
Others 3.44% (-0.32%) winning 0 seats

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governing Fidesz was reelected in a landslide, securing a second straight term in office. With 133 out of 199 seats in the new National Assembly, Orbán’s party has narrowly held his two-thirds majority which he won in 2010. The two-thirds majority allows Fidesz to amend the constitution, change several laws and appoint the heads and members of many government agencies and departments on its own. As explained above, Fidesz had made heavy use of its two-thirds majority between 2010 to 2014, to adopt a new constitution, change a whole array of laws and fill government agencies with its own men – all over the head of the opposition.

Gordon Bajnai, the leader of E14, said prior to the elections that they would be ‘free, but not fair’. His comment is somewhat valid. While the OSCE observer mission said that the April 6 election “efficiently administered and offered voters a diverse choice following an inclusive candidate registration process”, they also pointed out that “the main governing party enjoyed an undue advantage because of restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State.” In its report, the observer mission further detailed how Fidesz was helped by government advertisements which were almost identical to party ads; a significant bias by a majority of TV stations in favour of Fidesz. It raised concern about “increasing ownership of media outlets by businesspeople directly or indirectly associated with Fidesz and the allocation of state advertising to certain media undermined the pluralism of the media market and resulted in self-censorship among journalists.” New rules limiting the type of political ads which commercial TV stations may air effectively led to the absence of political advertisements on non-public TV, meaning that the ad war on TV was heavily dominated by Fidesz.

The new electoral system allowed Fidesz to retain a two-thirds majority despite losing nearly 8% support from 2010, and winning ‘only’ 44.9% against over 52% in 2010. The new electoral system is less proportional than the old one. While it is not a purely parallel MMM system like that of Japan, unlike Germany or New Zealand’s MMP system, the national list seats do not compensate for disproportional results in the single-member seats. Fidesz won all but 10 of the 106 new single-member districts. In Hungary, where there are relatively little marked regional differences in voting, a landslide election in whatever direction guarantees that the winning party will win all but a tiny handful of seats. The fact that the national system makes no effort to compensate for disproportional results – even the old system had a weak compensatory element – allows the outcome of the FPTP element to stand. Fidesz also benefited a bit from the extension of voting rights to Hungarians living abroad with no address in Hungary (the so-called ‘Transylvanian votes’, because most are from Romania), something engineered by Orbán to benefit his party. Fidesz won 95.5% of the foreign postal votes, although that only amounted to 122,588 ballots for them.

It is very hard to evaluate how Fidesz might have performed with more balanced media coverage, but it is clear that its victory cannot be explained solely with reference to the undue advantages it received during the campaign. Fidesz was the clear winner, and Unity was the clear loser. They gained votes from the MSZP’s pathetic 2010 result, although it remains a rather unimpressive gain. Together with the LMP, the other party which can logically be considered as part of a broader left-wing opposition to Fidesz, they won a bit under 31% of the vote, up marginally from the 29% won by the MSZP, LMP and MDF-SZDSZ in 2010.

The results showed the clear problems faced by the left-wing opposition. Unity never offered a convincing alternative to the majority of voters. Its sophisticated attacks on Orbán’s autocratic tendencies and its publicizing of the threat posed to Hungarian democracy was not a convincing platform for the majority of voters. In contrast, Fidesz offered clear material and tangible benefits to voters: lower utility bills, a renegotiation of forex house mortgages favourable to homeowners (the bill was largely paid by the banks) and a simple populist-nationalist message which clearly struck a chord. To a lesser extent, Jobbik, which increased its support to over 20% and gained over 165,000 votes (mostly from some 2010 Fidesz voters), also offers a convincing message: vilification of imagined or real enemies (multinationals, criminals etc), identification of scapegoats and an image as a youthful rebellious party. Both Fidesz and Jobbik are very well-organized parties with strong networks, especially in rural areas, and allow people to identify as part of a community or share a clear political identity with other like-minded individuals. Orbán has a lot of dedicated, loyal and quasi-spiritual followers. For his supporters, Orbán is a leader fighting for freedom and national sovereignty, against the EU, banks and foreign companies. Orbán often expresses the need for unity and strength to take on imagined enemies of the nation, and his campaign was successful at highlighting the idea that Hungary is doing much better since 2010 (the media helps him out in that, as did a very carefully choreographed PR campaign). The expression of some sort of ‘siege mentality’ by Orbán (and Jobbik, of course) is particularly powerful in Hungary, which continues to struggle with the Trianon trauma/tragedy. Orbán has successfully created a highly-charged and very polarized political environment; criticism of Orbán from his opponents only reinforces his supporters’ admiration and attachment to him.

Some analysts make cultural arguments to further explain Fidesz and Jobbik’s popularity, especially when both parties are portrayed in the mainstream foreign media and viewed (by the few foreigners who actually know more than the raw basics about Hungary) as either autocratic (Fidesz) or outright Nazis (Jobbik). I’m always skeptical of cultural arguments, but they may hold some validity. Hungary has relatively little experience with democracy; in the interwar era, Hungary was always a conservative authoritarian regime incarnated by the forceful figure of Miklós Horthy and Hungary’s communist regime between 1956 and 1988 was an authoritarian but slightly less dictatorial and dogmatic regime under János Kádár. Both men are controversial figures in Hungary, but there remains goodwill in public opinion for both. Horthy in particular has seen his image restored through the efforts of Jobbik (tolerated by Fidesz) since 2010; a memorial to the 1944 German invasion of Hungary (Horthy’s ouster and replacement with Ferenc Szálasi’s pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party) has sparked controversy, with Jewish community leaders denouncing it as part of a continued move to whitewash Horthy’s rule and portray Hungary as an innocent and virtuous victim of Nazi aggression (rather than a willing, if reluctant at times, collaborator – Horthy’s regime joined the Axis in 1941 and had allied with Berlin and Rome since 1938). Orbán has borrowed elements from both Kádár and Horthy’s playbooks.

The argument runs that, as a result of its past and the perception of liberal democracy and capitalism since 1990 as something of a failure, many Hungarians yearn for a strong, paternalist leadership. The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World places Hungary as having very high ‘survival’ (economic and physical security, relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance) rather than ‘self-expression’ values. Of EU member-states, only Romania and Bulgaria have higher survival scores (Latvia and Estonia have similar scores to Hungary), and other post-communist countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have much higher self-expression scores.

Capitalism/the free market economy is unpopular with a large portion of the Hungarian electorate, especially with Jobbik’s voters but perhaps with a lot of Fidesz supporters as well. The economic reforms in the 1990s did not produce the sense that things are looking up, breeding a lingering current of negative views towards ‘capitalism’. The claim is that the neoliberal reforms resulted in foreign intrusion, the cheap selling out of Hungary’s wealth and businesses, unemployment, corruption, inefficient government and increased criminality. The Hungarian left, with the exception of perhaps LMP, has accepted capitalism as the doxa or dominant paradigm of a modern European society, for better or worse. For many voters instinctively angry at the ‘capitalist’ system (vaguely defined), only Jobbik and its radical ideas against capitalism presents an attractive alternative.

The left also has many problems of its own makings. Besides a poor and uninspiring campaign which failed to compete with Orbán and Jobbik’s populism (although the left did try its hand at populism too), the Unity coalition was terribly unattractive to many voters. The left had trouble overcoming its own divisions to present a united figure out of necessity (if it had run divided, Fidesz would probably have won all FPTP seats, and an even bigger majority). Gyurcsány is a polarizing figure, still perceived negatively by many voters (and Fidesz did not fail to play on this), and he probably did not bring much to the coalition. Atilla Mesterházy is a poor leader who did little in four years and has an overinflated ego; the MSZP, an increasingly obsolete party with huge issues, had no idea how to oppose Fidesz. Only Gordon Bajnai appeared to be a more solid leader. The left has a serious demographic challenge, because both the MSZP and Fidesz (especially the MSZP) are unpopular with younger voters. Outside Budapest, the left (=MSZP)’s base is likely a declining and aging electorate; younger voters, who are very dissatisfied with the state and direction of politics, don’t want to have anything to do with the MSZP, seen as a bunch of obsolete old communists. Jobbik, and to a much lesser extent LMP, are very popular with younger voters. Jobbik has devoted a lot of energy in the last few months to rebrand itself a youthful rebellious party, dropping the blatant racism and anti-Semitism.

All but two of the ten districts won by the left were in Budapest, where Unity won 8 of the constituencies against 10 for Fidesz. This excellent interactive map shows the results of the FPTP vote in all districts, and allows you to visualize the 2010 and 2006 results on the new borders. It won two seats in Budapest by solid margins, peaking at 51.3% against just over 30% for Fidesz in Budapest-7, which covers an area similar to the only two districts which the MSZP held in 2010. It covers Budapest’s 13th municipal district, a mix of middle-class/intellectual areas and gentrified/regenerated old working-class districts. The MSZP won all its other districts by small margins (less than 5%), although many Fidesz districts were also won by small margins. However, Fidesz performed strongly in Buda, with over 45% in the 1st, 3rd and 4th constituencies – these seats cover the 1st, 2nd, 12th and 5th municipal districts (the 5th is located in Pest, covering the bourgeois inner city), the most affluent neighborhoods of the city and traditional conservative strongholds. Budapest was traditionally a left-leaning city, and it remains the strongest region of Hungary for the left-wing opposition. Orbán is said to dislike the city, which he distrusts.

Outside Budapest, the left won only two other districts – one covering the southern city of Szeged, the only major city in Hungary with a MSZP mayor after 2010, and a district covering part of the eastern city of Miskolc. The former is a university town, the latter is a depressed and declining old industrial centre in eastern Hungary (it was a MSZP stronghold until it too elected a Fidesz mayor in 2010). Jobbik won over 30% of the vote in both districts in Miskolc.

Some maps at the settlement level here show that while the left placed second in all major cities and major suburban areas (it placed first in Szeged and in Salgótarján, an old mining city in the north), Jobbik ranked second (even first, in some cases) in most rural areas. As in 2010, Jobbik’s strongest results came from eastern Hungary, with results well over 30% in the rural areas of Heves and Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén counties. In Heves-2, Gábor Vona, the Jobbik leader, won 35.8% against 37% for Fidesz and appears to have won Gyöngyös, his hometown and the second largest town in the county. Eastern Hungary is the country’s poorest region, a depressed and run-down region of old industrial centres, mining towns and small villages (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county was once a leading industrial county due to the mining industry; the left still won the smaller mining towns of Tiszaújváros and Kazincbarcika, where Jobbik nevertheless polled nearly 30%). Unemployment is high, jobs scarce and it also happens to have the highest Roma populations in Hungary. Comparing the unemployment map with that of Jobbik, there is a clear correlation. In Budapest, a comparatively affluent and cosmopolitan liberal city, Jobbik performed poorly (in a few districts, especially those in the most affluent parts of the city, the LMP placed third ahead of Jobbik); it also did poorly in some Pest County suburbs and in parts of western Hungary, which have low levels of unemployment and better economic fortunes (places such as Győr are located in the Budapest-Vienna-Bratislava axis).

It is a worrying sign for the left that, outside Budapest and the cities, the main opposition to Fidesz is now Jobbik. It has lost middle-aged blue-collar voters in small towns, many of whom own homes with forex mortgages, to Fidesz or Jobbik.

Fidesz’s reelection ensures another four years of absolute power for Orbán. The Fidesz caucus is largely made up of sheep-like followers who never challenge the Prime Minister and the party leadership. Since 2010, Fidesz has placed itself in control of most state institutions. It promises ‘consolidation’ and a focus on economic policy, and rejects opposition claims that Hungary is lurching towards a ‘managed democracy’ or, worse, a dictatorship. There is little opposition to Orbán’s absolute power. The left is demoralized and pessimistic after its major defeat, and the Unity coalition already seems to have broken up. Mesterházy, who seems to have an overblown ego, has been reluctant to admit responsibility for the left’s defeat and is intent on remaining at the helm of the MSZP. Both he and Gyurcsány have preferred to blame the electoral system rather than admitting their share of responsibility for the left’s rout. In the EP elections next month, the individual parties in the coalition will seemingly be fighting alone, something which will allow them to individually measure their forces. The left nevertheless will hardly prosper as long as it is squabbling amongst itself or refusing to adapt; it has a lot of thinking to do. Jobbik, meanwhile, is increasingly attractive to younger voters and right-wing Fidesz defectors.

France 2014 (R2)

The second round of municipal elections were held in France on March 30, 2014. The second round of voting concerned all communes whose municipal councils were not elected by the first round. According to Le Monde, of the 9,734 communes (out of 36,681 in France) with over 1,000 inhabitants (all those communes voting using semi-proportional representation), 7,606 elected their council and mayor by the first round. I covered the complex structure, workings, powers and responsibilities of French municipal government as well as the details on the electoral systems in a first preview post. In a second preview post, I listed the major races in the main towns.

In the second round in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants, a plurality suffices to win. All lists which won over 10% of the vote in the first round are qualified, although they may choose to withdraw and/or merge with another qualified list. Lists which won under 10% but over 5% may merge with a qualified list. The list which wins is allocated half the seats in the municipal council. The other half is distributed proportionally to all lists, including the winning list, which have won over 5% of the vote. In Paris, Lyon and Marseille the electoral system is different. Although the above rules are in place, the election is not fought city-wide: instead, it is fought individually in arrondissements/sectors (20 in Paris, 9 in Lyon and 8 in Marseille).

I covered, in extensive detail, the results of the first round here.

Overview: Results

The second round confirmed, even amplified, the results of the first round: a landslide victory for the right-wing opposition, a defeat of monumental and historic proportions for the left and the strong result of the far-right.

According to preliminary results released by the Ministry of the Interior, turnout was 62.13%, down from 63.55% in the first round. It is, again, an historically low turnout for a municipal ballot since World War II, once again continuing the trend of declining turnout which began in 1983. I stick to what I said about the implications and explanations of lower turnout in my post on the first round: it is not catastrophic (it remains higher than in the last legislative, regional, cantonal and EU elections) and it owes a lot to the rise of ‘sporadic participation’ rather than a deep civic crisis.

Libération‘s excellent number-crunching is back, and as far as turnout is concerned, the trends are similar to the first round. Turnout was highest in Corsica and Le Réunion, which, partly because of their insular nature, have a close connection to local politics (and in both cases they are also very clan-based, especially in Corsica) and higher interest for local elections than national elections. Turnout was also rather high in smaller communes where the far-right had qualified for the runoff and was seen as having a serious chance of winning. According to Libé’s list of the top 10 communes (with over 10,000 inhabitants) with the highest turnout, two communes in the Gard where the FN was the favourite to win saw low abstention – 23.7% in Beaucaire (which the FN won) and 24.1% in Saint-Gilles (which it lost). In contrast, turnout remained the lowest in low-income communes – 61% abstention in Villiers-le-Bel, 58.7% in Evry, 56.7% in Vaulx-en-Velin or 55.6% in Roubaix.

Libération reports that turnout increased, on average, from the first round in the 540 towns with over 10,000 inhabitants which voted on March 30. Abstention had been 43.6% on March 23 in those communes, and was 41.1% on March 30. Turnout also increased in nearly all cities where the FN had placed first on March 23: +14.8% in Avignon, the most publicized city; +14.6% in Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines); +12.2% in Hayange; +12.1% in Forbach; +9.86% in Cluses (Haute-Savoie); +7.12% in Béziers or +4.36% in Perpignan. But there is no correlation between increased turnout and FN defeats – the FN won Mantes-la-Ville, Hayange and Béziers. Turnout also increased in other high-stakes races: Marseille-7, Grenoble, Villejuif, Le Blanc-Mesnil or Ajaccio. This seems to further confirm that idea of ‘sporadic participation’ tied to interest in the stakes of the election rather than civic duty to vote regardless.

The left – and the government, by extension – suffered an historic and monumental defeat in the second round. A few numbers explain the situation. I have focused my analysis, because I’m an individual and not working for a newspaper which pays me or hires me assistants, on the 259 communes with a population over 30,000 inhabitants (ideally, 10,000+ would be an even better threshold, but that’d be 946 communes).

Table 1: Results in communes with over 30,000 inhabitants (France + DOM)

Party Inc. Hold Lost Gain Final Net +/-
FG 34 20 14 2 22 -12
PS 99 50 49 6 56 -43
DVG 12 6 6 6 12 nc
EELV 2 1 1 1 2 nc
PRG 3 0 3 0 0 -3
Regionalist 0 0 0 1 1 +1
MoDem 5 5 0 1 6 +1
UDI 23 20 3 9 29 +6
UMP 71 66 5 44 110 +39
DVD 10 9 1 10 19 +9
FN/EXD 0 0 0 2 2 +2
Source: own work

Overall, the right (and MoDem, since all but one of their mayors were elected as right-wing candidates) now controls 164 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants – 63.3% – while the left (FG-PS-DVG-EELV) – now controls 92 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants – 35.5%. Two are governed by the far-right and one by a regionalist. Before the election, the tables were reversed: the left held 150 and the right held 109 – 57.9% to 42.1%. Using the data (1959 to 1995) from Pierre Martin’s Les élections municipales en France, which tracked the % of cities with over 30,000 inhabitants (at the time of the election – so there were far less communes with over 30,000 people in 1959 than in 2014), I have drawn up a graph showing the evolution of partisan control of communes which had over 30,000 at the time of the election2014 marks the widest victory for the right since my data begins (probably the biggest since 1947): the previous record is 2001 (a very similar sample in terms of actual communes, 245 in total), when the right controlled 55.5% of towns. It falls short of the left’s landslide in 1977, when it held 72% of the 221 communes with over 30,000 people back then. The right’s gains in 2014 totally erase (and expand beyond) the right’s loses in 2008, when the governing UMP-led right suffered a major defeat at the hands of the PS-led opposition. The right’s gains in 2014 are also bigger than the right’s gains in 1983, the other major ‘blue wave’ election in which the right gained 35 of the 220 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants from the left (which fell from controlling 67.7% of these towns to controlling 51.8%; -15.9%). Overall, it is the right’s biggest victory in any municipal election under the Fifth Republic.

% of cities of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election) controlled by each party, 1959-2014

% of cities of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election) controlled by each party, 1959-2014

On the right, the UMP, as the largest party, enjoyed the most substantial gains – a net gain of 39 cities, losing five cities (2 to the PS, 1 to the FN; the other 2 were ‘lost’ to other right-wing candidates) and gaining 44 others, including 42 from the left (32 of them from the PS). The UMP controls 42.5% of cities with over 30,000 people. The UDI also enjoyed some major gains, a net gain of 6 with a loss of 3 cities (all of them to other right-wing candidates) and gaining 9 others. Additionally, ten cities were gained by DVD candidates (right-wing independents, dissidents) with only one loss (Fréjus, to the FN). The MoDem gained one city – and not the least of them – MoDem leader François Bayrou was elected in Pau, winning the seat from the PS.

On the left, the PS suffered major loses – it held only 50 of its 99 incumbents, lost 49 and gained only 6 cities (and only 2 from the right – Avignon and Douai). Overall, the PS now controls only 21.6% of cities with over 30,000 people – that’s its lowest result since 1971, when the PS won only 20.7% of cities which had 30,000 people back then.

The FG (mostly PCF, all but two of the FG cities are held by the PCF, and the other two are held by PCF dissidents who are now members of the small Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique/Ensemble) also suffered major loses, making this the worst municipal election for the PCF. It held 20 cities, but lost 14 and gained only 2. The PCF lost two cities to the PS – Bagnolet and Vaulx-en-Velin – and regained one from the PS – Aubervilliers – and one from EELV – Montreuil. The PCF lost towns such as Saint-Ouen, Le Blanc-Meslin, Villepinte and Bobigny to the right; places which it has no business losing. In La Réunion, the Reunionese Communist Party (PCR) was absolutely crushed, losing all 5 of the Reunionese cities which it controlled. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s PG lost the only city it held, Viry-Châtillon, to the UDI.

The PRG lost all 3 cities which it held, it is now left without any city with over 30,000 inhabitants. Its largest city appears to be Saumur (pop. 27,093) in the Maine-et-Loire, which was gained by the PRG (a former mayor and deputy) from the UMP incumbent. DVG (left-wing independents, PS dissidents) candidates had a better time; but their gains only came from within the left (PS dissidents winning La Rochelle, Dunkerque, Montpellier and a left-right alliance led by a DVG candidate winning Nevers from the PS; PCR loses to DVG candidates in two places in La Réunion). EELV, ultimately, was the only party which can be pleased with its performance – although it lost Montreuil, the big story of the night was the victory in Grenoble, defeating the PS. In Villejuif, a UMP-led alliance including the right and EELV defeated a PCF incumbent (it is counted as a UMP gain).

In terms of the most important cities – the 41 cities with over 100,000 people – the left controlled 29 and the right had 12 prior to the election; now the right controls 22 against 19 for the left.

The right gained many important cities from the left: Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Colombes, Asnières-sur-Seine, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort (among hundreds of others). In the first round, the right had already gained a few mid-sized towns from the left – Niort, Clamart and Chalon-sur-Saône (among others). The left, in contrast, had very little success – even those cities where, after the first round, it still held a good chance of winning (Bourges, Calais) it lost; it only gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Avignon and Douai. Some smaller towns gained by the left include Verdun, Longwy, Lourdes, Saumur, Dourdan and Mamoudzou (the largest city in Mayotte). This is to say nothing of the places where the PS was optimistic prior to March 23 but where it was actually crushed – Marseille remaining the classic example.

The FN/far-right gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Béziers and Fréjus. It also won the 7th sector of Marseille, which has a population of 150,326. The far-right’s other victories are Cogolin (Var), Beaucaire (Gard), Bollène (Vaucluse) Villers-Côterets (Aisne), Le Pontet (Vaucluse), Le Luc (Var), Camaret-sur-Aigues (Vaucluse), Hayange (Moselle) and Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines). In the first round, the far-right had gained Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais) and held Orange (Vaucluse). The cities of Orange, Bollène and Camaret-sur-Aigues in the Vaucluse are held by the Ligue du Sud, a small local far-right party led by Jacques Bompard, the député maire of Orange since 1995 and a former member of the FN. The FN was defeated in other of its high-profile target cities – Avignon, Perpignan, Forbach, Brignoles, Saint-Gilles and Tarascon.

The runoff confirmed the undeniable success of the FN in these elections. For example, in 1995, the FN’s previous municipal success, the FN had won four towns (including Toulon), all in the southeast. Now the FN controls ten towns and one sector of Marseille (with over 150,000 people no less), four of which are outside the old far-right bases of the southeast.

There will be a lot of focus on how the FN manages the towns it now controls. The far-right’s record in city halls between 1995 and 2001, most significantly in Toulon and Vitrolles, is widely seen as very negative – famous for defunding some community organizations, censorship in the municipal libraries and financial mismanagement. Marine Le Pen admitted that mistakes were made in the past by FN administrations, and promised that errors would not be repeated. FN municipalities, she says, will not be ideological laboratories, seek to implement the more ‘radical’ aspects of the platform or disobey republican law (for example, FN mayors celebrating gay marriages despite the FN’s opposition to the law). A lot of the new FN mayors’ platforms focused on similar issues: security (increasing the size and power of the municipal police), lowering taxes and favouring the return of small businesses to pauperized downtown areas. Marine Le Pen has said that FN mayors will ban menus offering religious alternatives (to pork) in school cafeterias.

However, it is important to relativize the FN’s success. The runoff results showed, once again, the limits to the FN’s growth and all underline that the FN is not going to win power nationally anytime soon. The FN’s results in many municipalities, including a lot where it had no-name paper candidates, were better than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 result, something of a high-water mark for the FN. In those municipalities where the FN is well rooted thanks to local candidates, star candidates or something in the form of a serious party organization, the FN’s results in the first and second round beat the FN’s results in those same places from the 2012 presidential and legislative election. In the second round in those towns, the FN made further gains – improving on its first round result by about 8 to 14% – for example, a +14.1% gain in one week in Cogolin (Var) or +10.7% in Perpignan.

According to an Ifop study, the FN vote increased by 9.3% in duel (two-way) runoffs and by 2.5% in triangulaires against a divided right or left (2 leftist or 2 rightist lists). In 1995, the FN had gained 4.1% between the two rounds in two-way runoffs.

However, the FN’s victories (outside Orange and Bollène, already held by far-right mayors; and Hénin-Beaumont’s victory in the first round) in every town except Cogolin came in triangulaires/quadrangulaires - three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote, in some cases less than 40% (Hayange, Beaucaire). In other cases, the putative ‘republican fronts’ in Saint-Gilles, Brignoles and Perpignan (PS candidates withdrawing from the race to block the FN) were successful – the UMP candidates, who in all cases had placed second in the first round, won. In Fréjus, the PS candidate did withdraw, but the division of the right between the UMP and the incumbent DVD mayor (expelled from the UMP due to indictment in a corruption scandal) played a large role in allowing the FN to win. In Forbach, there was a strong increase in turnout and an unofficial ‘republican front’ by DVD/UMP voters from the first round voting for the PS incumbent to block the FN’s Florian Philippot. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (Val-de-Marne), a strong increase in turnout and perhaps imperfect transfers allowed the PCF incumbent to narrowly win reelection against a merged UMP/FN list (the UMP disendorsed its list after its alliance with the FN). Together, in the first round, the UMP and FN lists accounted for 57.8% of the vote, but won 49.8% in the runoff (although it won more raw votes than the raw votes won by the UMP and FN lists in the first round).

Finally, in many triangulaire runoffs where the FN qualified as a very distant third (with about 10-15%) and no chances to win, the FN vote – as has been the case historically – declined from the first round. First round FN voters, when the FN has no chance in the second round, prefer to vote for a viable list/candidate (often the right) or ‘return to the fold’ after having protested in the first round by voting FN. According to Ifop, the FN vote fell by 2.5% in classic triangulaires and by 1% in quadrangulaires/quinquangulaires (4 and 5-way runoffs). There was a clear strategic dimension in the FN’s decline in 3-way runoffs: according to Ifop, in triangulaires which saw the commune switch from left to right, the FN vote fell by 4.8% on average whereas in communes which switched from right to left, the FN vote in the triangulaire rose by 0.4%. Individual cases confirm this: in cities which switched to the right, such as Aubagne, Marmande, Maubeuge and Soissons, the FN vote fell significantly in the second round.

There are, therefore, clear limits to the FN’s growth. It is clearly on the upswing, it has a much larger electoral potential than in the past and the climate is favourable to the FN. But the FN is not going to win a presidential election anytime soon.

Finally, as many have pointed out, the FN’s ‘landslide’ netted 12 communes – out of 36,681. Of course, the FN ‘only’ ran 585 or so lists. It won 4.76% in the first round, but taking only those places which had a FN list, it won about 16.5% on average. Secondly, it is extremely tough for the FN – moreso than any other major party – to win elections – it remains repulsive to a majority of voters who say that they would never vote for the FN; and it has no alliances with other parties, meaning that it isolated. In complete isolation in the French electoral system, parties have trouble winning elections outside their strongholds – this was the case for the PCF in 1958.

The FG has argued that, with 22 cities with over 30,000 people, it is a far more relevant and powerful party than the FN despite the media’s heavy focus and interest with the FN. There is a dose of truth to that comment. As far as institutional control, political representation in law-making or deliberative assemblies and influence over policy is concerned, the FG is indeed more powerful than the FN. Despite major loses this year, the PCF retains significant strength in municipal government and it has far more municipal councillors than the FN/far-right does. However, as far as real electoral support is concerned, the FN is more powerful than the FG.

Le Monde‘s excellent new fact-checking blog has a post detailing the performance of 618 lists marked as FG, PCF or PG by the interior ministry (this excludes dissident lists, lists including FG members led by other parties and FG-led lists like those of some PCF incumbents supported by the PS in the first round). They obtained an average of 10.7% where they ran- although PCF lists won 25% on average, while FG and PG lists won 9% and 6% on average. In 214 towns where both FG and FN lists were in direct competition, the FN placed ahead in 177 cases.

The Interior Ministry has also published nationwide results (list vote) here and here. Handling that data is very tricky, because of the ambiguous nature of the labels assigned to each list, the unequal presence of each ‘label’ across the territory and the arbitrary and silly way in which these labels are crafted and assigned (often with partisan spin/political communication aims) by the interior ministry. They make it impossible to accurately track an individual party’s performance, because said party will often have had different strategies from place to place – first round alliances with others here, autonomous list here, another type of alliance there and no list in some places. Nevertheless, if we ignored the individual labels and group them in broader categories, an imperfect but somewhat instructive image can be drawn. The first round offers the most accurate image, because all communes voted – in the second round, only a small number of communes actually voted. In the first round, the left (PS, DVG, union of the left, Greens) won 35.1% against 43.1% for the right (UMP, DVD, union of the right). The far-left and FG won 3.7%, the centre (MoDem, UDI, union of the centre) won 3.3% and the far-right/FN won 4.9%. The other 10% went to divers (miscellaneous), a horrendous label which designates the non-partisan/independent lists which often dominate the smaller communes now voting under the list system (which used to vote under the majority system until the 2013 reforms).

Distribution of seats in municipal councils by bloc, communes over 1,000 ppl (own work, data collated from MoI)

Distribution of seats in municipal councils by bloc, communes over 1,000 ppl (own work, data collated from MoI)

Overall, in terms of councillors, the right won 46% of the seats (48% including the UDI and union of the centre lists, excluding the MoDem) against 33% for the left, with 16% for ‘miscellaneous’ lists, 3% for the centre, 1% for the far-left/FG and less than 1% for the far-right. That is 99,151 seats for the right throughout all communes with over 1,000 inhabitants against 70,126 for the left, 34,703 for others, 7,014 for the centre, 2,905 for the far-left/FG and 1,646 for the far-right/FN. The ‘miscellaneous’ seats disproportionately come from smaller communes: 80% were elected in communes with less than 3,500 people, the old cutoff between majority and list voting prior to 2013. Nevertheless, likely due to changes in definitions of labels by the interior ministry since 2008, in communes with over 3,500 people, then number of miscellaneous councillors has increased by 4,920 (from 1,270 to 6,190).

Within both left and right, most seats were won by DVD and DVG list – a broad label used for major party dissidents but also independent lists with a general ideological orientation (there are also reports of some lists labelled as DVD/DVG etc against their wishes) – DVD lists won 76,344 seats and DVG lists won 44,260 seats. Again, most of the DVD and DVG lists came from smaller communes – 66% of DVG and 62% of DVD councillors from communes with a population inferior to 3,500. In larger cities, the largest lists on the left and right are the union lists, referring to composite lists supported by the major parties of both sides (PS, PRG, Greens and PCF for the left; UMP, UDI for the right).

1,646 seats for the far-right – 1,544 of which are from the FN – may not seem particularly impressive, in that it’s only 0.7% of all seats. But it is impressive if you consider that the FN only ran in a minority of communes and if you compare 2014 to 2008. In communes with over 3,500 people in 2008, the FN’s lowest ebb, the party (and additional far-right lists) won only 71 seats. In 2014, in communes with over 3,500 people, the FN and the far-right won 1,582 seats – a gain of 1,511 seats (which isn’t much if you consider the right gained 7,035 seats and the left lost 9,436 seats; but still impressive once you keep in mind the FN’s limited presence and the electoral system which grants only very limited representation to losing parties).

Aftermath: Valls Government

After the left’s defeat in the first round, the political buzz in France was that a cabinet shuffle – including, most likely, a change of Prime Ministers – would take place after the second round. Originally, the government had likely thought that it could delay a shuffle until after the European elections in May, which will be bloodier for the PS. But the PS and the left’s poorer than expected performance on March 23 forced Hollande to anticipate the cabinet shuffle.

On March 31, the day after the second round, Hollande addressed the nation in a televised statement in which he said that he had ‘understood’ the message which voters had sent him. A few hours before his speech, it was announced and confirmed that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had resigned and that Hollande had nominated Manuel Valls, the Minister of the Interior, to replace him. Hollande confirmed in his televised message that he had asked Valls to lead a gouvernement de combat (combative government). In his speech, Hollande recognized the ‘difficult choices’ he had made, reiterated his government’s commitment to job creation (through private businesses: expressly saying that companies create jobs), his ‘pact of responsibility’ (lower payroll taxes for businesses in exchange for jobs created) and pressing forward with spending cuts. He mentioned a new ‘pact of solidarity’, which he says is aimed at education, social security and purchasing power but which also seems to be the latest way of disguising spending cuts.

Manuel Valls is a 51-year old Spanish (Catalan)-born rising star in the PS, widely seen as belonging to the party’s right. He entered party politics at a very young age, first as a supporter of Prime Minister Michel Rocard (the leader of a reformist and modernist social democratic wing, at odds with Rocard’s sworn enemy, President François Mitterrand) and later, in the 1990s, as a supporter of Lionel Jospin. In 2001, he was elected mayor of the low-income suburban banlieue town of Évry in the Essonne, and won the corresponding constituency in 2002. Within the party, Valls gained a reputation as a maverick iconoclast who challenged the party orthodoxy from a Blairite/Third Way angle. In 2009, he proposed changing the party’s name to modernize its ideological orientation. As mayor of a banlieue with criminality problems and fears of ‘ghettoisation’ (social segregation), Valls has also had a strong reputation as a tough-on-crime and ‘security’-oriented politician. In 2009, he controversially lamented the lack of social diversity in Évry by regretting the lack of whites.

Valls has clear presidential ambitions and despite his youth, low profile and iconoclastic positions in the PS, he ran in the 2011 open primaries. He strongly criticized the other candidates for not telling the truth and being honest about their policies, criticized them as demagogues and presented himself as a straight-talker who wasn’t afraid to challenge dogma. In early 2011, he caused a ruckus by calling to ‘unlock’ the 35-hour workweek (brought in by labour minister Martine Aubry during the Jospin government, considered sacrosanct by most of the PS) and increasing working hours by 2-3 hours. He otherwise took fairly fiscally orthodox policies on spending and budget, proposed an increase in the VAT to create jobs and had positions similar to those taken up by Hollande’s responsibility pact in 2014. Valls won 5.7% in the primaries, a weak result but he achieved his goal – gain standing and prominence in the PS, impose himself as a key figure in the PS.

Valls became interior minister in the Ayrault government and quickly became one of the government’s most popular cabinet ministers – maintaining approval ratings in the 50-60% range, including solid numbers with right-wing sympathizers. Valls’ ministry continued to deport undocumented migrants, dismantle Roma encampments, preached a hardline policy against crime and violence (extremist, criminal or otherwise – he intervened to ban an event by anti-Semitic ‘comedian’ Dieudonné and dissolved right-wing extremist movements); at times, it’s hard to spot obvious differences between Valls and his right-wing predecessors, whom the PS had criticized. Before becoming cabinet minister, Valls had come out in favour of immigration quotas.

In September 2013, Valls said that, with few exceptions, it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. Valls’ comments sparked outrage on the left, including within the government and from the Greens. In October 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant from Kosovo attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.

Valls’ nomination can be interpreted in different ways. Firstly, it may mark a clear shift in government style. Ayrault was a close ally of Hollande, more akin to a collaborator than a head of government, and was widely seen as sorely lacking leadership and the government as lacking coherence and solidarity. Valls is more of a rival to Hollande (although not publicly) and he is unlikely to settle down as a collaborator; he likely intends to be more offensive and assertive both within cabinet and in public opinion. He has already laid out six principles: clarity, collegiality, efficiency, legal soundness, coordinated communication and better relations with Parliament (denouncing legislative inflation).

Another interpretation, more Machiavellian, is that the Prime Ministerial position will act a major check (probably temporary, given his relatively young age) on his presidential ambitions. It is no secret that the job of Prime Minister is traditionally a thankless one, especially when times are bad. No sitting Prime Minister under the Fifth Republic has ever been elected President (Chirac lost in 1988, Balladur lost in 1995 and Jospin lost in 2002; Pierre Messmer’s potential candidacy didn’t come to fruition in 1974) and former Prime Ministers have generally had it though too (Chaban-Delmas was defeated in 1974, Barre was defeated in 1988). Prior to 2002/2007, the Prime Minister, especially in times of cohabitation, was on the frontline of politics and received the blame for unpopular policy, government mishaps and the general climate. Since 2002, in the absence of cohabitation and the trend towards a more assertive presidency under Sarkozy and Hollande, the Prime Minister hasn’t been on the frontlines as much but nevertheless still became relatively/very unpopular (Raffarin and Villepin under Chirac both become very unpopular, largely for their own mistakes and unpopular policies; Fillon was more effaced and had a better image than Sarkozy and maintained higher ratings, though still fell in popularity; Ayrault was very effaced but his popularity collapse along that of Hollande). The Machiavellian could be that Hollande pulled a François Mitterrand and named a key political rival to Matignon to kill him off – like Mitterrand had done with Rocard, although Rocard was still popular when he was fired in 1991 and Mitterrand needed to go all-out to finish him off in the 1994 European elections. But Hollande, like Chirac, doesn’t seem to think in such Machiavellian terms. Indeed, there are reports that Hollande tried every possible option to avoid having to nominate Valls – he proposed the office to defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, an ally of the President.

Ideologically, Valls’ nomination may be seen as a shift to the right by the government. Indeed, many on the left remain suspicious of Valls and the government’s opponents on the left (led by Mélenchon’s PG) have been very critical of Valls’ nomination – Mélenchon said that Hollande didn’t understand the message of the election and confirmed his alliance with the Medef (the employers’ association). EELV had already been rather critical of Valls – Cécile Duflot, Ayrault’s housing minister and former EELV leader, had strongly criticized Valls’ comments on the Roma – and after his nomination, the two EELV ministers (Duflot and Pascal Canfin) announced that they would not join Valls’ cabinet. There was some discussion about other Green ministers, and Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation (promised by Hollande in 2012, mysteriously forgotten…). EELV’s executive voted against participation in the Valls government on April 1, preferring ‘critical support without participation’. The right, perhaps a bit worried in private, publicly acted unimpressed with Valls’ nomination, pointing out his record as interior minister and generally noting that his nomination did not signal a shift in policy. Copé called for a break with the ‘socialist model’.

A cabinet of 16 members, with 8 men and 8 women, was announced on April 2. What retained attention across the world was Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), who returned to government as Minister of the Environment (an office she had held from 1992 to 1993 under Pierre Bérégovoy) and ranking second behind Laurent Fabius, confirmed as foreign minister, in the official protocol. Royal was defeated by a PS dissident candidate in the 2012 legislative elections, seeing her dream of becoming president of the National Assembly shut down. Since then, she has lobbied publicly and privately to regain national political prominence, never missing a media appearance or a chance to comment on her ex-boyfriend’s performance. After Hollande broke up with his girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler, who had tweeted her support for Royal’s PS rival (whilst the PS, hence Hollande, were supporting Royal) in the 2012 legislative election, there were several reports that Hollande met with Royal more often.

The new cabinet also saw the promotion of a number of cabinet ministers. Benoît Hamon, a young member of the PS’ left-wing, who was only junior minister for the social economy and consumption in the Ayrault government, was promoted to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research – replacing Vincent Peillon, who had implemented a controversial reform of the school-week (increasing it from 4 days to 4.5 days) and confronted some teachers in 2013 over a reform of their status. Arnaud Montebourg, who had placed third in the 2011 PS primaries with 17.2% on a left-wing platform preaching ‘deglobalization’ and had served as industry minister (officially ‘Minister for Productive Recovery’) under Ayrault, became Minister of the Economy. Montebourg did not impress much as industry minister, besides various stunts (‘Made in France’), embarrassing fumbles (proposing the nationalization of ArcelorMittal’s steel mill in Florange before being shot down by Ayrault) and his usual flamboyant behaviour. He has remained critical of austerity while in cabinet (but the PS continues to be rhetorically anti-austerity but implementing austerity policies at the same time), although he supported the Gallois report in 2012, which foreshadowed Hollande’s responsibility pact by calling to lower costs on employers (payroll taxes, social security payments) by raising some taxes (VAT) and cutting spending. Montebourg and Hamon, although both rhetorically on the left of the PS, found common ground with Valls in being the leading opponents of Ayrault in the old government. Montebourg famously confronted Ayrault (in private, but revealed by a book) by telling him that he ran France like the municipal council of Nantes and that he was “pissing off the entire earth” (tu fais chier la terre entière) with the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport.

Montebourg will share office with Michel Sapin, an ally of Hollande and outgoing labour minister (who presided over worsening unemployment), who becomes Minister of Finance. The old economy and finance portfolio, held by Pierre Moscovici, who is removed from cabinet with the promise of being European Commissioner, is therefore split – like in Germany – between economy and finance. Sapin will be in charge of fiscal policy and the budget. Montebourg retains his industry portfolio, the ‘digital economy’, crafts and small businesses, the social economy and consumption. He’ll notably oversee the ‘responsibility pact’. Montebourg’s ministry is currently fighting with Fabius’ ministry for international trade, which was a separate formal cabinet position in the old government. Sapin and Montebourg promise concertation and a collegial decisions, but many are worried over the high likelihood of dissonance and clashes, especially because Montebourg is a hothead who loves himself very dearly.

Christiane Taubira was retained as Minister of Justice, despite public disagreements with Valls on her judicial reform (considered as lax and weak by Valls and the right) and a kerfuffle over the Sarkozy wiretaps right before the municipal elections. Jean-Yves Le Drian, close to Hollande, kept his defense portfolio where he has been quite popular. Following a disagreement between Hollande and Valls on the interior ministry – with Hollande favouring his friend, François Rebsamen (the mayor of Dijon and the president of the PS group in the Senate) and Valls favouring Jean-Jacques Urvoas (a Finistère deputy known for his focus on security issues) – the portfolio was given to Bernard Cazeneuve, an ally of Hollande who was the junior minister for the budget in the old government. Rebsamen instead joined government as labour minister. Marisol Touraine, the health minister, was returned as Minister of Social Affairs, but people have pointed out that the word ‘health’ no longer appears in her (or any other) title!

Aurélie Filippetti kept her job as Minister of Culture and Communication, where she did a relatively good job. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the young (36) women’s rights minister saw her job upgraded to the convoluted and messy ‘Minister of Women’s Right, the City, Youth and Sports’, although she relinquished her government spokesperson position to Stéphane Le Foll, a loyal hollandiste who kept his job as agriculture minister. Marylise Lebranchu was retained as Minister of Decentralization, State Reform and the Civil Service. Victorin Lurel, the overseas minister from Guadeloupe, was replaced by Georges Pau-Langevin (born in Guadeloupe but a metropolitan politician), who previously held the chair-warming job of junior minister for educational success. Sylvia Pinel, the Minister for Crafts, Commerce and Tourism in the old government replaced Duflot as Minister of Housing and Territorial Equality, despite a very unimpressive record as crafts/artisans minister – it’s almost certainly because Pinel is from the PRG, which needed a spot (Taubira is also affiliated with the PRG).

On April 9, 14 secretaries of state (who only sit on the council of ministers when their portfolio is being discussed) were named. Notably, Harlem Désir, the first secretary of the PS since 2012, whose leadership was criticized and faced some demands for his resignation following the municipal defeat, was named Secretary of State for European Affairs. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who was the other candidate in line for the party leadership at the 2012 Toulouse Congress, will likely replace him as PS leader.

There have been a lot of comments – mostly negative or underwhelmed – about the government, concerned about the high potential for continued dissonance, incoherence, turf wars and unilateralism from the hotheads (Royal, Montebourg).

Results: Main cities


2 58.24 (2) 41.76
3 60.44 (2) 39.55 (1)
4 50.26 (2) 49.73
5 48.7 (1) 51.29 (3)
7 20.33 55.46 (4) 24.3
8 19.35 56.44 (3) 24.2
9 49.63 (1) 50.36 (3)
10 66.04 (6) 33.95 (1)
11 64.37 (9) 35.62 (2)
12 53.04 (8) 46.95 (2)
13 62.42 (11) 37.57 (2)
14 53.08 (8) 46.91 (2)
15 36.62 (3) 63.37 (15)
18 62.42 (12) 37.57 (3)
19 64.45 (12) 35.54 (2)
20 55.07 (11) 31.26 (2) 13.66 (1)
Paris 53.33 (91) 44.06 (71) 1.26 1.35 (1)

In one of the rare successes for the left on March 30, they successfully held Paris, allowing the PS’ Anne Hidalgo to be elected as the first woman mayor of Paris and to succeed her mentor, retiring PS mayor Bertrand Delanoë (2001-2014). Overall, the left has 92 seats (one for the PG, which won one seat running independently in the 20th arrdt) against 71 for the right, a relatively minor change from 2008 when the left won 98 seats to the right/MoDem’s 65 seats. The left is advantaged not only by the city’s shift to the left in the past decades, but also by the US Electoral College-like electoral system which gives the left a clear advantage in a close contest such as this one because the left’s strongholds (especially the 11th, 13th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrdt) are far more populous (and hence elect more seats to the council) than the right’s strongholds (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th).

The outcome of the election hinged on two arrondissements, both must-wins for the right: the 12th and 14th arrondissements, two historically right-leaning sectors which were held by the right until the PS’ victory in 2001 and have swung to the left in national elections, with Hollande winning 58.9% and 60.3% in those two arrondissements in 2012. UMP mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM) was the UMP’s top candidate in the 14th arrondissement, while the young sitting municipal councillor Valérie Montandon was the UMP’s top candidate in the 12th. The 12th is, like Paris, predominantly middle-class with a mix of young, highly-educated professionals (leaning left) and an older, more established bourgeoisie on the right; although there’s also a significant number of residents in low-rent housing (HLM). The 14th is rather similar, although with a slightly larger share of the population lives in HLM. In the first round, the PS had already placed ahead of the UMP in both arrondissements, and the added support of EELV lists (10.1% and 8.8% in those two arrondissements respectively) gave the left a clear advantage over the left, although in the 14th, NKM’s list merged with a dissident list led by local candidate Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée (5.7%, backed by Charles Beigbeder’s Paris libéré coalition of right-wing dissidents).

It was therefore not a huge surprise when the PS held both arrondissements with a much reduced but comfortable majority – and nearly identical ones in both (53.04% and 53.08% for the PS-EELV lists respectively). With the loss of those two critical arrondissements, the right’s fate was definitely sealed. This link shows results by precincts for the second round. In the 14th, the UMP won a number of precincts in the north of the arrondissement, relatively wealthier and more bourgeois.

The UMP did regain one arrondissement from the left – the 9th (with 50.4%) – and came within 55 votes of gaining another, the 4th arrondissement, from the PS. But victory in either (or both) arrondissement was insufficient – against the 12th and 14th which elect 1o councillors, the 9th returns only 4 and the even smaller 4th (in downtown Paris) has only 2 councillors now. In the 4th, the UMP won well over 60% of the vote on the two precincts covering L’Île de la Cité and L’Île Saint-Louis, the two natural islands in the Seine which attract only a select few because of the exorbitant housing prices. In the 9th, another ‘border’ arrondissement between the leftist east and rightist west, there is a clear divide between the east and west within the arrondissement. In the bourgeois western neighborhoods of the 9th, bordering the bourgeois hotbed of the 8th, the UMP list did very well – peaking at nearly 70% in one precinct; in the east, demographically similar to the relatively poorer and ‘bobo’ areas of the 10th, the left won.

In the 7th and 8th, two of Paris’ wealthiest arrondissements and conservative strongholds of the bourgeoisie for over a hundred years, the UMP won easily but their main opposition came from right-wing dissidents. In the 7th, incumbent UMP mayor Rachida Dati, who has been criticized for absenteeism and not giving much to her office, had faced no less than four DVD lists in the first round. Only one remained standing, that led by former maire adjoint Christian Le Roux, who won 17.8% in the first round and increased his support to 24.3% in the runoff. Across the Seine, in the 8th, the UMP won 56.4%, but Charles Beigbeder’s Paris libéré list (which merged with another dissident list which had won 5.2% in the first round) placed second with 24.2%. In both cases, the left, extremely weak in both these right-wing strongholds, placed third with about 20%.

In the 20th arrondissement, the city’s most left-wing arrondissement, the left was divided. The 20th was the only arrondissement where, after the first round, the PG list (led locally by the PG’s mayoral candidate Danielle Simonnet) could maintain itself. With the PS seemingly uninterested by an alliance with the PG, there was no agreement reached and Simonnet’s list maintained itself (like in the 7th and 8th for the right, the 20th is so left-wing that there was no risk whatsoever that a divided left in the second round could lose to a united right). Simonnet won 13.7%, up from 10.4% in the first round – enough for her to win a single seat for herself in the city council (the PG list needed 12.5% of the vote to qualify for a seat on council).

With the addition of the four arrondissements held by the UMP in the first round (1, 6, 16, 17), Anne Hidalgo’s PS-EELV-PCF-PRG majority finds itself with 91 seats against 71 for the UMP-UDI-MoDem and 1 for the PG. Within the left, the PS-PCF has 75 seats, down from 87 for the PS-PCF-PRG in 2008, while EELV increases its caucus from 11 seats to 16. On the right, the UMP has 55 seats – up 3 – while the UDI-MoDem has 16 – up 5.

The overall result in the 16 out of 20 arrondissements which had a second round was 53.3% for Hidalgo against 44.1% for NKM. But those numbers are meaningless; the four arrondissements elected in the first round all went heavily for the right. This article from Slate asks if the left won the popular vote across the city. CSA, a pollster, estimated that the overall vote in the ‘decisive round’ (so the first round for arrondissements 1, 6, 16 and 17) was 48.8% for Hidalgo against 46.2% for NKM, with the remainder for the non-UMP/PS lists in the second round and ‘small’ lists (EELV, DVD, PG) in the first round in the four arrondissements. Calculating an hypothetical second round in the four arrondissements, based on the right’s gains from the first to second round in the 16 other arrondissements, the left would likely have won between 49.7% and 50.2% city-wide.

The right lost because it remained unable to expand its support into the decisive swing arrondissements. Its support remains too heavily concentrated in its western strongholds, which contribute relatively few seats whereas the left’s eastern strongholds contribute enough seat to give the left a clear edge over the right in a close contest such as this one. The right effectively needs far more than 50% of the city-wide vote to win. The right nevertheless made substantial gains, in the popular vote, from 2008, a landslide reelection for Delanoë and the Parisian right’s lowest ebb. Still, it fell about 3 points short of victory in the decisive 12th and 14th arrondissements – it did perform far better than Sarkozy had in May 2012, but likely ran into a structural wall at this point: the left is now too strong in these arrondissements.

NKM, despite the hot mess of dissident candidates left, right and centre and several gaffes and faux-pas during the campaign, ran a generally decent campaign and strengthened the right in Paris, which has been divided and electorally weakened in the last few years. Her own political career is hardly over: she remains deputy for the Essonne, but more importantly, she may be the favourite for the presidency of the Grand Paris, a metropolitan structure to be created in 2016 uniting Paris and the three bordering departments of the petite couronne. In the future Grand Paris, the left’s worst nightmare came true: having suffered major loses in all three suburban departments, especially in the Seine-Saint-Denis and Hauts-de-Seine, the right would hold 190 out of 337 seats against 145 for the left, according to Cadre de Ville.


1 44.89 (9) 40.50 (2) 14.61
2 47.7 (6) 32.64 (1) 19.66 (1)
3 47.75 (8) 33.89 (2) 18.86 (1)
5 51.45 (12) 22.2 (1) 26.35 (2)
6 46.69 (10) 23.36 (1) 29.95 (2)
7 32.15 (2) 32.52 (3) 35.54 (11)
8 23.83 (1) 45.54 (9) 30.63 (2)
Marseille 42.39 (61) 31.09 (20) 26.51 (20)

After the shocking results of the first round in Marseille, which saw Patrick Mennucci’s PS-EELV list place a very distant third with just a bit under 21%, against 37.6% for UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin and 23.2% for FN lists led by Stéphane Ravier, it became clear that the left’s high hopes of victory in Marseille were dead. The local repeat of ‘April 21 2002′ came to symbolize the PS’ rout, in a city which the PS – backed up by polling up until the very end – had high hopes of victory no less. To make matters worse for the PS, Gaudin sealed a controversial alliance with an ally of the controversial and highly corrupt PS president of the general council, Jean-Noël Guérini, who had been working against Mennucci (a one-time part of Guérini’s system turned into a very vocal opponent) since the local PS open primaries in 2013. In the 2nd sector, a left-wing stronghold which happens to be Guérini’s home turf, a guériniste (PRG) list led by the incumbent PRG (ex-PS) mayor of the sector, Lisette Narducci, placed second ahead of the PS list with 23.8% against 17.5%. Gaudin announced the merger of Narducci’s list with the local UMP list, led by UMP general councillor Solange Biaggi; the PS was outraged at the alliance and tried a last-minute remobilization of its electorate by denouncing the ‘Gaudin-Guérini system’.

It amounted to nothing. Gaudin was easily reelected (for a fourth and likely final term in office, given his age), winning a large majority on the city council – with a total of 61 out of 101 seats, a gain of 10 seats from 2008, when Gaudin had been reelected with only 51 seats against 49 for the PS lists (then led by Guérini) and 1 for the FN. The FN and left both won 20 seats – respectively the best and worst performances for those parties in Marseille’s history.

The city as a whole saw significantly stronger turnout than in the first round – increasing from 53.5% to 57.3% across the seven sectors which voted in the runoff. It was up 4.4% in the 1st, up 4% in the 2nd, up 2.4% in the 3rd, up 2.8% in the 5th and 6th, up 7.6% in the 7th and up 6.1% in the 8th. Turnout in the first round had been particularly low in areas where Hollande had done best in April/May 2012, indicating that a very large portion of the left’s potential base stayed home. In the second round, increased turnout across the board does not seem to have advantaged one party over another. The FN, despite lacking reserves, increased its raw vote from the first round in every sector and its share of the PV in all but one sector (the 1st); the PS generally won more raw votes the combined first round totals of the PS-EELV and FG (the FG’s lists, which won 7.1%, merged with the PS-EELV lists) and sometimes even more than the combined totals of the PS-EELV, FG and Pape Diouf’s centre-left civic lists (Diouf’s lists, anti-establishment but largely drawn from the centre-left in terms of candidates and voters, won 5.6% in the first round with a peak at 8% for Diouf in the 7th; Diouf refused any merger with Mennucci); the right also increased its raw vote in all but one sector (the 6th, where a DVD/dissident list by the incumbent mayor, Robert Assante, won 13.4% in the first round and merged with the UMP list of Roland Blum and Valérie Boyer).

In the 1st sector, which was a key sector gained by the PS’ Patrick Mennucci in 2008 from the UMP, Mennucci was defeated by UMP deputy Dominique Tian in the second-closest race in the city. Tian won 44.9% against 40.5% for Mennucci. The 1st sector is a key swing area of Marseille, bridging the left-wing stronghold of the 1st arrondissement (a poor and multiethnic inner-city area, with 72% for Hollande in May 2012) and the right-leaning 7th arrondissement (which includes solidly conservative affluent seaside neighborhoods). The 2nd sector, which includes Marseille’s two poorest arrondissement, is usually a left-wing stronghold (67.9% for Hollande, his best result in the city in May 2012) but this year, it was won by the Gaudin-Guérini alliance. In the first round, the UMP list in the sector had placed first with 24.2% and Narducci’s PRG/Guérini list in a close second with 23.8%. Despite the unusual combination, transfers appeared to be fairly good, and the UMP-PRG list won 47.7% against 32.6% for the PS list, led by Eugène Caselli, the outgoing president of the urban community (Marseille Métropole Provence, MPM). The FN’s support increased from 16.5% to 19.7%.

The 3rd sector was supposed to be the one swing race which would determine the election – with a left-wing victory (back when we assumed that the left would hold all its sectors from 2008!) allowing it to win the mayor’s chair. After the first round, it became obvious that the left stood no chance and that the election in the 3rd was already decided in favour the UMP incumbent, Bruno Gilles. The UMP won 47.8% against 33.4% for the PS list, led by Marie-Arlette Carlotti, who was junior minister for disabled persons in the Ayrault cabinet. Carlotti was able to do little more than win the support of first round FG voters.

The UMP held the 5th and 6th sectors easily, with the FN placing ahead of the left in both. In the 5th, UMP incumbent Guy Teissier was reelected with 51.5% against 26.4% for the FN, which gained an additional 1,000 or so votes from the first round. The left won 22.2%, its worst result in the city. In the 6th, the UMP list was victorious, with 46.7%, although it failed to match the combined first round raw vote or PV of the UMP list and Assante’s DVD list. The FN gained an extra 2,247 votes, placing second with 30%.

The most important race was the 7th sector, which covers northeastern Marseille’s 13th and 14th arrondissements. Like most of the places where the FN tends to do well in Marseille, it is a relatively ‘settled’ (low mobility) lower middle-class area which is rather low-income, has low levels of education and CSP- employment (workers, employees); in the case of the 7th sector specifically, the FN does very well in residential suburban neighborhoods – banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and not as well in the cités. In the first round, the FN list by Stéphane Ravier, the FN’s mayoral candidate and local leader, placed first with 32.9%, the FN’s best result in Marseille. The incumbent PS mayor of the sector since 2001, Garo Hovsepian, an ally of Samia Ghali and local corrupt ex-PS deputy Sylvie Andrieux, placed third with 21.7%. The left refused to withdraw to ‘block the FN’, arguing that it had the best chance to defeat the FN because of the likely support of those who had backed Diouf (8.1%) and the FG (6.4%) in the first round. While Hovsepian finished second in the runoff, with 32.5%, the FN won the sector – the first time the FN wins a sector in Marseille – with 35.3%. Ravier’s raw vote increased by 3,114 from the first round, a gain of 2.4%. As mayor of the sector, Ravier has relatively little powers – more or less, it boils down to managing a few public spaces and parks in the borders of the sector and other irrelevant responsibilities. But the victory is a major symbolic victory for the FN; it also likely gives the FN in Marseille a great opportunity to build up their networks.

The 8th sector, a low-income and working-class area in the heart of Marseille’s quartiers nord, was the only sector retained by the left. Incumbent PS mayor Samia Ghali, who has a strong electoral machine in the sector, won reelection with 45.5% against 30.6% for the FN and 23.8% for the right. The FN gained a bit less than 1,500 votes between the two rounds. The end result of the PS’ rout in Marseille is that the only survivor of the bloody episode is Samia Ghali, the only prominent PS leader who wasn’t defeated (Mennucci, Carlotti lost but also Caselli and Christophe Masse) and who remains in a relatively solid position. To seal a great election for Guérini, it also happens that Ghali is far more supportive of Guérini than either Mennucci or Carlotti are. For example, while Mennucci and Carlotti’s reaction to defeat was to demand Guérini’s exclusion from the PS at long last and the dissolution of the PS structures in the city to allow for reconstruction; Ghali has made very little public comments on Guérini (downplaying his influence and role) and expressing skepticism at Mennucci/Carlotti’s calls to reconstruct the PS from the ground up.

With a landslide victory in Marseille proper, the UMP has also gained a solid majority in both the current council of the urban community (MPM) and the future council of the broader Marseille-Aix metropolis which will be created by decree in 2016. In 2008, the right had a paper-tight majority in the MPM on paper, but due to dissidents in their ranks, the PS candidate Eugène Caselli was elected. The MPM’s presidency should go to Guy Teissier (UMP), while the right is estimated to hold a huge 96-39 advantage in the future Marseille-Aix metropolis, with 14 seats for the FN.


1 31.34 (1) 24.12 44.52 (3)
2 36.71 (1) 52.98 (4) 10.29
3 53.81 (10) 35.04 (2) 11.13
4 47.03 (4) 37.46 (1) 15.50
5 48.46 (6) 42.61 (2) 8.91
7 58.08 (8) 29.36 (1) 12.55
8 53.30 (9) 28.57 (2) 18.12 (1)
9 59.58 (8) 26.85 (1) 13.55
Lyon 50.64 (48) 34.24 (21) 10.34 (1) 4.78 (3)

Unsurprisingly, in Lyon, incumbent PS mayor Gérard Collomb was easily reelected to a third term in office, with only a slightly reduced majority. Across the city, Collomb’s lists won 48 seats – down from 54 in 2008, when Collomb had won a massive landslide by the first round – against 21 for the right, which gains only 3 seats. The FN returns to the municipal council for the first time since 1995, when it had won 2 seats.

Collomb’s lists were victorious in six out of nine sectors. In the first round, the right held the 6th arrondissement, the city’s most bourgeois arrondissement. In the second round, the right easily held the 2nd, an affluent downtown arrondissement on the Presqu’île. However, the right failed to regain either the 3rd or 5th arrondissements, lost in 2008 and 2001 respectively. In the 5th, the UMP’s mayoral candidate Michel Havard, a former deputy from the party’s moderate wing, narrowly lost to the PS’ Thomas Rudigoz, 42.6% to 48.5%. On the west of the city, the 5th includes the Vieux-Lyon (the city’s historic core), the Fourvière hill and church but also residential suburbs – both middle-class and lower-income HLMs. It voted for Sarkozy in 2012, with a distinctive split between the suburban outskirts (for Sarkozy, minus the lower-income HLMs for Hollande) and the urban area (for Hollande).  There was little contest in the 3rd arrondissement, which the UMP lost to the PS in 2008. The PS list won 53.8% against 35% for the right, with the FN taking 11.1%.

Collomb’s lists won the 7th, 8th and 9th arrondissements – held by the left since 2001 (7) and 1995 (8, 9) respectively – with huge margins. All three arrondissements include lower-income quartiers populaires (La Guillotière, Mermoz, États-Unis, La Duchère) and the 8th and 9th, on the outskirts of the city, both include poorer peripheral neighborhoods. The 9th arrondissement is Collomb’s electoral base, and the list which he personally led won 59.6% of the vote, the highest result for his lists in the city. The FN also won its best results in these arrondissements, peaking at 18% for the list led by FN mayoral candidate Christophe Boudot in the 8th. However, in all arrondissements where the FN qualified for the runoff, they won a (marginally) lower share of the vote than in the first round and lost actual votes in all but the 7th and 8th arrondissements.

A key race was in the 1st arrondissement, a left-wing stronghold centered on the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse (les Pentes), a formerly poor working-class area (famous particularly for its silk workers) which has since been extensively gentrified and is now a bustling cosmopolitan, young, professional (many journalists, artists, academics, young cadres etc) and highly-educated ‘bobo’ area. The incumbent ex-PS mayor Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert, who left the PS in 2013, ran for reelection in alliance with the FG and placed first in the first round with 33.5% against 25.9% for the PS. The FG and PS found no agreement in Lyon, so the FG lists which qualified in the 1st but also the 4th (the 4th includes the similarly bobo Croix Rousse, but the right is stronger because it includes some wealthier and older areas in the west) maintained themselves in the runoff. In the 1st, the FG list won easily, with 44.5% against 31.3% for the PS-EELV. The PS list, led by EELV’s first round candidate (11.3%) failed to win all those who had voted for the PS and EELV in the first round, falling over 500 votes short of the combined PS-EELV vote in the first round while the FG list gained over 1,000 votes from the first round. In the 4th, the FG list gained over 600 votes to win 15.5%.

Although Collomb retains his seat for a third term, it is unclear whether he will retain the presidency of the Grand Lyon, an urban community which will be of even greater political importance come January 2015, when it will be transformed into a metropolis with the full powers of a department on its territory. According to Cadre de Ville, after substantial loses for the left in suburban communes of the Grand Lyon, the left and right find themselves with 77 seats apiece in the new metro council; with the remaining 8 seats split between independents (6) and the FN (2). Michel Havard and the local right claimed victory in the Grand Lyon, while Collomb has said that he will make sure that the left retains the control of the Grand Lyon. Collomb, a centrist and moderate Socialist, has good relations with some independent centre-right mayors in the Grand Lyon and could probably manage to narrowly hold the presidency with the backing of some suburban independent mayors.


Jean-Luc Moudenc (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 52.06% – 53 seats
Pierre Cohen (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 47.93% – 16 seats

In a rematch of the 2008 election, Jean-Luc Moudenc, a UMP deputy and former mayor who lost reelection in 2008 to the PS’ Pierre Cohen, took his revenge on March 30 with a comfortable victory over the incumbent. Moudenc won 52.1% against 47.9% for Cohen, who had already trailed the UMP by nearly 6 points in the first round although his list did merge with Antoine Maurice’s EELV list, which had won 7% on March 23. Toulouse generally leans to the left – Hollande won 62.5% in the city in May 2012, although the right retains substantial support in some affluent bourgeois neighborhoods in the downtown core. However, the right governed the city between 1971 and 2008.

With gains in suburban communities of Toulouse, the right has also gained control of the urban community (soon to be metropolis) of Toulouse; with 72 seats against 59 for the left.


Christian Estrosi (UMP-UDI)* 48.61% – 52 seats
Marie-Christine Arnautu (FN) 21.1% – 7 seats
Patrick Allemand (PS-EELV-MRC) 17.84% – 6 seats
Olivier Bettati (DVD) 12.42% – 4 seats

No surprise whatsoever in Nice, with the comfortable reelection for a second term of the UMP incumbent, Christian Estrosi. Nice, which gave over 60% to Sarkozy in May 2012, is a right-wing stronghold, and Estrosi, the leading political boss of the UMP in Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes, is a popular mayor with a focus on criminality and security issues which is a good fit for the city’s predominantly older, middle-class electorate concerned about such issues. Estrosi faced a quadrangulaire with the FN, the left and a UMP dissident (Olivier Bettati, a UMP general councillor and former adjoint au maire, whose relations with Estrosi have always been quite cool). That means that Estrosi didn’t gain much votes from the first round, when he won 45%. The FN increased its support from 15.6% to 21%, although it still remained below Marine Le Pen’s 23% in 2012, and gained over 5,700 votes (likely from Philippe Vardon, a local extremist and neo-fascist candidate, who won 4.4% and former FN-turned-RPR/UMP mayor Jacques Peyrat, who won 3.7%). Patrick Allemand (PS) suffered from poor transfers from the FG, which had won 5.4% in the first round. Bettati gained about 2,300 votes.

The right holds its huge majority in the council of the metropolis of Nice (Métropole Nice Côte-d’Azur) with 87 seats against 28 independents, 8 for the FN and a puny 6 for the left.


Johanna Rolland (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-UDB)^ 56.21% – 51 seats
Laurence Garnier (UMP-UDI-PCD) 43.78% – 14 seats

The PS had no trouble whatsoever holding Nantes, which was ruled between 1989 and 2012 by Jean-Marc Ayrault. PS candidate Johanna Rolland, a young (34-year old) première adjointe and protege of Ayrault, placed first in the first round with 34.5% and over ten points ahead of the right’s candidate, Laurence Garnier, a UMP municipal councillor who is also 34. The PS merged with the EELV list, which won 14.6%, and transfers from EELV to the PS-EELV list in the second round appear to have been good – despite local tensions between both parties on the issue of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes international airport, which the PS (and Ayrault) strongly supports (except for the PS’ left) and which EELV strongly opposes. Both parties agreed to disagree on the airport. The left won 56.2%, down from Hollande’s 61.5% in May 2012, but nevertheless a strong showing.

The PS also retains control of the urban community of Nantes, with an estimated 66 seats against 31 for the right.


Roland Ries (PS-EELV)* 46.96% – 48 seats
Fabienne Keller (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 45.02% – 15 seats
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser (FN) 8.00% – 2 seats

The reelection of the one-term mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, was one of the few bits of good news for the PS on an otherwise horrendous night for them. The city was held by the PS between 1989 and 2001 before switching to the right with the election of Fabienne Keller (UDF) in 2001, and switching back to the left with Ries’ landslide victory over Keller in 2008. It was one of the UMP’s main targets, and although the city is often a ‘pink spot’ in otherwise rock-solid conservative Alsace, the UMP was confident that with the national climate, a strong candidate and a candidate who is a moderate centrist they could regain Strasbourg. As predicted, the second round was very tight, with Ries winning reelection with 47%. Although the PS obviously insists that Ries was reelected because of his record, it seems very likely that he owes his victory to the triangulaire with the FN, which had barely qualified with 10.9% in the first round. Although there was clear strategic voting or ‘return to the fold’ by first round FN voters – the FN vote fell by nearly 3% and lost over 1,500 votes – it was not enough for the right. Increased turnout – from 49.7% to 54.7% – does not seem to have clearly benefited any candidate.

Rue89 Strasbourg has a map of the results of the second round by precinct. It shows little differences in the broader patterns from the first round, with the PS dominant in the young, well-educated and white-collar bobo areas downtown, gentrified areas (Gare, Esplanade, Krutenau) and the low-income and ethnically diverse peripheral cités (Neuhof, Meinau, Hautepierrre, Cronenburg Ouest, Koenigshoffen and Elsau); the right polling best in the affluent central neighborhoods of L’Orangerie and Contades and the comfortable middle-class suburban neighborhood of Robertsau (north), while also pulling good numbers in the lower middle-class residential suburban areas in the Neuhof, Meinau and Montagne Verte.

The left narrowly saved its majority in the urban community. The PS lost Schiltigheim, the second largest city in the CU, to the UDI but PS incumbents were reelected in Illkirch-Graffenstaden and Ostwald. According to Cadre de Ville, the left holds about 48 seats to the right’s 38, with 3 independents and 1 FN.


Philippe Saurel (DVG-PS diss) 37.54% – 45 seats
Jean-Pierre Moure (PS-EELV-PRG-MRC)^ 27.39% – 9 seats
Jacques Domergue (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 25.87% – 8 seats
France Jamet (FN) 9.18% – 3 seats

In Montpellier, Philippe Saurel, a PS dissident candidate emerged victorious by over 10 points over Jean-Pierre Moure, the president of the agglomeration community and the official candidate of the PS. Saurel, who is said to be close to Valls, is a dentist and former adjoint to retiring PS mayor Hélène Mandroux, refused to participate in primaries (alleging that they would be rigged) and ran as a dissident candidate against Moure, the influential and powerful president of the CA and mayor of a suburban commune, who had been imposed as the PS’ candidate by the local PS establishment and then-Prime Minister Ayrault. Moure was supported by the still influential supporters of late former mayor (1977-2004) and regional presidential (2004-2010) Georges Frêche; Julie Frêche, his daughter, was second on Moure’s list. Also backed by EELV, which is quite strong in Montpellier, and most of the local business community, Moure was seen as the favourite and placed first on March 23, albeit with a mediocre result of 25.3% against 22.9% for Saurel, who presented himself as the ‘anti-system’ candidate. On March 27, Saurel received the endorsement of outgoing PS mayor Hélène Mandroux, who had supported Moure in the first round. Mandroux took her revenge on the party establishment, the PS in the Hérault and on Matignon who had eliminated her from the race and intervened to block her candidacy for another term.

A poll by Ifop had shown Saurel leading Moure by 1 point, 31 to 30, for the second round; but nobody really saw his 10-point victory coming. Saurel, whose support rose by 13,000 votes from the first round, seems to have benefited from increased turnout – which rose from 52.1% to 56.6%, support from FG voters (7.6% in the first round) and perhaps some strategic voting from the right to defeat the PS. The UMP candidate improved his result from 22.7% to 25.9%, representing a gain of about 4,000 votes; the FN, which is weak in Montpellier (unlike in the rest of the department), saw a major decrease in support from the first round, where it had won 13.8% (it lost about 2,800 votes). The result is a major hit to the PS, which suffers the consequences of a badly handled mayoral succession (forcing the incumbent to retire against her will, imposing a candidate, unable to prevent dissidence).

The left is confirmed to hold a solid majority in the future metropolis of Montpellier, which will be created in January 2015.


Martine Aubry (PS-EELV-PRG-MRC)* 52.05% – 47 seats
Jean-René Lecerf (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 29.71% – 9 seats
Éric Dillies (FN) 18.22% – 5 seats

Martine Aubry, the PS mayor of Lille, was handily reelected to a third term in office at the helm of France’s 10th largest city and a Socialist stronghold since 1919 (except for the German occupation and an ephemeral right-wing Gaullist mayor from 1947 to 1955). Aubry won 52%, up from 34.9% in the first round, an increase of about 9,700 votes; indicating that she had little trouble winning the support of those who had backed EELV (11.1%) or the FG (6.2%) in the first round. In contrast, with no reserves, the UMP’s support increased only marginally, from 22.7% to 29.7% (+3,959). The FN, which had won an exceptionally strong 17.2% in the first round, further increased its support by about 600 votes to 18.2%. The FN won 28.4% in the associated commune of Lomme, a working-class neighborbood in western Lille.

Lille proper, however, was only a silver lining for the PS in the Nord after a fairly horrendous night. The UMP gained Roubaix and Tourcoing, the second and third largest cities in Lille Métropole with populations over 90,000. Both are poor working-class cities which were once major centres for the textile industry, but which have struggled with deindustrialization and now have very high levels of unemployment and poverty (Roubaix is the poorest major city in France). In Roubaix, the PS mayor Pierre Dubois paid the price of a divided left – in the second round, he won 33.2% against 34.8% for the UMP. André Renard, a PS dissident, won 15% of the vote, up from 10% in the first round (he had merged his list with another dissident list, led by former adjoint Richard Olszewski, which took 8% in the first round). The FN placed third with 17%, down from 19% although significantly higher turnout (44.4%, up from 38.4%) meant that it largely held all its votes from the first round. The city had been governed by the left since 1996, after the unusual episode of André Diligent (a UDF mayor from 1983 to 1993, from a Christian left tradition, which is very powerful and influential in the region). In Tourcoing, the young UMP deputy Gérald Darmanin, elected to the National Assembly in 2012, was elected mayor, defeating PS incumbent Michel-François Delannoy, first elected (by the first round) in 2008. Darmanin took 45.6% against 43.4% for the left, seemingly benefiting from rather pronounced FN strategic voting in his favour (he’s on the right of the party) – the FN’s vote fell from 17.5% to 11%, shedding over 1,480 ballots. The gains of Roubaix and Tourcoing are said to give the right a clear majority in the urban community, with about 95 members against 70 for the left, with 9 independents and 5 frontistes according to Cadre de Ville. However, some uncertainty remains, given some division on the right between the UMP and smaller independent right-wing groups; Aubry, on election night, did not concede the control of the urban community, controlled by the left since its creation in 1967 (despite right-wing assaults in 1983, 1995, 2001 and 2008).


Nathalie Appéré (PS-EELV-PG-PCF-UDB-PRG)^ 55.83% – 48 seats
Bruno Chavanat (UDI-UMP-MoDem-PCD-PB) 44.16% – 13 seats

Similarly, there was no surprise from Rennes, a left-wing stronghold which has been governed without interruption by the PS since 1977. Nathalie Appéré, the 38-year old deputy for the 2nd constituency since 2012 and the PS candidate, was elected with a wide majority (55.8%) against the UDI’s Bruno Chavanat, a municipal and regional councillor. However, it is the closest fought runoff battle in Rennes since 1983, when first-term PS mayor Edmond Hervé, who went on to hold the office until 2008, was reelected with only 52.8%. It is also down fairly substantially from Hollande’s incredible two-thirds majority in Rennes two years ago. Rennes Open Data has some fabulous interactive maps, for both rounds, with results by precinct which may be of interest to some.

Given that, by itself, Rennes makes up half the population of the Rennes Métropole urban community, the left has retained a comfortable majority in the CU despite the right picking up Bruz and Cesson-Sévigné, the second and third largest towns in Rennes Métropole. Cadre de Ville estimates that the left holds 75 seats to the right’s 27, with 20 independents.


Arnaud Robinet (UMP-UDI) 46.19% – 44 seats
Adeline Hazan (PS-PCF-EELV)* 42.75% – 12 seats
Roger Paris (FN) 11.04% – 3 seats

The right regained Reims, a city it held between 1983 and 2008 before losing it to the PS, largely because of deep divisions in the UMP back in 2008 which proved very difficult to plaster over in the second round. Adeline Hazan, the one-term PS mayor victorious in 2008, was defeated by about 3 points by her UMP rival, deputy Arnaud Robinet (who ran in alliance with 2008 candidate and fellow deputy Catherine Vautrin). The PS likely hoped that the triangulaire with the FN, which won 16% on March 23, would be enough to save them. But the FN lost over 2,000 votes from the first round, falling 5% to 11%. Given that the right lacked any reserves from first round candidates, the explanation for its victory (and the gain of 5,100 votes) is increased turnout (51.9% to 55.8%) and support from many first round FN supporters. The result in Reims, but also Saint-Étienne, shows that the left can no longer assume that close triangulaires with a weak FN will necessarily be fatal for the right: in an unfavourable national context for the left and given substantial FN loses from the first round, the right is far from out.


Gaël Perdriau (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 47.7% – 44 seats
Maurice Vincent (PS-PCF-PRG)* 40.5% – 12 seats
Gabriel de Peyrecave (FN) 11.79% – 3 seats

Similar to Reims, Saint-Étienne, governed by the right between 1983 and 2008, had been gained by the PS in 2008, due largely to a triangulaire between the incumbent UMP mayor and MoDem candidate Gilles Artigues. The right successfully united its disparate and divided forces, and its candidate, Gaël Perdriau (UMP) ranked ahead of incumbent PS senator-mayor Maurice Vincent, 36.7% to 31.3%. He won the runoff with a solid 7 point majority, 47.7% to 40.5%. Between both rounds, the right increased its support by over 7,700 votes – in the form of first round non-voters (turnout increased by 4.6%) but also, as in Reims, strategic voting from first round FN voters. On March 23, the FN, usually strong in Saint-Étienne, an old industrial city which is struggling with deindustrialization since the 1970s, placed a solid third with over 18%. A week later, the FN won a mediocre 11.8%, losing over 2,500 votes.

The right also regained Saint-Chamond, an industrial town in the Gier valley held by the PS since 1989. The victorious DVD candidate won 50.4% against 39.7% for the PS.


Éric Piolle (EELV-PG-Alternatifs) 40.02% – 42 seats
Jérôme Safar (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC-Cap21)^ 27.45% – 8 seats
Matthieu Chamussy (UMP-UDI-AEI) 23.99% – 7 seats
Mireille d’Ornano (FN) 8.52% – 2 seats

Grenoble was one of the more symbolic and highly contentious races. It began in the first round when, against all predictions, the EELV-PG candidate, EELV regional councillor Éric Piolle, placed ahead of Jérôme Safar, the heir-apparent of retiring PS mayor Michel Dstot (in office since 1995), 29.4% to 25.3%. Against the unwritten rule of the French left which holds that a left-wing candidate placed second or worst withdraws in favour of the strongest left-wing candidate, the PS candidate Jérôme Safar refused to withdraw, citing policy disagreements (related to infrastructure and transportation), although the national PS disendorsed him after pressures from EELV. In the second round, Piolle won very easily, with 40% against 27.5% for Safar. The high interest from the local and national media in the contest led to significantly higher turnout in the second round – 59%, against 52.4% in the first round. Piolle increased his vote count by some 6,900; while Safar gained just over 2,500 votes, the UMP won a bit over 2,700 extra votes and the FN lost over 1,200 votes. Some right-wing supporters likely supported Piolle to defeat the PS, given the right’s poor showing in the second round (24% is barely up on the UMP’s 20.9% in the first round). With only 7 seats for the UMP list, this result also means that former RPR mayor Alain Carignon (1983-1995), whose corruption-marred tenure continues to haunt the weak right, will not be in the new municipal council – he was placed ninth on the UMP list.

The left retains a very wide majority on the council of the future Métropole de Grenoble, with an estimated 72 seats against only 27 for the right. However, the EELV victory in Grenoble and the defeat (by a PS dissident) of the incumbent PS president of the urban community in the suburban commune of Eybens renders the construction of a new left-wing majority in the metro council a daunting task.

Other major races


Christophe Béchu (UMP) 54.36% – 43 seats
Frédéric Béatse (PS-PCF-EELV)* 45.64% – 12 seats

The right’s victory in Angers closes 37 years of left-wing rule. Christophe Béchu, the UMP president of the general council and senator, was successful on his second attempt to win the city of Angers (he lost to the PS incumbent in an extremely close race in 2008). He benefited from the national climate, but also from the divisions of the left – the incumbent PS mayor, Frédéric Béatse, took office midterm in 2012 and faced a dissident candidacy from Jean-Luc Rotureau, a PS councillor. Rotureau placed third with 16.2% in the first round, before opting to withdraw his list without endorsing anybody. Béatse nevertheless likely won the lion’s share of the dissident’s support, ending up with 1,100 more votes than the combined first round total of the PS and dissident; but beyond raw numbers, it is likely that transfers were still far from perfect and may have dragged the left down.


Maryse Joissains-Masini (UMP)* 52.61% – 42 seats
Édouard Baldo (PS) 36.49% – 10 seats
Catherine Rouvier (FN) 10.89% – 3 seats

UMP mayor Maryse Joissains-Masini was easily reelected to a third term in office, with 52.6% against 36.5% for her PS opponent. She weathered a series of controversies, a judicial investigation against her in late 2013 and a divided majority. She increased her vote count by 7,292 votes from the first round, likely taking the lion’s share of Bruno Genanza (UDI)’s 11.3% in the first round (about 5,80o v0tes). Genanza is a former ally of the mayor, who ran a list with UMP dissidents, before withdrawing from the second round without endorsing any candidate. On the left, the PS candidate had trouble winning over the votes of all non-qualified left-wing candidates from the first round: François-Xavier de Peretti, the son of a former UDF mayor and a former MoDem member/candidate himself, ran a list with PS dissidents with Guérini’s support, taking 8.1% in the first round but did not merge with the PS list. EELV won 4.9% and the FG won 4.8% as well. Together, these left-wing candidacies accounted for 37.4% in the first round.


François Cuillandre (PS-PCF-EELV)* 52.71% – 42 seats
Bernadette Malgorn (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 47.28% – 13 seats

A surprisingly narrow reelection for the incumbent PS mayor of Brest, François Cuillandre, who was widely expected to win by a wide margin. Brest is a largely working-class city, with a socialist tradition dating back to the early twentieth century. In May 2012, Hollande won 63% of the vote in the city, winning especially strong results in the post-war cités and grands ensembles, home to a lower-income populations. The PS has governed the city since 1989, and Cuillandre won reelection six years ago with 60.7% in the second round, after having won 45.8% in the first round. This year, the UMP was divided and they chose not to choose between their two candidates – Laurent Prunier, the 2008 candidate and the leader of the UMP in the Finistère, and Bernadette Malgorn, a former regional prefect who has been regional councillor since 2010. Malgorn won 27.7% in the first round, a distant second behind Cuillandre (42.5%) but far ahead of Prunier (10%) and the FN (9.8%). Malgorn, by the looks of it, successfully won the bulk of Prunier and the FN’s vote, which amounted to roughly 47% in the first round. The left retains a large 46-24 majority in Brest Métropole Océane.


Émile-Roger Lombertie (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 45.07% – 40 seats
Alain Rodet (PS-FG-PRG-ADS-EELV)* 43.81% – 12 seats
Vincent Gérard (FN) 11.1% – 3 seats

Limoges was perhaps the most surprising result of the night. The city has been a hotbed of socialism for over a hundred years, and Limoges has a very symbolic place in French socialist mythology. Historically an industrial city (porcelain, enamel, textile), Limoges was the birthplace of the CGT trade union in 1895 and was marked by a significant and violent workers’ strike in 1905. During World War II, Limoges, like most of the Limousin, was a hotbed of resistance to the Nazi occupation, and Georges Guingouin, the leader of the communist maquis, served as mayor of the city between 1945 and 1947. The city has been governed by the left since 1912, specifically by Socialists between 1912 and 1941 and since 1947. The current mayor, Alain Rodet, took office in 1990, succeeding Louis Longequeue, who had been mayor since 1956. 1989 was the closest the right ever came to challenging the PS’ hegemony in Limoges – Longequeue was forced into a second round with the right and the Greens, and only won by 1.2% (40.9% to 39.7%). Since then, however, Rodet has been reelected by the first round; in 2008, he was reelected with 56.5% in the first round against 20.8% for the right. In May 2012, Hollande won 64.9% of the vote in the second round. This year, in the first round, Rodet won a very mediocre 30.1% in the first round, against 23.8% for the right’s candidate, a little-known psychiatrist named Émile-Roger Lombertie. The surprise came from the FN, which won nearly 17% of the vote in a city where the far-right has usually been weak (and absent from municipal elections, except for 1995 and 2001) and which only gave 14.8% to Marine Le Pen two years ago. The FG won 14.2%, and a UDI list took 12.3%. The FG list merged with Rodet’s PS list, while the UDI list merged with the UMP list.

In the second round, shocking almost everybody, the UMP narrowly won, with 45.1% against 43.8% for the left. Lombertie increased his first round vote by over 10,500 ballots – certainly drawing most of the UDI’s 5,451 votes but also benefiting from strategic voting from some FN supporters – the FN lost over 2,300 votes, dropping from 17% to 11% of the vote; some first round protest voters opting to vote strategically or ‘traditionally’ (for their preferred party) in the second round. Turnout also increased by about 4%. Besides the national climate, Rodet suffered from voter weariness and the lack of renewal in the outgoing majority. He is a long-time politician, having held elected office since 1977 (deputy since 1981). Small policy mishaps and small communication mistakes further accumulated to create trouble for the governing majority.

France3 Limousin has graphics showing the results of the first and second round by neighborhood. The right performed best in downtown Limoges, traditionally the most bourgeois (and hence right-leaning) area, with a peak at 68% of the vote in the Émailleurs neighborhood, Limoges’ traditional bourgeois neighborhood. The left still performed best in the quartiers populaires on the outskirts of the city – although it faced tough competition from the FN, especially in the first round: the FN won nearly 32% in La Bastide, a low-income neighborhood. The left’s support in these peripheral lower-income areas was nevertheless down very significantly from 2012: Hollande had won over 65%, often over 70%, in most of these neighborhoods. This year, the left peaked at just over 50% in the best of cases.


Serge Babary (UMP-UDI) 49.75% – 42 seats
Jean Germain (PS-EELV-PCF-MoDem)* 41.65% – 11 seats
Gilles Godefroy (FN) 8.56% – 2 seats

After 19 years in power, the incumbent PS senator-mayor of Tours, Jean Germain, lost reelection to UMP businessman Serge Babary. Germain, who had himself defeated another longtime mayor back in 1995 (Jean Royer, who ruled from 1959 to 1995), had been a generally popular mayor until now, but the right had criticized him for a lack of ambitious projects and a lack of transparency. Germain was likely weakened by the national climate but also by weariness after three terms in office and his indictment for embezzlement in a corruption case in 2013. Germain trailed the right by about 9 points in the first round, but he could count on the backing of EELV’s 11.3% in the first round. Judging from the result, if EELV’s votes transferred reasonably well, the 8.4% who had voted for a PG-NPA list transferred rather messily. Germain fell about 1,500 votes short of the first round total of PS+EELV+PG-NPA. On the right, Serge Babary also benefited from higher turnout (+3.5%) the FN’s losses in a triangulaire (-4.3%, lost over 1,500 votes).


Brigitte Fouré (UDI-UMP-MoDem) 50.38% – 42 seats 
Thierry Bonté (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)^ 33.8% – 9 seats
Yves Dupille (FN) 15.8% – 4 seats

After the first round, in which UDI candidate Brigitte Fouré (a general councillor and former mayor) led the PS candidate by 20 points, it made little doubt that the right would easily regain Amiens, lost to the left in 2008 (after 19 years in right-wing hands). PS candidate Thierry Bonté, a vice-president of the agglomeration community, managed to do little more than win the bulk of the FG’s first round support (8.9%), but seemingly failed to win much of the far-left and DVG votes from the first round; that brought him to only 33.8%, over 16 points behind Fouré who increased her own support from 44.8% to 50.4%. The FN gained some 242 votes from the first round, increasing their vote a few decimals to 15.8%.


Dominique Gros (PS-PRG-EELV)* 43.22% – 40 seats
Marie-Jo Zimmermann (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 41.14% – 11 seats
Françoise Grolet (FN) 15.63% – 4 seats

Metz was a very rare piece of good news for the left on March 30. The left had gained the city, for the first time in at least 100 years, in 2008 thanks to a divided right (4 in the first round, 2 in the runoff). In the first round, PS mayor Dominique Gros, who had culture minister Aurélie Filippetti in second on his list, placed first with 35.7% against 34.2% for a reunited right, led by UMP deputy Marie-Jo Zimmermann. The FN, led by regional councillor Françoise Grolet, performed very well, winning 21.3% – a result substantially better than Marine Le Pen’s 17.3% and past FN results in municipal elections. In the second round, the FN lost 5.7% and over 1,600 votes, largely to the benefit of the UMP (+3,299 votes) but perhaps some to the left as well. Dominique Gros also benefited from good transfers from the FG (3.6%) and the NPA-FASE (3.3%).


Jean-Marc Pujol (UMP-UDI)* 55.11% – 43 seats
Louis Aliot (FN) 44.88% – 12 seats

Perpignan was the largest city in which the FN stood a fighting chance, and it had some optimism after its well-implanted local candidate, Louis Aliot (a party vice-president and the boyfriend of FN leader Marine Le Pen), placed first with 34.2% against 30.7% for UMP mayor Jean-Marc Pujol. To prevent a FN victory, the PS candidate, deputy Jacques Cresta, who won only 11.9% in the first round, withdrew. With the left withdrawing, the UMP’s victory made little doubt. On paper, the FN had no obvious reserves from any of the other first round candidates (besides the PS, a centrist candidate won 9.6% and EELV won 5.7%), but it nevertheless increased its support by nearly 11 points and about 4,800 votes. The FN’s additional support came from non-voters – turnout increased from 57% to 62.8% – but it is also clear that, in Perpignan and across the country, the FN now has the ability to substantially increase its support in two-way runoffs against the traditional left or right.


Yvon Robert (PS-EELV-PCF)* 46.8% – 41 seats
Jean-François Bures (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 41.48% – 11 seats
Guillaume Pennelle (FN) 11.71% – 3 seats

A rare incidence in recent local politics in Rouen – a sitting mayor won reelection (it hadn’t happened since 1989) and a rare victory for the left on March 30. Incumbent PS mayor Yvon Robert, who had previously held the office from 1995 to 2001 before regaining it in 2012 after Valérie Fourneyron, the PS mayor elected in 2008, was named to Ayrault’s government (she still placed second on his list this year), was reelected with 46.8% against 41.5% for the right. Transfers from EELV, which took 11.1% in the first round before merging with the PS’ lists, were quite good and transfers from the PG appeared to be reasonably good as well. On the right, the UDI list, which won 13.6% before merging with the UMP, transferred well. The FN’s vote fell by about 400 votes and 1.7%; it was insufficient to allow the right to make up the distance which separated it from the left. As in Metz, the PS owes a lot to a triangulaire with the FN.


Jean Rottner (UMP-UDI)* 45.77% – 41 seats
Pierre Freyburger (PS-EELV-PRG-MoDem) 36.67% – 10 seats
Martine Binder (FN) 17.55% – 4 seats

In a better year for the left, the PS would certainly have stood a very good chance of gaining Mulhouse, which it held from 1989 to 2007 (the PS mayor, Jean-Marie Bockel, defected to the right after Sarkozy’s victory, joining the Fillon cabinet) and which it came extremely close to winning in 2008. However, in the current climate, UMP mayor Jean Rottner was easily reelected with a 9 point majority over PS candidate Pierre Freyburger. The PS had woefully insufficient reserves, 3.1% from the FG and 1.5% from LO, which it likely won over in the second round, but it had nothing else. The UMP increased its vote by 1,765, likely drawing a lot of strategic or ‘traditional’ votes back from the FN, whose support fell from a very strong 21.9% on March 23 to 17.6% in the runoff (a loss of over 700 votes).


Joël Bruneau (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 57.03% – 43 seats
Philippe Duron (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 42.96% – 12 seats

After decades of coming up short, the left gained Caen in 2008 – ending the right’s hold on the city, which had endured since 1945; but six years later, the UMP easily regained Caen, defeating first-term PS mayor Philippe Duron. After the first round, Duron already trailed UMP regional councillor Joël Bruneau, 26.2% to 30.8%, and the right could count on much heftier reserves – UDI candidate Sonia de la Provôté, a municipal and general councillor who was one of the UDI’s highest hopes in its ‘primaries’ with the UMP, won 18%, much less than the UDI might have hoped for but nevertheless a strong reserve for the right (the UDI list merged without a hitch into the UMP list). The PS needed to look to EELV, which performed well with 10.2% in the first round, for potential reserves. The right drew the UDI’s support, but also most of the FN’s vote (7.3%), giving it 57% of the vote. On the left, PS mayor Philippe Duron likely drew EELV and PG-NPA (5.8%) votes. But it was very clear from the first round that the left stood little chance of victory.

Saint-Denis (93)

Didier Paillard (FG-EELV-MRC)* 50.49% – 42 seats
Mathieu Hanotin (PS) 49.50% – 13 seats

A working-class and heavily industrialized town in Paris’ suburban Red Belt, Saint-Denis has been a PCF stronghold since 1922 and, more broadly, a left-wing stronghold (77.8% for Hollande in May 2012, Sarkozy only won 12% in the first round). It remains a low-income suburb, with a very high immigrant population, high unemployment and a very young population. The PCF’s all-around dominance in Saint-Denis and the whole department has been challenged by the PS and, in most national elections, the PCF is no longer the largest party in Saint-Denis. In 2012, in a major blow, the PS gained Saint-Denis’ constituency from the FG. This year, that new PS deputy, Mathieu Hanotin, sought to topple what is the largest city in France governed by the PCF and one of the longest-standing PCF bastions in the country. In the first round, PCF mayor Didier Paillard placed first with 40.2% against 34.3% for Hanotin. The UMP-UDI candidate, who won only 8.8% on March 23, did not qualify but the right’s minimal support could be expected to prefer the PS over the PCF (as it has in similar situations elsewhere); there was, however, a PS dissident on the left, Georges Sali, who won 7.7% and formally merged his list with the FG. Predicted to be close, the second round lived up to expectations. Paillard was reelected with a tiny majority of 181 votes.

Next door, in Aubervilliers, in one of the rare good results for the PCF/FG on March 30, former PCF mayor Pascal Beaudet, defeated by the PS in 2008, won his rematch with PS mayor Jacques Salvator, winning 45.7% to 38.9% for the PS, with the right taking 15.4%.


Laurent Hénart (UDI-UMP-MoDem)^ 52.91% – 42 seats
Mathieu Klein (PS-PCF-EELV-PRG) 47.08% – 13 seats

Nancy, governed by the right since 1945, was one of the great disappointments for the left. Prior to the first round, with longtime UDI mayor André Rossinot stepping down in favour of his dauphin, former deputy Laurent Hénart, the PS felt that it could gain Nancy from the right (with a strong candidate, Mathieu Klein, a VP of the general council). Polls gave it even more reason to be optimistic. But, in the first round, Hénart placed first with 40.5%, with a substantial edge over the PS (35.8%) – which had no reserves except the PG (5.4%). The left, given first round results, did rather well in the second round – it won about 1,700 votes more than the first round PS+PG total, despite little change in turnout. The right seemingly had some trouble winning the bulk of the FN vote (6.9%), falling about 1,300 votes short of the right+DVD+FN total in the first round. Laurent Hénart’s centrist and moderate profile on the right may have had a negative effect on transfers from the far-right. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and this is a victory which comes in a city in which the PS had such high hopes.


Patrice Bessac (FG-EELV-PS)  37.06% – 38 seats
Jean-Pierre Brard (CAP) 35.39% – 10 seats
Manon Laporte (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 18.14% – 5 seats
Mouna Viprey (DVG) 9.39% – 2 seats

Montreuil, an historically working-class Red Belt suburb which has seen major gentrification in the Bas-Montreuil in the past decades, was one of the most closely-watched left-wing civil wars. In the first round, former mayor Jean-Pierre Brard (mayor from 1984 to 2008, a former Communist) led with a mediocre result of 25.5%, with FG candidate Patrice Bessac (PCF), a regional councillor, placing second with 18.8%. Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi (EELV), the candidate backed by retiring EELV mayor Dominique Voynet, elected over Brard in 2008 but whose term was a trainwreck marred by the defection of PS dissidents who had backed her over Brard in 2008, placed fourth with 15.3%. One of those PS dissidents who later broke with Voynet was Mouna Viprey (DVG), who won 11% in the first round. The most humiliating result was that of Razzy Hammadi, the local PS deputy who won Montreuil’s constituency in 2012 by defeating Brard. Backed by the PS boss of the department, Claude Bartolone, Hammadi won only 9.8% – the worst result of the five main leftist candidates. Brard’s age and his autocratic tendencies make him a polarizing figure, and he faced a united front of the FG, EELV and PS (Hammadi did not take a spot on the merged list, preferring to focus on his job as deputy) in the second round. This united front won the second round, but with a small majority of only 494 votes. The FG-EELV-PS alliance fell far short of its potential (43.9%, about 12.5k votes; it won 10,990 votes and 37.1%); a lot of their potential supporters likely backed Brard, a well-known figure in Montreuil who retains a very strong base in the low-income and far less gentrified cités of the Haut-Montreuil.


Cécile Helle (PS-FG-EELV) 47.47% – 40 seats
Philippe Lottiaux (FN) 35.02% – 9 seats
Bernard Chaussegros (UMP)^ 17.5% – 4 seats

Avignon attracted the interest of the national and foreign media after the first round, when FN candidate Philippe Lottiaux placed first with 29.6% of the vote, although only 27 votes ahead of Cécile Helle, a PS regional councillor. Judging from the media’s concern trolling and silly overreactions, one would certainly have thought that the FN was the favourite in the second round. Olivier Py, the director of the Avignon festival, a popular theater festival held in the city’s historic heart during the summer months, warned after the first round that he would ask for the festival to be moved if the FN won. However, there was little chance of a FN victory. Helle turned to André Castelli, a FG general councillor whose list won 12.5% in the first round and merged with the PS-EELV list. The far-right had no obvious reserves. Cécile Helle was easily elected, with 47.5% against 35% for the FN. The city had been held since 1995 by RPR/UMP mayor Marie-Josée Roig, who retired this year after corruption and nepotism allegations. Her preferred successor, a little-known businessman who moved back from Paris recently, won only 20.9% in the first round. In the second round, the UMP lost about 250 votes, falling to only 17.5%. While in the traditional left-right-FN triangulaires, the trend is for the FN vote to decline somewhat due to strategic voting largely in the right’s favour, in Avignon there must have been some strategic voting from the right (a UDI candidate also won 4.8%) for the FN, to block the left. Lottiaux won an additional 3,200 votes – increasing his support to 35%. Turnout increased from 57.2% to 65.4%, as was the case in other cities which saw the FN perform very well in the first round. Increased turnout did not only come in the form of anti-FN mobilization from non-voters, it must also have come from the mobilization of potential far-right supporters who hadn’t voted on March 23.


François Bayrou (MoDem-UMP-UDI) 62.95%
David Habib (PS)^ 37.04%

Three-time presidential candidate and the leader of the MoDem, François Bayrou, was elected mayor of Pau in a landslide – six years after coming very close but ultimately losing to the PS. Although he had personally endorsed Hollande over Sarkozy in 2012, Bayrou successfully lobbied for the support of the UMP (notably through the support of Bayrou’s friend and ally, Alain Juppé, the UMP mayor of Bordeaux), which begrudgingly endorsed him (in return for the MoDem’s support for the UMP in many other cities, notably Paris). Given the national climate and the prospect of ending 43 years of left-wing control in Pau, the right largely united behind Bayrou, who won a very strong 41.9% in the first round against only 25.8% for David Habib, a PS deputy and suburban mayor, the left’s candidate to succeed retiring PS mayor Martine Lignières-Cassou (the fact that her preferred candidate wasn’t selected and that Habib sidelined many of her allies was further help for Bayrou). Bayrou also ran a very locally-oriented campaign, deliberately sidestepping national political issues and national media crews. Yves Urieta, a former PS-turned-centre right mayor (from 2006 t0 2008), won 13.2% running as a DVD independent, but did not maintain his list in the runoff. Bayrou predictably won, winning the vast majority of Urieta’s support and a reasonable number of votes from the FN (6.7%). With this victory and the recent political retirement of UDI leader Jean-Louis Borloo for health reasons, Bayrou is suddenly on a much stronger political footing than he was after the humiliating loss of his own seat in the National Assembly in June 2012.

La Rochelle

Jean-François Fountaine (DVG-PS diss-PRG) 43.68% -35 seats 
Anne-Laure Jaumouillié (PS)^ 40.1% – 10 seats
Dominique Morvant (UMP-UDI) 16.21% – 4 seats

Jean-François Fountaine, a vice-president of the agglomeration community, was elected mayor of La Rochelle as a PS dissident. The candidacy and subsequent defeat of Ségolène Royal by a local PS dissident in the 2012 legislative elections has left major cracks in the PS machine of retiring mayor Maxime Bono (in office since 1999), who had endorsed Royal. The candidate backed by the mayor, Anne-Laure Jaumouillié, a 34-year old teacher who was a municipal councillor since 2008, won the PS primaries by 34 votes over Jean-François Fountaine, a veteran 62-year old politician who is vice-president of the CA La Rochelle. Fountaine, who was a regional councillor between 1992 and 2010, and had a very public spat with Ségolène in 2008 and strongly supported Falorni in 2012 (which led to his falling out with Bono). Alleging irregularities, he refused to withdraw and ran as a dissident candidate. In the first round, the two PS candidates ended up with similar results: 30.2% for Jaumouillié against 28.8% for Fountaine. Like in 2012, the left-wing civil war also drew down the UMP vote – the UMP’s candidate won 24.5% in 2008 (Bono was reelected by the first round) and Sarkozy won 24.2% in April 2012. A small but significant number of right-wingers likely voted for Fountaine by the first round. In the second round, some of the right’s first round voters defected to vote strategically for Fountaine against the PS; the UMP vote fell by 646 votes to 16.2%. A good number of FN voters may also have backed Fountaine, who picked up over 4,100 votes between both rounds. Jaumouillié only won an additional 2,800 votes.


Robert Ménard (FN-DLR-MPF-RPF) 46.98% – 37 seats
Élie Aboud (UMP)^ 34.62% – 8 seats
Jean-Michel Du Plaa (PS-EELV) 18.38% – 4 seats

Béziers was the largest town to be won by the far-right, with the election of Robert Ménard, the former boss of Reporters Without Borders who ran as an ‘independent’ with the support of the FN and three smaller right-wing parties (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR and the moribund MPF and RPF). The surprise came from the first round, where Ménard placed a comfortable first with 44.9% against 30.2% for UMP deputy Élie Aboud, the candidate of retiring three-term mayor Raymond Couderc (UMP); polls had picked up a late swing to Ménard, but they hadn’t foreseen such a decisive lead in the first round. The left’s candidate, Jean-Michel Du Plaa, who won a very distant third place with only 18.7%, did not withdraw, making Ménard’s election something of a mere formality. Without surprises, Ménard was elected mayor with nearly 47% against 34.6% for the UMP. Ménard gained about 1,800 more votes from the first round, partly benefiting from higher turnout (63.3% to 68.5%). The right gained 2,174 votes and the left won only 386 more votes. The left’s argument for staying in was that it could hope to gain from the support of FG voters, whose list had won 6.3% in the first round. However, squeezed and with no chance of victory, some voters on the left either stayed home, spoiled their ballot, voted strategically for the UMP against the far-right or voted Ménard.


Laurent Marcangeli (UMP-UDI-Bonapartist) 47.10% – 37 seats
Simon Renucci (CSD)* 46.03% – 11 seats
Joseph Filippi (Aiacciu Cità Nova-Nationalist) 6.86% – 1 seat

The two-term centre-left mayor of Ajaccio, Simon Renucci, was defeated by UMP defeated Laurent Marcangeli, who had defeated Renucci two years ago in the legislative elections. Renucci had placed narrowly ahead in the first round, but Marcangeli took advantage of better reserves (the FN, with 8.3%, a DVD with 2.8%). Joseph Filippi, the common candidate of both major nationalist parties in Corsica (Femu a Corsica and Corsica Libera), saw his support decline in the second round – he won 6.9%, down from 10.8%, losing about 730 votes.


Ludovic Jolivet (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 56.65% – 39 seats
Bernard Poignant (PS-EELV-PCF)* 43.34% – 10 seats

The right gained Quimper, a pleasant town of some 63,000 people in western Brittany (Finistère) which has leaned to the left in the past presidential elections (63.5% for Hollande) but which is more unstable at the local level – the PS, led by Bernard Poignant, a former mayor (1989-2001) and close ally of President Hollande, gained the city from the right in 2008. Poignant, who may have paid the price of his well-known proximity with the President and perhaps the effects of the bonnets rouges protests in Brittany last year, already trailed Ludovic Jolivet, a former adjoint au maire under UMP mayor Alain Gérard (2001-2008), in the first round – 29.3% to 27.9%. Isabelle le Bal, a MoDem municipal councillor, won 14.9% but merged her list with the right. The mayor’s reserve were smaller – 7.6% for EELV, which merged, 6.1% for a regionalist leftist list and 5.8% for the PG – and also less reliable. With good transfers from the MoDem and probably the FN (8.4%), the right easily regained Quimper with 56.7%.


Franck Le Bohellec (UMP-UDI-DVG-EELV) 48.69% – 34 seats
Claudine Cordillot (FG-PS-MRC)* 43.52% – 10 seats
Alexandre Gaborit (FN) 7.78% – 1 seat

Villejuif is an old working-class Red Belt suburb in the Val-de-Marne, governed by the PCF since 1925. PCF mayor Claudine Cordillot (in office since 1999) has been criticized, even on the left, for her urban densification policies, tax increases, insecurity problems and inefficient public services. In the first round, supported by the PS, her list won only 32.7%, down from over 45% in 2008. A PS dissident list led by former adjoint Philippe Vidal placed fifth with 10.6%, and an EELV list (with former MEP Alain Lipietz in second) won 10.4%. In second place, a UMP list led by Franck Le Bohellec won 17.2%, a UDI list won 15.8% and the FN won 11.2%. The very bad relations between the mayor’s PCF-PS majority and left-wing rivals (EELV had already run independently in 2008) allowed for the creation of an unusual anti-communist alliance with the merger of the UMP, UDI, PS dissident and EELV lists. The national leadership of EELV decried the ‘counter-natural’ alliance of the local EELV with the right, suspended the candidate from the party and allowed the PCF-PS to use EELV’s logo. Such unusual alliances are not totally uncommon in cases where the incumbent is heavily criticized within his own majority, allowing for dissidents and rivals to ally with the other side to topple him/her.

The alliance’s total vote fell short of its theoretical total from the first round (54%), although with increased turnout (+6.4%) it did win more raw votes than the combined first round total of the first round (7,581 vs 7,422). Some of the DVG and EELV’s lists supporters likely voted for the incumbent instead, not recognizing themselves in a right-wing led alliance, but transfers on the whole were still rather good (and good enough to win!). The FN’s support also dipped somewhat, falling from 11.2% to 7.8% (-330 votes). The new majority, given how heterogeneous it is and why it came together, will probably not survive its entire term. The winning list’s 34 seats include 11 UMP, 10 UDI, 7 DVG and 6 EELV; the actual left, with the 13 seats allied with the right and the FG-PS-MRC’s 10 seats, retain a majority.


David Rachline (FN) 45.55% – 33 seats
Philippe Mougin (UMP-UDI) 30.43% – 7 seats
Élie Brun (DVD-UMP diss)* 24.01% – 5 seat

Fréjus, a town on the Mediterranean coast in the Var, was the second largest town conquered by the FN. On the Mediterranean Riviera, tourism is a key industry in Fréjus, but with the exception of one part of the town (Saint-Aygulf), Fréjus – unlike its neighbor Saint-Raphaël, isn’t a resort town and it is significantly poorer than tourist resort towns in the Var (Saint-Raphaël, Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Tropez). Instead, it is a lower middle-class town with a large population of employees and artisans/shopkeepers. Like other southeastern towns where the FN did well this year, Fréjus has problems with desertification and pauperization of the old downtown and concerns with criminality. In 2012, Marine Le Pen won 26% in Fréjus; in the 2002 runoff, her father won 31.9% against Chirac. The city is otherwise a right-wing stronghold, with 67% for Sarkozy in the runoff in 2012. This year, the problem was that the right was badly divided. Incumbent mayor Élie Brun (ex-UMP), who has been mayor since 1997, when he succeeded François Léotard, the UDF mayor between 1977 and 1997, was sentenced in January 2014 to a 20,000 euro and five ineligibility from public office in a conflict of interest case. The UMP refused to endorse him, and instead backed Philippe Mougin, a former adjoint to Brun. In the first round, the FN candidate, David Rachline, a former FN youth leader elected to the municipal council in 2008 (12.5% of the vote) and to the PACA regional council in 2010, won 40.3%. Mougin trailed in a very distant second with 18.85%, with 17.6% for Brun and 15.58% for PS candidate Elsa di Méo. The PS candidate withdrew to block the FN, but the two right-wing candidates failed to reach an agreement. The divisions of the right made it a near-certainty that the FN would emerge victorious, and it did. Rachline’s support increased by 1,348 votes; the UMP gained 2,804 votes and the mayor gained 1,569 votes.


Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP-UDI)* 56.52% – 34 seats
Bruno Piriou (FG) 43.47% – 9 seats

Corbeil-Essonnes is a low-income, working-class suburban town in the Essonne department which is solidly left-wing at the national level (63% for Hollande) but which has been governed by the right since 1995, after 36 years of Communist rule. The local right is led by UMP senator Serge Dassault, a businessman who remains owner of Le Figaro and leading player in the family enterprise, the aeronautics and weaponry giant Dassault. Dassault was mayor until 2009, when he was declared ineligible for public office in a vote buying case from the 2008 election (when he defeated the PCF 50.7% to 49.3%). His protege, Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP), won a 2009 by-election and another by-election in 2010, has also been indicted for benefiting from vote buying and electoral corruption organized by Dassault in the last 3 elections. In the first round, Bechter placed first with 45.5%. The left remains very divided: the FG candidate, PCF general councillor Bruno Piriou, narrowly defeated his PS rival, deputy and general councillor Carlos da Silva, 22.3% to 21.1%. Both lists merged, but vote transfers from the PS and smaller left-wing lists (2 DVG, 1 far-left) proved very poor, given that, in the first round, the left held a theoretical majority but only won 43.5% in the second round. Bechter won an additional 1,607 votes – either from left-wing voters who didn’t ‘follow orders’ or first round non-voters (turnout increased from 48.7% to 52.3%)


Gilles Simeoni (Inseme per Bastia-DVG-PRG diss-EELV-UMP) 55.4% – 34 seats
Jean Zuccarelli (PRG-PCF)^ 44.59% – 9 seats

A political sea-change in Bastia: the Zuccarelli clan, which has governed the city since 1888, was ousted from office. The root of the dynastic overthrow is a failed dynastic succession: the incumbent mayor of Bastia (since 1989), Émile Zuccarelli (PRG), retired and anointed his rather hapless son Jean as his successor, in the process alienating a former ally who saw himself as Zuccarelli’s dauphin, François Tatti. Tatti ran a dissident list with the backing of local PS politician Emmanuelle de Gentili and EELV. Zuccarelli’s strongest competition came from Gilles Simeoni, a prominent moderate nationalist leader on the island who is the son of nationalist icon Edmond Simeoni. In the first round, Zuccarelli Jr came in first, with 32.5%, but only 29 votes ahead of Simeoni. In a distant third, Tatti won 14.6% and the UMP list won 9.7%. Simeoni, Tatti and the UMP merged lists to create a united anti-Zuccarelli front. Although transfers were far from perfect (Simeoni fell 181 votes short of the first round total of Simeoni+Tatti+UMP), the result was still a very comfortable victory for Simeoni. Bastia becomes the largest city in France to be governed by a regionalist/nationalist.


Laurent Kalinowski (PS)* 47.73% – 27 seats
Florian Philippot (FN) 35.17% – 6 seats
Éric Diligent (DVD) 11.87% – 2 seats
Alexandre Cassaro (UMP) 5.22% – 0 seats

In eastern Moselle’s old coal mining basin, another FN leader – vice-president Florian Philippot – sought to establish his own local roots. Forbach, the largest city in the Moselle’s coal basin, is a working-class and economically depressed (14% unemployment, declining population since 1982) town. The right governed the city between 1953 and 2008, and generally held the corresponding canton for most of that time as well. The incumbent PS mayor, Laurent Kalinowski gained the city in 2008 because of a very divided right. In 2012, Kalinowski was elected deputy, narrowly defeated Philippot in a two-way runoff – the UMP deputy was eliminated by the first round. Although local left-wingers are quick to point out that Philippot is a carpetbagger with little local knowledge of the place (Philippot is a well-educated and polished technocrat) and only plays on residents’ fears, he has nonetheless managed to establish a strong base for himself. In the first round, Philippot placed first with 35.7% against 33% for the PS mayor. The right paid the price of its divisions and performed poorly: centre-right independent Éric Diligent won 19%, while official UMP candidate Alexandre Cassaro won a terrible 12.3%. The right-wing candidates found no agreement amongst themselves and did not withdraw to form a ‘republican front’ against the FN. However, given the very real threat of a FN victory, some on the right advocated for strategic voting for the PS – UMP deputy Céleste Lett, the mayor of Sarreguemines, endorsed Kalinowski. In the second round, there was a significant increase in voter mobilization: turnout increased from 56% to 62.5%. The result was a surprisingly comfortable reelection for the PS incumbent, with 47.7% against 35.2% for the FN. Philippot only won an additional 290 votes. The two right-wing candidates saw their support dry up: Diligent lost 450 votes, the UMP guy lost 507 votes and fell to only 5.2% of the vote. Seemingly, the public endorsement of the PS incumbent by a locally prominent UMP personality had a major impact on a lot of right-wing supporters who chose to vote strategically for the PS to defeat the FN.

Other results

An incomplete summary: for results from every place in France, check out Le Point’s interactive map.

In Dijon, the two-term PS mayor François Rebsamen was reelected with 52.8% against 34% for the UMP and 13.1% for the FN. Rebsamen, who was first elected in 2001, will not be serving out his third term given that he was named to the new Valls government.

In the Lyon suburban municipality of Villeurbanne, a PS stronghold, PS incumbent Jean-Paul Bret was reelected with 45.5% against 25% for the UMP, 15.9% for the FN and 13.7% for EELV. The PCF narrowly lost the old Communist stronghold of Vaulx-en-Velin, a working-class Lyon suburb held by the party since 1929. The PS won 41.7% against 39.2% for the FG/PCF incumbent and 19.1% for the UMP.

The PS held Le Mans, with PS incumbent Jean-Claude Boulard winning narrowly with 45.7% against 42.7% for the UMP and 11.5% for the FN. In the neighboring department of the Mayenne, the UDI gained Laval, gained by the PS in 2008. UDI senator François Zocchetto, an ally of the UDI senator/president of the general council Jean Arthuis, was elected with 51.6% against 41.1% for PS mayor Jean-Christophe Boyer, a little-known new incumbent who took the office in 2012 when the PS député-maire Guillaume Garot, an ally of Ségolène Royal, was named to Ayrault’s government.

Jean-Paul Fournier, the UMP mayor of Nîmes, won reelection with no trouble taking 46.8% against 24.4% for the FN, 14.8% for the FG and a horrible 13.9% for the PS.

In Clermont-Ferrand, PS candidate Olivier Bianchi successfully held the open seat in a city governed by the PS since 1945. He won 47.8% against 41.3% for the UMP and 10.9% for the FN. Bianchi’s PS list had merged with a FG/far-left list led by Alain Laffont, which took 11.5% in the first round. The UMP did not find an agreement with Michel Fanget, a former UDF deputy whose MoDem list won 8% in the first round. Another solid PS stronghold, Besançon, in Socialist hands since 1953, saw the reelection of PS mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret with 47.4% against 44.4% for the UMP and 8.2% for the FN. As in Brest, Le Mans and Clermont, there was a trend of PS incumbents or candidates in Socialist strongholds winning reelection but with surprisingly narrow margins against a weak right-wing opposition which we didn’t think much of.

The PS easily held Poitiers, with the reelection of mayor Alain Claeys, with 41.1% against 34.2% for the UMP, 15.1% for EELV and 9.7% for the FN.

In Dunkerque, the incumbent PS mayor Michel Delebarre (in office since 1989) went down to defeat against a DVG dissident list led by Patrice Vergriete, a former adjoint. Vergriete won 55.5% against 26.3% for Delebarre, and the FN won 18.2%. In Calais, incumbent UMP senator-mayor Natacha Bouchart, who gained this old PCF stronghold thanks to the FN’s withdrawal from the runoff in 2008, was reelected without any trouble this year. She won 52.1% against 39.3% for Jacky Hénin, a PCF MEP and the former mayor who was defeated in 2008. The FN won 8.6%. Transfers from the PS list which won 19.7% in the first round to the PCF were bad, while the FN’s support dropped from 12.5%, helping out the incumbent. In Béthune, an industrial town in the Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin (although Béthune, traditionally more bourgeois, was not a mining town itself), the UDI’s Olivier Gacquerre was elected with 33.6% of the votes against 28.4% for the incumbent député-maire Stéphane Saint-André (PRG) and 28.1% for (corrupt) former PS mayor Jacques Mellick (mayor from 1977 to 1996 and 2002 to 2008, defeated in 2008). The city had been governed by the PS/PRG since 1977.

Douai was one of the few significant gains for the left. Located in the mining basin in the Nord, Douai includes closed-down pits and old miners’ neighborhoods, but as it was a major regional centre, it also has a bourgeois aspect. The right held the city since 1983, with Jacques Vernier (RPR/UMP), who retired this year. The city leans to the left, and with a popular incumbent retiring, the PS was able to gain Douai with 45.9% against 35.8% for the right and 18.2% for the FN.

The freshman PCF mayor of Dieppe, Sébastien Jumel, was reelected handily with 50.4% against 35.1% for the UMP and 14.6% for a DVG list, unofficially supported by most local Socialists.

The right gained Charleville-Mézières, an industrial in the Meuse valley, which had been controlled by Socialists since 1944. Boris Ravignon (UMP), a general and municipal councillor and former adviser to Sarkozy, was easily elected with 54.9% against 33.9% for incumbent PS mayor Philippe Pailla, who didn’t have enough time to lay his bases since taking office in 2013 from Claudine Ledoux (PS). The FN won 11.2%, down from 15.9% in the first round. Ravignon had already taken a wide lead in the first round, with 46.7%.

The PS narrowly saved Auxerre, with the reelection of PS mayor Guy Férez against the young UMP deputy Guillaume Larrivé, a young sarkozyste technocrat-turned-politician (in 2012). The PS won 51.1% against 48.9% for Larrivé.

A major blow for the PS came from Bourges, one of the few towns where the left still had reason to be optimistic about a gain from the right after the first round. However, Pascal Blanc (UDI), the preferred candidate of retiring UDI mayor Serge Lepeltier, was elected with 53.6% against 46.4% for the left. In the first round, both left and right had been split between PS and FG (24.4% and 17.6% respectively), UMP and UDI (21.6% and 24.2%); the FG list merged with the PS, the UMP list merged with the UDI. Although a left-wing victory was no mathematical certainty based on the first round results – the right polled a majority of the votes – the city had been one of the left’s few brightspots.

The PS narrowly survived in Cherbourg, winning 51.8%, and Alençon, winning 50.5%

The right gained La Roche-sur-Yon, traditionally a republican/left-wing island in the middle of solidly conservative Vendée, from the PS which had held the city since 1977. Incumbent PS mayor Pierre Regnault, in office since 2004, was defeated by UMP candidate Luc Bouard, 53.9% to 46.1%. The left had been in trouble after the first round, given that the UMP had more ample reserves from a DVD list led by local councillor Raoul Mestre (9.7%) and the FN (8.5%).

The right regained Angoulême, lost to the PS in 2008. UMP candidate Xavier Bonnefont easily defeated freshman PS mayor Philippe Lavaud, 60.1% to 39.9%. In Corrèze, the UMP regained Brive-la-Gaillarde, lost in 2008, with former UMP deputy Frédéric Soulier (2002-2007) winning 58.8% against incumbent PS député-maire Philippe Nauche who took 41.2%. Brive was a Gaullist stronghold between 1966 and 2008, with left-wing Gaullist Jean Charbonnel as mayor between 1966 and 1995.

The PS mayor of Lorient since 1998, Norbert Métairie was easily reelected with 42.7% against 34% for the UMP, 13.8% for the FN and 9.5% for the FG. The PCF lost Hennebont, an old working-class (ironworks) town on the outskirts of Lorient which had been held by the PCF since 1959. A DVG candidate won 47.7% against 26.6% for the FG-PS list. In Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), incumbent mayor René Couanau (DVD, ex-UMP) was defeated in his bid for a fifth term, losing to his former adjoint Claude Renoult (DVD), who won 41.3% in the second round against 30.6% for the left and 28.1% for Couanau.

The right gained Chambéry, with the victory of UMP MEP Michel Dantin with 54.7% against 45.3% for incumbent PS député-maire Bernadette Laclais. The city, a predominantly white-collar college town, had been governed by the PS since 1989 and trending to the left in national elections (nearly 57% for Hollande in May 2012).

The right gained Valence in the Drôme. UMP general councillor Nicolas Daragon winning 53.5% against 40.4% for PS mayor Alain Maurice and 6.1% for the FN. The right had held the city between 1995 and 2008 before the left gained it six years ago.

Marc Vuillemot, the PS mayor of La Seyne-sur-Mer, formerly a shipbuilding centre on the outskirts of Toulon, was reelected with 40.1% against 30.4% for the FN and 29.5% for Philippe Vitel, a UMP deputy. The FN won two towns in the Var: the fairly small towns of Le Luc and Cogolin, the first in the interior and the second on the coast (though the population of the town is inland) near Saint-Tropez. In Le Luc, the FN won 42% against 40.9% for the right. In Cogolin, the only town in which the FN won an absolute majority in the second round, the FN won 53.1% against 46.9% for the incumbent DVD mayor. However, the FN was defeated in Brignoles, where it was victorious in a cantonal by-election last year. FN general councillor Laurent Lopez was defeated by UMP deputy Josette Pons, 59.9% to 40.1%. The left, which held city hall, won 27.4% in the first round but chose to withdraw in favour of the UMP to block the FN.

In the Vaucluse, the FN narrowly failed in its bid to take Carpentras from the PS. The incumbent mayor was reelected with 44.5% against 42.1% for Hervé de Lepinau, the suppléant of FN deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. UMP deputy Julien Aubert saw his first round support (16.6%) fall to 13.4%, likely the victim of strategic voting on the right for both the left (against the FN) and FN (against the left). In Cavaillon, UMP député-maire Jean-Claude Bouchet successfully resisted a FN assault led by Thibaut de la Tocnaye, winning easily 50.6% to 36.5%. The left won 12.9%, down from 17.6% on March 23, clearly suffering from strategic voting to block the FN. However, the FN was victorious in Le Pontet, a lower middle-class suburb of Avignon, winning by a hair – 42.6% against 42.5% from the UMP, a DVD list winning 14.8%. And in Camaret-sur-Aigues, a town which neighbors Orange, governed since 1995 by far-right deputy Jacques Bompard, a candidate from Bompard’s party, the Ligue du Sud, was elected with 36.6% of the vote.

In Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), the FN narrowly lost to the right, 47.3% to 52.7%.

FN deputy Gilbert Collard was narrowly defeated in Saint-Gilles (Gard), winning 48.5% against 51.5% for the right. The incumbent PS mayor, who placed third with 23.1% in the first round, withdrew from the race to defeat the FN. However, in Beaucaire, young FN candidate Julien Sanchez was elected mayor with 39.8% against 29% for the DVD incumbent.

After losing it in a 2009 by-election, the right regained Carcassonne from the PS. Former mayor Gérard Larrat (DVD), who was in office between 2005 and 2009 before losing to PS candidate Jean-Claude Perez in 2009, returned to his old seat with 40.4% against 39.2% for the Perez, the incumbent PS député-maire. The FN won 20.3%. Larrat, who was third in the first round with 18.9%, had merged his list with that of Isabella Chesa (UMP), the daughter of a former mayor, whose list took 18.1% in the first round. The right also regained Narbonne, an old Socialist stronghold which switched to the right in 1971 before the PS won it in 2008. Incumbent PS député-maire Jacques Bascou lost reelection to Didier Mouly (DVD).

The UMP mayor of Montauban since 2001, Brigitte Barèges, was reelected without any trouble despite countless controversies (voting a major increase in her salary, comments on gay marriage – asking if polygamy and bestiality would be next, and some allegedly racist comments). She won 51.3% against 37.8% for Roland Garrigues, a former PS député-maire (1994-2001).

The PS held Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with the reelection of Patrick Cassany, who has been mayor since 2012, with 42.9%. The city, historically on the right, had been won by the (in)famous ‘Mr. Swiss Bank Account’ Jérôme Cahuzac (PS) in 2001. Étienne Bousquet-Cassagne (FN), a young FN cadre in the Lot-et-Garonne whose profile received a major boost with the June 2013 legislative by-election in the Lot-et-Garonne’s 3rd constituency (vacated by Cahuzac’s resignation after the tax fraud scandal), in which he won 46.2% in a runoff against the UMP, won 30.4%. Paul Caubet, leading a composite DVG-UMP-DVD alliance uniting three lists from the first round, won 26.7, falling far short of the three list’s combined total of 40% in the first round.

The PS fell just short of gaining Bayonne, taking 45.2% against 45.4% for Jean-René Etchegaray (UDI); the spoiler being Jean-Claude Iriart, a Basque abertzale (left-wing nationalist) candidate, whose list won 9.4%. The city leans to the left, having given Hollande 59% in May 2012, but it has been held by the Grenet family (right) since 1959 – since 1995 by Jean Grenet (UDI), whose retirement this year led to a succession battle on the right and left-wing hopes to gain the city. However, the right resolved its divisions before the second round, while the PS suffered from the decision of the Basque nationalists to maintain their list, and the merger of the FG list with the abertzale left. In the wealthy coastal resort town of Biarritz, Michel Veunac (MoDem), a regional councillor backed by retiring mayor Didier Borotra (MoDem), was narrowly elected with 51.6% against 48.4% for a UMP-UDI list led by Max Brison, a former premier adjoint to Borotra. Veunac’s list, which placed second with 17.4%, had merged with the PS (16.9%) and an independent (7.3%), while the UMP list had merged with a DVD list (14.1%) and another independent (10.7%).

Former député-maire Daniel Garrigue (DVD) regained his old seat, lost in 2008, as mayor of Bergerac (Dordogne), winning 46.1% in a rematch against the freshman PS mayor (41.3%). The right also regained Périgueux, the capital of the department, with the narrow victory of the UMP candidate with 50.7% against freshman PS mayor Michel Moyrand (49.3%). An old Gaullist stronghold (with Gaullist baron Yves Guéna as mayor between 1971 and 1997), the PS won the town by a hair in 2008, defeating incumbent UMP mayor Xavier Darcos, who was also education minister at the time.

The UMP held Châteauroux, with the easy victory of Gil Avérous, the candidate backed by retiring senator-mayor Jean-François Mayet (UMP). The UMP won 49% against 26.3% for Mark Bottemine, the first round PS candidate who led an unusual and controversial alliance with two DVD lists from the first round (17.3% and 7.3%). This composite alliance fell far short of its potential (42%), probably being hurt by perceptions of it as a grubby alliance of ambitious politicians and, on the left, by the controversial nature of an alliance between the PS-EELV and two lists, very much on the right and opposed to gay marriage. The national PS leadership reiterated its support for the list, but EELV silently withdrew its backing. The FG increased its vote to 13.4%, while the FN won 11.3%.

The FN won one town in the Greater Paris - Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines). FN candidate Cyril Nauth, a nobody who barely campaign, was elected with 30.3% against 29.4% for PS incumbent Monique Brochot. Former PS mayor Annette Peulvast-Bergeal (1995-2008) ran as a dissident, winning 28.3%.

The PS suffered major loses in the Hauts-de-Seine, already losing Clamart by the first round. In Asnières-sur-Seine, former mayor Manuel Aeschlimann (UMP), who was defeated by a composite PS-Green-MoDem-DVD coalition led by Sébastien Pietrasanta (PS) in 2008, regained his old job, with 50.1% against 49.9% for Pietrasanta. Aeschlimann, who was sentenced in a corruption scandal in 2009, had been particularly controversial as mayor, for his very authoritarian and nepotistic management of the city. This year, ironically, Aeschlimann’s list merged with a DVD list led by Josiane Fischer, who had joined forces with the PS to defeat him six years ago. In Colombes, former UMP mayor Nicole Goueta, defeated in 2008, was also successful in a rematch against freshman PS mayor Philippe Sarre. She was elected with 52.4% against 47.6% for the PS. The only remaining PS mayor in the Hauts-de-Seine is Gilles Catoire in Clichy, who survived an extremely heated race thanks to the divisions of the right. He won 32.7% against 31.1% for the UMP, with Didier Schuller (UDI), a former RPR general councillor attempting to restart his political career after a corruption scandal in the 1990s forced him into exile in the Caribbean, placing third with 24.8%. EELV, which has bad relations with the PS mayor, won 11.4%.

The left – both PS and PCF – was badly defeated in Seine-Saint-Denis, a left-wing stronghold. Certainly the most shocking result came from Bobigny, a poor working-class Red Belt suburb which the PCF had held since the 1920s. Incumbent PCF mayor Catherine Peyge was defeated 46% to 54% by Stéphane De Paoli (UDI), a protege of Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the UDI député-maire of neighboring Drancy. De Paoli largely downplayed his partisan ties, with a very locally-oriented campaign which attracted support from some left-leaning individuals and organizations, and had some ties with Muslim community associations, giving him a base in the cités. The PCF also lost Villepinte, Le Blanc-Mesnil (held by the PCF since 1935) and Saint-Ouen to the right. In May 2012, Hollande won 65% in Villepinte, 66% in Le Blanc-Mesnil and over 70% in Bobigny and Saint-Ouen! In Bagnolet, another Red Belt suburb held by the PCF since 1935, the PS, with 35.6%, narrowly defeated the FG (31.4%). EELV won 20.3% and the right took 12.8%. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, a city gained from the right in 2008, PS mayor Gérard Ségura was defeated in a landslide by Bruno Beschizza (UMP), a former policeman and young copéiste (60.7% to 39.3%). In Le Raincy, the wealthiest town in the department, UMP mayor Éric Raoult, in office since 1995, was soundly defeated by a DVD candidate. Firmly on the right of the UMP, Raoult found himself accused of sexual harassment (sexting) during the campaign.

In the wealthy suburban town of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, the incumbent UDI mayor Henri Plagnol, who faced much controversy for the city’s highly indebted position and divisions in his majority, was defeated by UMP deputy Sylvain Berrios (who had defeated Plagnol, then the incumbent deputy, in a 2012 by-election), 32% to 28%.

Frédéric Valletoux, the filloniste mayor who was not endorsed by UMP (the Seine-et-Marne is Copé’s personal fiefdom; Valletoux nevertheless received public support from Fillon and Valérie Pécresse), was reelected with 45.8% against 39.9% for the copéiste UMP candidate. The other high profile filloniste-copéiste battle was in Cannes, and ended with the easy victory of David Lisnard, the filloniste dauphin of the retiring mayor, against Philippe Tabarot, the brother of the copéiste UMP general-secretary Michèle Tabarot; Lisnard won 59% to 26%.

Sorry for the delayed publication of this post. Hungary and Québec up next.

France 2014 (R1)

The first round of municipal elections were held in France on March 23, 2014. The municipal councils of nearly all 36,681 communes in France – in metropolitan France, Corsica and all but four overseas collectivities. I covered the complex structure, workings, powers and responsibilities of French municipal government as well as the details on the electoral systems in a first preview post. In a second preview post, I listed the major races in the main towns.

To summarize, for those unwilling to read the full details, in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants (which means about 9,000 communes altogether, but making up the vast majority of the population), elections are held by closed party-list voting. In the first round, a list must obtain over 50% of the vote to win outright. If no list wins outright, all lists which won over 10% of the vote are qualified for the second round while lists which have won over 5% of the vote may ‘merge’ (fusion) with a qualified list, which means that the list with which they merge will be altered to include names of candidates who were originally on the list which was merged. Lists who have won over 10% of the vote may also choose to withdraw without merging, or withdraw and merge with another qualified list. In the second round, a relative majority suffices. The list which wins, either in the first or second round, is immediately allocated half the seats in the municipal council. The other half of seats are distributed proportionally to all lists, including the winning list, which have won over 5% of the vote. In Paris, Lyon and Marseille the electoral system is different. Although the above rules are in place, the election is not fought city-wide: instead, it is fought individually in arrondissements/sectors (20 in Paris, 9 in Lyon and 8 in Marseille).

The size of the municipal council varies based on the population of the commune, from 7 to 69 seats. Lyon has 73 seats, Marseille has 101 and Paris has 163.

As explained in detail in the first preview post, the election – the first since the 2012 presidential and legislative elections – comes as President François Hollande is extremely unpopular – with about 20% approval ratings, he is one of the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic. It owes to the terrible economic situation (over 10% unemployment), the government’s perceived inability to deal with these economic problems, its general ineptness and internal dissonance and policies which have won the opposition of both the right and much of the left. Going into the municipal elections, the left hoped that the local dynamics which are often predominant in municipal elections would prevail; but it certainly feared the precedent of the 1977 and 1983 ‘wave’ municipal elections which saw huge one-sided waves against the governing coalition.

A note on terminology used in this post, in French, because hard to adequately translate in English: an adjoint au maire is a deputy mayor, responsible for a given portfolio, but the use of deputy mayor would cause confusion to Francophones since député-maire in France is commonly used to refer to one who serves concurrently both as deputy in the National Assembly (député, MP) and mayor. A premier adjoint is the ‘first deputy’ or top-ranking adjoint to the mayor. A triangulaire is a three-way runoff, a quadrangulaire is a four-way runoff.


Abstention was about 36.45% according to the Interior Ministry, down from a 39.5% prediction fro an Ipsos estimate at around 8pm on election night. This is a record low turnout for a municipal election since the War, down from the previous low, set in 2008 (33.5% abstention), and following a consistent trend of declining turnout since 1983 (21.6% abstention). There was much talk in the media from journalists and politicians about the ‘record low’ turnout and some grandiose declarations from politicians trying to put their spin on things, but it helps to put things in perspective. While following a trend of declining turnout in local elections, turnout was higher than in the 2012 legislative elections (57.2% in the first round) and far better than the last two subnational elections (2010 regionals: 46.3% turnout in the first round; 2011 cantonals: 44.3% turnout in the first round). It is obvious that part of the explanation stems from greater dissatisfaction with politics and the political system in general, a widespread feeling that no party adequately represents their feelings and/or a view that politicians are all ‘the same’ and not worth our time. However, researchers have argued that the trend has been been the result of a decline in ‘regular voting’ and the rise of ‘sporadic participation’ (participation intermittente) – voters turn out based on the stakes of the specific election, rather than turning out ‘by duty’ in every type of election as in the past (when turnout at all types of elections was generally similar across the board). This is evidenced by the very high turnout in the last two, high-stakes, presidential elections in 2007 and 2012 (83.8%, 79.5%); this disproves the idea that there is a general civic crisis. The rise of sporadic participation is a result, partly, of generational changes: older voters (except those over 75-80) feel a ‘duty’ to vote in all elections, while younger voters are more likely to be sporadic voters (and the 20% or so who never vote are also over-represented in younger age groups).

As in the past, turnout was highest in rural communes with a small population (where voters often personally know the candidates and the municipal election has a very local, close-to-home dimension) while it was lowest in the largest urban areas (56.3% in Paris, 53.5% in Marseille, 56.1% in Lyon). Abstention was particularly high, again, in low-income and historically working-class towns hit hard by unemployment and social crises: 62% in Vaulx-en-Velin, Roubaix, 61% in Évry, Stains, 59% in Bobigny, 58% in Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers. Sporadic voting and systematic abstention is positively correlated to lower levels of education and incomes; the feeling of political dissatisfaction and disconnect with the political system is particularly acute in those places. This excellent number-crunching post from Libération also lists the major towns (pop. over 10,000) with the lowest abstention: Corsica (21% in Bastia) and La Réunion feature prominently on the list, along with some smaller towns in metro France (generally in the western half). Corsica is an interesting case, because it has particularly low turnout in presidential elections (74.3% in 2012) but very strong turnout in more localized elections because there’s a much closer connection to local politics (which are very clan/family-based) on the island. La Réunion appears to be a similar case.

Ipsos’ ‘exit poll’ of sorts confirmed the positive correlation between age and higher turnout and job status and higher turnout (49% of manual workers voted, 65% of managers and higher professionals did so). In past elections where the governing party is particularly unpopular (2010 regionals, for example), turnout from government supporters was lower. Something similar seems to have happened, but it seems as if the issue was mostly that right-wing voters were far more mobilized than left-wing voters staying at home: 68% of PS sympathizers voted, compared to 75% of UMP/UDI sympathizers. Greens (56%) and FN (60%) sympathizers and those without partisan sympathies (50%) had lower turnout. When asking non-voters why they didn’t vote, 44% said that the elections would have no impact on their daily lives, 39% said to show opposition towards politicians in general and 22% said to show opposition to the government. 34% of voters said that they would use their vote to show opposition to the government and Hollande, but 55% said they would neither oppose or support the government through their vote. And only 23% said that their vote would be determined by the national political situation (rather than local).

The overall result of the first round can be summarized thus: a major victory for the far-right FN, a bad thumping for the governing PS and the makings of a good overall election for the UMP. What retained attention in the French and foreign press was the FN’s success; in those cities where the FN stood, the FN won 16.5% of the vote, up from 9.2% in 2008. In places where the FN has a strong local footing in place, the results were rather tremendous, improving significantly on Marine Le Pen’s local performance there in 2012 and on the FN’s results in the 2012 legislative elections. In Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais), a poor town in the old coal mining basin of northern France which Marine Le Pen has turned into her solid electoral base since 2007, the FN’s candidate, Steeve Briois (Le Pen’s local lieutenant and ally) was elected mayor by the first round with 50.3% of the vote, defeating a sitting PS mayor. The FN placed first in four major cities in southern France: Perpignan (Pyrénées-Orientales), Béziers (Hérault), Avignon (Vaucluse) and Fréjus (Var). It also placed first in smaller towns such as Saint-Gilles (Gard), Beaucaire (Gard), Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), Brignoles (Var), Digne-les-Bains (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) and Forbach (Moselle). It obtained very strong results in many other cities, most significantly Marseille, where the FN placed second overall, ahead of the PS. It also did well (over 25%) in Carpentras (Vaucluse), Sorgues (Vaucluse), Cavaillon (Vaucluse), La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var), Noyon (Oise), Hayange (Moselle), Elbeuf (Seine-Maritime), Le Petit-Quevilly (Seine-Maritime) and several towns in the Pas-de-Calais mining basin.

As Libé’s analysis of the results in the communes with over 10,000 inhabitants pointed out, in the 409 of those communes with FN lists, the FN won 14.4%, which is down from Le Pen’s 15.7% in 2012. However, in the FN’s top 10 communes on March 23, where they took 39.9% on average, Le Pen had taken ‘only’ 29% in 2012, so there was a clear improvement on the FN’s presidential result in towns where the FN lists were headed by well-known national (or local) figures. So there remains an heavy element of local notoriety and implantation, even in the FN’s result. All that notwithstanding, it was very much a great night for the FN. Municipal elections, as Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, are traditionally a rather difficult election for the FN (reasons explained more thoroughly in the intro to my second preview post): difficulty to run lists in many places, lack of local infrastructure (no incumbents in most cases, lack of office holders, weak local party) and the focus on local issues and local dynamics; although the FN did comparably well in 1995. Therefore, that the FN has been able to draw a significant number of voters to vote for their lists (in many cases, led by nobodies or obscure party bosses and officeholders) in a locally-focused election is a clear success for the FN. It is also good news for them that they came close to matching Le Pen’s 2012 result (and in many cases exceeded it too); Marine Le Pen’s result in April 2012 was a high point for the FN and she likely drew protest voters to her name who would usually not vote for the FN in other types of elections.

The results also showed that the FN’s influence has ‘nationalized’ further, with the party winning impressive results in towns where the FN has usually been weak: most notably in Brittany – with over 10% in Saint-Brieuc, Lorient and Fougères but also 15% in Le Mans and 17% in Limoges.

Overall, Libé calculated that in all communes with a population of over 10,000; the result was 46% for the right (+3.5 since 2008), 42.3% for the left (-7.9), 8.9% for the far-right (+7.4) and 2.7% for others (-3.1). On the left, the main loser were the governing leftist parties (from 44.6% in 2008 to 36.4% in 2014) and specifically the PS (from 36.3% to 25.7%) while EELV and other centre-left parties/candidates (DVG) gained ground. As some cities show (most notably Grenoble) there was a strong vote for left-wing candidates outside the PS; in other places, it is also clear that the PS label hurt candidates, with Montreuil being the best example.

The national mood hurt the PS far more than pollsters had expected it, with Marseille as the most catastrophic example of a place where the PS had high hopes going into March 23 and are now wondering what the f- just happened. In several cities, especially Marseille, the pollsters were wrong – often underestimating the FN, but also overestimating the PS in a lot of cases. What happened? The FN’s underestimation is nothing new and can be expected; some people apparently don’t want to admit a FN vote to pollsters (or there was a strong last minute swing to the FN in the booth). The PS’ overestimation is more surprising (if anything, in some cases, an unpopular governing party can be slightly underestimated) and pollsters should have some answering to do (especially in Marseille). Was it their turnout models? The turnout was not a surprise to anyone who had been following things, and pollsters knew that and their turnout estimates were generally correct. Was it the difficulty of polling a fairly micro level?

As it stands, the PS will lose several mid-sized towns to the UMP/UDI in the second round: Amiens, Valence, Pau, Laval, Chambéry, Roanne, Charleville-Mézières, Salon-de-Provence, Saint-Chamond, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Montbéliard and Brive-la-Gaillarde are lost and can’t be salvaged; the PS is clearly in trouble in Caen, Angers, Evreux, Angoulême, Saint-Étienne, Ajaccio, Belfort and Quimper and the runoff will be close in Strasbourg, Reims, Tours, Tourcoing, Clichy, Pessac and other towns. With the threat that vote transfers from EELV or Left Front (FG) candidates eliminated or withdrawn will be bad, the second round could be a real rout for the PS with very few chances at compensatory gains (Avignon, Bourges, Calais, Douai and Corbeil-Essonnes are the only major ones in which the PS retains a fighting chance at gaining the seat from the UMP/UDI). It could end up like 1983, although the second round in 1983 there had been a small rally-round-the-flag effect on the left which allowed the PS to unexpectedly save a few things (Lille).

Several major towns (population over 30,000) and many smaller towns (population over 10,000) have already switched from left to right. By the first round, the largest city to switch sides is Niort (pop 57,813, Deux-Sèvres), where incumbent PS mayor Geneviève Gaillard, elected in 2008, was defeated by Jérôme Baloge (UDI) in a landslide – 54.3% against only 20.4%. Niort, whose economy is famously based around insurance mutuals and the ‘social economy’, is a left-wing stronghold, having voted 64% for Hollande in 2012 and being governed by Socialist mayors since 1957. Gaillard, who has been deputy for the area since 1997, gained the city hall in 2008, running as the official PS candidate against the incumbent mayor, Alain Baudin, who was not selected by the PS and ran as a dissident. The episode created much bad blood on the left, and Gaillard was accused by members of the PS majority of authoritarianism. Her 2008 opponent, Alain Baudin, was third on Baloge’s list. Gaillard charges that Ségolène Royal, the PS regional council president, may have had a role to play in her defeat, after a communiqué from Royal said that Niort hadn’t switched to the right but rather been won by a list of a ‘large coalition’ against a ‘list of divisions and cumul des mandat‘.

Also lost by the first round is Clamart (pop 52,731, Hauts-de-Seine), where incumbent PS mayor Philippe Kaltenbach was forced to retire after being indicted in a corruption case in 2013. The UMP-UDI list led by local opposition leader Jean-Didier Berger, an ally of Philippe Pemezec, the UMP mayor of Le Plessis-Robinson (and longtime rival of Kaltenbach), won 53.8% against 32.9% for the PS-EELV-PCF list. In the Yvelines department, Poissy (pop 37,662), a right-leaning town gained by the PS in 2008, switched back to the right with no less than 62.4% for the UMP against 24.8% for the PS incumbent. The PS’ victory in 2008 owed much to Jacques Masdeu-Arus, the UMP mayor in office since 1983 who at the time had been sentenced in a corruption case but since he was appealing he was able to run for reelection. In the Val-de-Marne, the UMP defeated the PS incumbent in L’Haÿ-les-Roses (pop. 30,574) by the first round, 54.1% against 46%. The town had been ruled by Socialists since 1965 and Hollande won 59.8% in this middle-class suburban community in May 2012. The incumbent who was defeated had taken office in 2012, after his predecessor was indicted in a corruption case in 2011.

Another gain for the right was Chalon-sur-Saône (pop. 44,847, Saône-et-Loire), historically a small industrial centre gained by PS in 2008 after 25 years of right-wing rule, where incumbent PS député maire Christophe Sirugue was defeated 32.6% to 52.4%. Other gains in smaller towns include Châteauneuf-les-Martigues (a defeat for incumbent PS député maire Vincent Burroni), the Toulouse suburb of Balma, Dole (a victory for UMP deputy Jean-Marie Sermier), Ablon-sur-Seine, L’Aigle, Sainte-Luce-sur-Loire and the emblematic troubled post-industrial town of Florange.

Comparable gains for the left are far fewer: only one town with over 10,000 people seem to have switched – Vire (Calvados), where the UMP incumbent since 1989 was retiring and a PRG general councillor replaces him.

The government’s clear defeat in the first round and a second round which will probably largely confirm the first has taken the government by surprise and there is increasing talk of an early cabinet shuffle, originally expected for the aftermath of the European elections in May (where the PS knows it will perform horribly). Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is as unpopular as Hollande and very much of a low-key non-entity with weak authority over his cabinet, may be replaced and other cabinet ministers will likely go too. Cabinet shuffles are commonplace in France after a government takes a thumping in a midterm election, and it rarely improves matters for the government in the long run.

Detailed results analysis: 12 largest cities


1 51.72 27.36 10.84 5.03 2.53 0.49 2.02
2 24.25 22.82 32.96 3.97 2.8 1.88 11.01 0.31
3 29.09 47.29 10.78 4.99 3.99 2.4 0.5 0.95
4 37.82 37.4 9.3 5.2 3.82 5.86 0.61
5 28.49 33.94 8.92 3.62 4.39 19.43 0.64 0.57
6 52.62 26.12 6.65 4.8 2.36 3.36 3.64 0.45
7 41.01 16.92 3.04 5.95 1.1 2.98 17.81
8 46.61 15.4 3.5 4.76 1.41 19.26 5.16 3.86
9 39.42 39.15 8.01 4.86 3.72 4.24 0.57
10 21.48 44.36 11.49 5.41 6.41 4.85 3.35 0.61 0.95
11 26.82 44.75 11.55 5.47 6.27 3.14 0.63 1.32
12 33.34 37.39 10.06 6.76 5.38 0.55 0.86 5.62
13 24.98 44.46 9.82 7.46 5.87 1.74 1.06 0.78 1.33 2.5
14 33.1 37.89 8.77 5.74 5.24 5.74 0.66 2.83
15 48.56 29.1 4.46 6.3 2.68 4.64 2.72
16 63.04 12.98 2.31 6 1.04 9.31 5.3
17 53.53 25.38 6.58 6.45 3.08 4.43 0.52
18 25.23 39.85 12.65 6.78 7.18 3.62 1.15 1.85
19 25.76 42.18 12.86 7.94 7.11 1.36 1.04 1.72
20 17.5 37.29 10.89 7.48 10.35 2.21 3.35 7.91
0.79 1.36
Paris 35.91 34.40 8.86 6.26 4.94 3.36 2.84 1.01 0.55 0.55 1.31

Maps by precinct

In Paris, the UMP-UDI-MoDem lists led by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM) came out with a narrow lead in the city-wide popular vote, raising optimism and confidence on the right while warning Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate and favourite to succeed retiring PS mayor Bertrand Delanoë, that the contest might not be the walk in the park many on the left thought it would be. Of course, a city-wide lead in popular vote is meaningless: the election in Paris, as noted in the intro, is not decided based on the share of the votes across the city but rather by the victor in each of Paris’ 20 arrondissements. It is very much like the electoral college in the United States, and like in the US winning the city-wide popular vote doesn’t necessarily mean you won the election.

In this case, the actual race in the arrondissements indicates that Hidalgo, the PS candidate, remains the narrow favourite to win in the second round. The UMP pulled ahead of the PS in two arrondissements currently held by the PS – the 4th and 9th arrondissements, where the UMP has a tiny lead (less than 1 point) over the PS and trails the combined total of the left. Even if the UMP were to win both these arrondissements on March 30, it would not be enough because they have 2 and 4 conseillers de Paris respectively. As a handy simulator on shows, if the 4th and 9th go right and nothing else moves, the left would win with a comfortable majority on council (about 89 seats, with 82 required for a majority).

Instead, the key ‘swing states’ in Paris are the 12th and 14th arrondissements: two historically right-leaning sectors which were held by the right until the PS’ victory in 2001 and have swung to the left in national elections, with Hollande winning 58.9% and 60.3% in those two arrondissements in 2012. NKM is the UMP’s top candidate in the 14th arrondissement, while the young sitting municipal councillor Valérie Montandon is the UMP’s top candidate in the 12th. The 12th is, like Paris, predominantly middle-class with a mix of young, highly-educated professionals (leaning left) and an older, more established bourgeoisie on the right; although there’s also a significant number of residents in low-rent housing (HLM). The 14th is rather similar, although with a slightly larger share of the population lives in HLM.

On March 23, the PS lists placed ahead of the UMP lists in both these key arrondissements, with 37.4% to 33.3% in the 12th and 37.9% to 33.1% in the 14th. With the merger of the EELV lists (10.1% and 8.8% respectively) into the PS lists, the left solidifies its lead – and has smaller and probably less certain reserves with those who voted for the PG lists (5.4% and 5.2% respectively) in the first round, even if there is no merger agreement between the PS and PG in Paris.

Yet, if NKM is to become mayor, the UMP lists must absolutely win both arrondissements, and that would give them a very narrow 82-81 majority in the Council of Paris. Victories in the 4th and/or 9th arrondissements are not absolutely necessary, but they would share up a more comfortable majority.

This also assumes that the UMP holds all arrondissements it currently has, whereas the 5th arrondissement is very tight. In the first round, the PS list won 33.9% against 28.5% for the UMP list, with a dissident list led by Dominique Tiberi, the son of the incumbent mayor (and former RPR mayor of Paris from 1995 and 2001, indicted for corruption and sentenced for voter fraud in 2013) Jean Tiberi, won 19.4%. NKM dodged a fatal bullet by reaching a merger agreement with Tiberi’s list, likely in exchange for juicy concessions to Tiberi (who had a very strong bargaining position). The 5th is an old right-wing stronghold – it was where Jacques Chirac got elected when he was mayor from 1977 to 1995 – but it has shifted to the left in the past few years, with Hollande winning 56.2% of the vote there in May 2012. The runoff there will be close, but assuming good transfers from Tiberi to the UMP, the right has a narrow advantage. But defeat in the 5th would be fatal to the UMP’s chances of winning Paris.

Therefore, given the numbers and where the race is fought, Hidalgo and the left remain the favourites. Nevertheless, the first round results and the UMP’s strong performance means that they cannot be overconfident. The UMP had a much better performance than in 2008, when it won only 27.9% of the vote; meanwhile, the PS lists took a sharp hit from Delanoë’s landslide result in 2008, when the PS lists had won 41.6% in the first round. The national climate played a major role, but the contest was also ‘fairer’ than in 2008: Hidalgo is less charismatic and not as strong a candidate and Delanoë (and she also lacks the advantages of incumbency), while NKM is clearly a much stronger UMP candidate than Françoise de Panafieu, a boring old politician. NKM was mocked for her somewhat aloof and bourgeois/snob airs (most notably her gaffe on the Paris subway being extraordinary and filled with charming characters), and her campaign was wracked by the highly-publicized string of dissident candidacies on the right (as well as squabbles between the UMP, UDI and MoDem for the lists); but her moderate platform (focused on the ‘middle-classes’ and a promise not to raise taxes) was a fairly good fit for a right-wing candidate in contemporary Paris.

The UMP won four arrondissements by the first round. In the 1st, a small high-end bourgeois district in central Paris, incumbent mayor Jean-François Legaret (UMP) was reelected with 51.7% while the PS list lost 10 points from its 2008 result. In the 6th, another bourgeois district, UMP incumbent Jean-Pierre Lecoq won 52.6%. In the 16th, the wealthiest and most right-wing arrondissement in Paris, incumbent mayor and deputy Claude Goasguen was reelected handily with 63% against 13% for the PS and 9.3% for David Alphand, a sitting DVD arrondissement councillor backed by Charles Beigbeder’s Paris libéré lists. in the 17th, incumbent UMP mayor Brigitte Kuster won 53.5% against 25.3% for Annick Lepetit, a PS deputy (the PS’ result is down 11 points from 2008 here). Although the southwestern half of the arrondissement is very bourgeois and right-wing, the Épinettes (and parts of the Batignolles) in the northeast are quite strongly left-wing (the Épinettes is a former working-class neighborhood which is largely gentrified by young professionals, although it remains significantly poorer than the rest of the arrondissement; there are also significantly poorer peripheral areas with HLM towers lining the périph).

In the 7th and 8th, two other solidly right-wing very affluent arrondissements, the UMP will have to wait for March 30 to win, because of strong dissident candidates on the right. In the 7th, UMP mayor Rachida Dati, who has her share of enemies on the right (she is criticized locally for not caring much about her gig as mayor of the 7th), did poorly with 41% of the vote. Christian Le Roux, a former maire adjoint of the arrondissement, placed second with 17.8% while Michel Dumont, who was mayor of the arrondissement until being pushed aside for Dati in 2008, won 7.5%. In the 8th, the UMP list won 46.6%, while Charles Beigbeder, the ringleader of the Paris libéré alliance of right-wing dissidents, won 19.3%. Overall, the performances of Beigbeder’s otherwise little-known candidates was mediocre; except in the 16th where the candidate was a sitting councillor and in the 14th (NKM’s arrondissement) where his candidate was Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée, the traditional local UMP candidate in the past who was sidelined to make way for NKM.

In the 2nd arrondissement, dissident candidate Hélène Delsol won 11% of the vote (and fourth place); she was the original UMP candidate until NKM removed her in early March because her list did not respect the UMP’s deal with the UDI (Delsol was also a close supporter of the anti-gay marriage Manif pour tous; NKM was one of the few UMP deputies not to vote against the bill when it passed – she abstained). It was also in the 2nd arrondissement, on the left since 2001 and likely to remain so on March 30, that EELV did best: Jacques Boutault, who has been the Green mayor of the arrondissement (thanks to an agreement with the PS) since 2001, topped the poll with 33%, up from 29.9% in 2008 (when he had placed second behind the PS list in the first round).

Unlike in 2008, when the PS won several of its strongholds by the first round, no PS list won outright on March 23. Its best performance came from the cosmopolitan and ‘bobo’ 3rd, where incumbent mayor Pierre Aidenbaum won 47.3%.

Again, the results reflected the old east-west polarization in Paris; the UMP’s best performances came from the beaux quartiers – old conservative strongholds which have been on the right for over 100 years while the PS did best in the east – which used to be heavily working-class and revolutionary neighborhoods known for their revolutionary ferment (the east was where the barricades went up in 1848 and where the 1871 commune took longest to crush) and socialist history. However, Paris is now a middle-class city which were few workers; the contrast is now between an older, established and very affluent bourgeoisie and ‘new middle-classes’ – younger, mobile, highly educated, less affluent (but not poor) professionals with high cultural capital (often working as cadres, many as journalists, academics, artists etc) living in the gentrified neighborhoods of eastern Paris. There are, however, deep social inequalities, and the high housing prices (a major issue in this election) have pushed out the lower middle-classes and working poor. Paris still has a significant poor population (many immigrants or foreigners), with heavy concentrations in a string of HLM towers in the periphery of the city.

The PS’ other best results came from the eastern arrondissements of the 10th, 11th, 13th (all over 44%), the 18th (nearly 40%) and the 19th (42%). The 10th is known as a ‘boboland’ (the Canal Saint-Martin is known as a ‘bobo’ hotspot) although it includes some poorer immigrant-heavy areas (Porte Saint-Denis, Bas Belleville). The 13th remains one of Paris’ poorest areas, with a lot of social housing but also some gentrified middle-class areas. The 18th includes Montmartre, a famously hip bobo area, but also La Goutte d’Or, a working poor neighborhood with a very large immigrant population. The 19th, historically working-class, is similar: there is a contrast between deprived peripheral areas (La Villette) and some more recently gentrified areas (Buttes-Chaumont). The 20th is the most left-wing arrondissement in Paris, with 71.8% for Hollande. The PS did not do as well (37.3%) because of competition from EELV but also the PG (Danielle Simonnet, the PG’s mayoral candidate ran here) which won its best Parisian result (10.4%) and from former PS mayor Michel Charzat (7.9%, he was mayor until 2008, when he ran as a dissident and won 30.5% in an all-leftist runoff against the PS-Green list). The 20th includes most of Belleville, an old working-class neighborhood which has a huge symbolic place in French socialist mythology (being identified in collective memory as the socialist, revolutionary working-class stronghold); the 20th and 19th remain two of the city’s poorest areas, and there are still many pockets of deprivation in Belleville and the periphery, but there has been recent gentrification here as well.

In the 15th, a bourgeois (but not always so: until the 1950s, it was more blue-collar and the PCF polled quite well) arrondissement where Hidalgo has run in the past, her own list did poorly with only 29.1% against 48.6% for the UMP list led by incumbent mayor Philippe Goujon.

EELV won 8.9%, a good result for the party, improving on the Greens’ 6.8% in 2008 but still below their 2001 results. It quickly found an agreement with the PS, and EELV’s lists will merge with those of the PS in every arrondissement.

EELV’s support is also very eastern, with low support in the conservative west (‘green-minded’ voters there find the Greens far too left-wing). This year, EELV, outside the 2nd, did well in the downtown core (1, 3), the inner east (10, 11, 12) and outer east (18, 19, 20) – over 12% in the 18th and 19th. In the 18th, EELV polled over 15% in Montmartre and Clignancourt, but it also did quite well (over 10%) in La Goutte d’Or; in the 19th, it did best the Buttes-Chaumont area, with peaks over 20%. There has been gentrification in all these areas and there is a large potential EELV-type electorate, but these very good results may also indicate that EELV was a ‘replacement vote’ on the left for those who didn’t want to vote PS in the first round.

The PG, on the other hand, did poorly – its 4.9% result is a disappointment for them, although the silver lining is that Simonnet qualified for the second round in the 20th, with a bit over 10% of the vote. The PG and PS found no agreement and Simonnet maintains her list in the runoff; the PS seemed to have very little interest in reaching an agreement with the PG, with the PG decrying the conditions in which they were received by the PS (in some backroom which looked more like a storage shack). The lack of agreement between the PG and PS further deepens the rift between Mélenchon’s PG and the PCF, which supported the PS by the first round. In the second round, the PG will therefore be on opposite sides from the PCF. In the 20th, PG supporters will be hoping that Simonnet’s list wins at least 12.5% to obtain one seat for the PG on the municipal council.

The FN won 6.3%, doubling its 2008 result (a terrible 3.2%) but effectively just matching Le Pen’s 2012 result in Paris (6.2%). Although Paris was once a FN stronghold – in 1984, for example – the city, with the aforementioned social and cultural changes, has become a dead zone for the far-right whose results have gotten progressively worse since the late 1980s. There was no clear east-west divide in the FN’s vote in 2014, like in 2012; instead, the FN polled best in poorer peripheral areas on the outskirts of the city.

The second round may prove closer than expected, but the dynamics and structure of the election indicate that Hidalgo, despite a mediocre first round showing, remains the favourite, especially in the two key arrondissements where the election will be played out.


1 38.6 15.02 26.96 8.98 6.96 0.59 0.36 2.53
2 24.18 16.54 17.46 7.11 5.41 23.81 1.1 4.38
3 41.76 18.15 24.66 7.71 5.15 0.91 0.31 1.35
4 50.08 17.31 19.08 7.02 6.52
5 45.78 25.56 15.28 6.07 4.39 1.73 1.19
6 35.17 25.85 16.63 5.53 3.43 13.4
7 27.83 32.88 21.66 6.43 8.1 2.17 0.92
8 21 27.59 31.71 10.8 5.47 0.89 1.13 1.7

After the first round, Marseille came to symbolize the rout of the PS. The city, which was the stronghold of Socialist strongman Gaston Defferre between 1953 and 1986, has been governed by the UMP’s Jean-Claude Gaudin since 1995 and the PS has been eager to regain Marseille ever since it lost it. It came very close in 2008, and despite the unfavourable national climate, it had some reason to be optimistic this year. The polls all confirmed a very tight race between Gaudin and PS-EELV candidate Patrick Mennucci; in the 3rd sector, the key ‘swing’ sector in Marseille, all polls showed a nail-bitingly close contest between UMP mayor Bruno Gilles and the PS’ star candidate, junior minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti. When the results came in, the PS was left reeling – in awe, wondering what just happened. The pollsters were all wrong: the UMP lists placed far ahead of the pack, with 37.6%, against 23.2% for the FN and 20.8% for the PS-EELV. All the hopes of gaining Marseille were crushed in one second, and the PS’ strategy of drawing attention to the ‘winnable’ contest in Marseille to obscure the likely defeats in other cities blew up in their faces. The PS has no chance of winning Marseille on March 30; the focus is now on saving what can be saved, which is a fairly important task in its own right because what is saved on March 30 will be crucial for senatorial elections in the fall.

The FG, which won a very mediocre 7.1% in a city which was at one time one of the main strongholds of the PCF (and the north, the current 8th sector in particular, one of the safest PCF areas outside the Red Belt), will merge its lists with that of the PS. In the 8th sector, FG mayoral candidate Jean-Marc Coppola, a PCF regional councillor, won 10.8%, the FG’s best result.

Independent left-leaning and anti-establishment lists led by Pape Diouf, the former president of the Olympique de Marseille (OM) football club from 2005 to 2009, won 5.6% (6.4% for Diouf himself in the 7th). Pape Diouf’s lists included members of civil society, civic associations and EELV dissidents who opposed EELV’s alliance with the PS. Pape Diouf’s lists, although left-leaning, attacked the clientelism of both PS and UMP and presented itself as a civic, apolitical opposition to the political establishment. However, many of Diouf’s candidates, including Sébastien Barles (EELV) in the 1st sector, were hoping that they would reach a merger agreement with the PS lists after the first round. Instead, Diouf announced that there would be no merger and refused to endorse anybody. His decision, apparently taken autocratically, irked many of his supporters.

In the 3rd sector, where we had been told to expect a close battle between the PS and UMP, the PS list led by junior minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti is 17 points behind the UMP list of incumbent mayor Bruno Gilles. In the 1st sector, which is Patrick Mennucci’s sector and was a PS gain in 2008, Mennucci himself find himself trailing UMP deputy Dominique Tian by more than 11 points and must save his own seat. The PS only leads in the 8th sector in Marseille’s northern suburbs, where the PS list led by incumbent mayor and senator Samia Ghali (Mennucci’s main rival in the 2013 primary) topped the poll – but only narrowly, with 31.7% against 27.6% for the FN. In the 7th sector, the other northern sector, the PS list led by incumbent mayor Garo Hovsepian is trailing in third place, with 21.7% against 32.9% for the FN list led by FN mayoral candidate Stéphane Ravier and 27.8% for the UMP. In the 6th sector, another sector presented as a ‘swing’ sector and potentially winnable for the PS, the PS list led by general councillor Christophe Masse is in even worse shape: in third, with a mere 16.6% against 35.2% for the UMP’s Roland Blum-Valérie Boyer tandem and 25.9% for the FN. Robert Assante, the incumbent ex-UDI/ex-UMP mayor of the 6th sector, won 13.4% running a dissident list. Assante had left the UMP after he was pushed aside in favour of his enemy, Valérie Boyer, for a seat in the National Assembly. His list has merged with that of the UMP; according to this deal, Assante will retain his mayoral position, something which in turns alienates Boyer, who had been promised that job.

The most shocking result is from the 2nd sector, a very poor left-wing stronghold. The left was divided between the PS-EELV list led by Eugène Caselli, the PS president of the urban community (Marseille Métropole Provence, MPM) and a PRG list led by incumbent mayor Lisette Narducci, a close ally (many would say tool) of the controversial and highly corrupt PS president of the general council, Jean-Noël Guérini (who retains significant weight in Marseille politics, as some kind of Godfather; he’s especially strong in the 2nd sector, since he is the general councillor for the canton of Marseille-Les Grands-Carmes, the family seat since 1951). The UMP list placed first with 24.2%, but the Narducci list placed second, with 23.8%, against only 17.5% for Caselli’s official PS list.

Guérini, who was the PS mayoral candidate back in 2008, is angry at the way the PS has disowned and denounced him after he was hit by several corruption and nepotism scandals. He is especially at odds with Patrick Mennucci (and Carlotti), two erstwhile allies from 2008 who have since turned into the strongest opponents of the ‘Guérini system’ and focused the PS campaign on ethics and fighting corruption. In the PS primary, Guérini was widely suspected of using a bit of his machine to favour Samia Ghali, who disingenuously ran as the local ‘anti-system’ candidate – in the second round against Mennucci, Ghali saw her biggest gains in the 2nd and 3rd arrondissements (the 2nd sector) – Guérini’s stomping grounds. Since then, Guérini was said to be covertly backing Gaudin to take his revenge on Mennucci.

After the first round, Guérini’s marriage of convenience with the UMP and Gaudin was made official. On March 25, Gaudin announced that he had reached an agreement with the PRG (=Guérini’s tools) and Narducci in the 2nd sector, merging the UMP and PRG lists with Narducci taking first place on the new list (with the promise of retaining her mayoral position in case of victory). Narducci claimed that she merged her list to ‘fight the FN’ and said that the PS had refused her proposal for negotiations. However, as Caselli argued, the argument doesn’t hold: the 2nd sector is in no danger of falling to the FN; the PS is furious, denouncing a rogue and unnatural alliance with the UMP. For the UMP, the alliance is perhaps not the best from a PR standpoint but it doesn’t care – it’s great Machiavellian politics. Gaudin allies with Guérini to perpetuate his clientelist system in alliance with the other political boss of the department; in Marseille, a likely UMP-PRG victory in the second sector does a lot to guarantee an absolute majority in the municipal council for Gaudin and it throws more wrenches in the PS’ desperate post-first round strategies. The PS campaign is trying to seize on the UMP-Guérini alliance, now focusing its campaign on an appeal to vote against the ‘Gaudin-Guérini system’ and corruption on March 30. The alliance of an old and increasingly tired mayor with a very mixed record (Marseille is an increasingly socially divided and highly stratified city with huge violence, drugs and crime problems in the poor north; unemployment is high) with a corrupt politician may also play into the FN’s hands, and help push some dismayed right-wingers to vote for the FN in the second round.

To explain the PS’ surprise disaster in the first round, one good explanation might be turnout: it was only 53.5% in the city as a whole, with turnout below 50% in the 2nd, 7th and 8th sectors (the most left-wing sectors). According to a post-election Ifop poll, there may have been a strong partisan difference in turnout: it reports that only 40% of Hollande’s first round voters from 2012 voted compared to 65% of Sarkozy’s voters and 78% of Le Pen’s voters. Comparing raw votes in 2012 to 2014, Mennucci’s lists won only 53k against 104,818 for Hollande in April 2012. Ravier and Gaudin also lost votes compared to Le Pen and Sarkozy, although Gaudin remarkably only lost 4,000 or so from Sarkozy’s April 2012 total. Therefore, one explanation for the PS’ result might be major demobilization of the PS base since 2012, combined with the superior mobilization of the UMP and FN electorate.

An Ifop study at the precinct level confirmed the poll findings: there was a positive correlation between support for Hollande in April 2012 and abstention, with 41% abstention in polls where Hollande was the weakest and 63% abstention where he was the strongest. Abstention also increased (since 2012) most where Mennucci’s losses on Hollande’s 2012 showing were the heaviest. Some other Hollande voters who did turn out voted for Pape Diouf’s lists, which won 13% on average in polls where Hollande had won over 50% in April 2012, compared to only 3.7% in polls where Hollande had won less than 20% in April 2012. Again, Diouf’s support was strongest where the PS’ loses from 2012 were the most pronounced. In contrast, the study found no correlation between decline for the PS and increase for either the UMP or FN (since 2012).

Libé also mentions a potential casting error in the 7th sector: pushed by the area’s (corrupt) deputy, Sylvie Andrieux (ex-PS), the sitting PS mayor Garo Hovsepian (Andrieux’s suppléant) was pushed to run for reelection while Christophe Masse, a powerful PS general councillor whose electoral base is in the 7th sector, was pushed to run in the 6th sector, where his base is much weaker. Andrieux was allegedly unwilling to see Masse, a potential rival for her seat, establish a rival foothold. In the 3rd sector, we may also be led to believe that Carlotti suffered from her direct association with the unpopular government (although she’s a low-profile junior minister).

There is a major north-south social divide in Marseille, a poorer city with much more visible and dramatic social divides than either Paris or Lyon. According to a 2014 study, the poverty rate ranges from 9% (8th arrdt) to 55% (3rd arrdt) in Marseille, whereas it ranges from 9% to 21% in Lyon and 7% to 25% in Paris. Marseille’s northern suburbs (quartiers nord) are predominantly poor, with very high unemployment rates, high immigrant population, major social problems, severe challenges with violence and crime and the concentration of the population in densely populated cités which sprung up under Defferre’s administration as the city struggle to accommodate a growing population from the post-1962 exodus of pieds noirs from Algeria and later North African immigration. The southern suburbs, particularly hilly neighborhoods lining the Mediterranean (in the 7th and 8th arrdt), are far more affluent and privileged. Jean-Claude Gaudin’s solid personal electoral base is in the 4th sector where he was reelected, as in 2008, by the first round with 50.1% for his UMP list. The 4th sector includes the 6th arrondissement, the old central bourgeois arrondissement which does have a left-leaning bobo element (the Cours Julien area in Notre-Dame-du-Mont) and the 8th arrondissement, a seafront arrondissement whose northern half (Le Périer, La Plage, Saint-Giniez) is the most affluent part of the city and also the UMP’s strongest area.

The 1st sector presents an interesting contrast between its two components, the 1st and 7th arrondissements. The 7th includes Le Roucas-Blanc, a very affluent seaside neighborhood which is solidly UMP; the 1st is a poor (43% poverty) multicultural rundown inner-city area with unemployment at about 30% and about 30% of the population without any diploma; although it does include some gentrified areas. The 1st is Mennucci’s electoral base, while the 7th is in Dominique Tian’s constituency.

The FN won its best results in the 5, 6, 7 and 8 sectors – taken as a whole, they cover the whole outer eastern half of the city – the northern suburbs but also the east of the city (Vallée de l’Huveaune). The areas where the FN tends to do best in Marseille are lower middle-class areas which are rather low-income, have low levels of education, blue-collar employment but don’t necessarily have record-level unemployment and poverty; they have a substantial foreign/immigrant minority, but not a majority. These are, especially the 7th sector, ‘settled’ area with relatively little mobility (very few recent settlers) and a population which has lived in the area for 10 years or more. More often than not, these areas aren’t cités (many of them in a ZUS) with HLM towers, but rather neighboring residential suburban neighborhoods – banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses). In fact, in a lot of cases, the precincts covering the largest cités (which have the largest immigrant population) tend to be solidly left-wing with very low FN support. According to these maps, the FN vote reached record levels in some of these northern residential suburbs – over 35-40% in places such as Château Gombert (13th) and Verduron (15th) – lower middle-class areas, comparatively affluent compared to other neighborhoods in the north. These are neighborhoods were a lot of individual houses are now gated, as noted in this article.

In the northern suburbs, the left (PS in particular) is hegemonic in most of the large cités (ZUS) – places with extremely high unemployment (sometimes over 40%), very low education levels (less than 5% with a BAC+3), the highest levels of poverty (over 55% in the 3rd arrdt, 44% in the 2nd and 15th, 43% in the 1st and 42% in the 14th) and a very large immigrant population. In some cases, a strong PS vote may be accompanied by a strong FN vote, but in general, the strongest precincts for the left are generally very weak for the FN – in the aforecited link with maps, the FN apparently polled less than 10% in the HLM cités of Verduron (15th). The 8th sector, the only one where the PS came out ahead on March 23, includes the core of the quartiers nord - in the two arrondissements of this sector, 65% and 56% respectively live in a ZUS. These areas, including former villages such as Saint-André and Saint-Henri (16th arrdt), used to be working-class (tileries, Marseille’s harbour etc) areas, and consequently were PCF strongholds until not so long ago. Samia Ghali, the incumbent PS mayor of the sector, has a very strong political machine in those neighborhoods. In the 2nd sector, which includes Marseille’s two poorest arrondissements, the PS, as noted above, faced crippling competition from the PRG (Guérini stooge) incumbent, who likely received the full support of Guérini’s networks – Guérini is the general councillor for the canton of Marseille-Les Grands-Carmes since 1982 (replacing his father, who won the seat in 1951), which covers the bulk of the 2nd arrondissement.

In the 3rd sector, the PS had been counting on the illusory bobo vote which would swing the sector to the left. The 3rd sector, the key swing sector, is mix of downtown affluent and bobo middle-class area (Le Camas in the 5th, Cinq Avenues in the 4th) with more suburban right-leaning areas (with a significant FN base). The 5th arrondissement has seen a large influx of out-of-town residents, making it a highly mobile area. Indeed, the area has seen gentrification with a highly mobile young population settling in these accessible downtown areas; but there’s also a large older population, and Marseille’s (small) bobosphere is spread out of the 1st, 6th, 5th, 4th and even 7th arrondissements. The Cours Julien, often cited as Marseille’s main bobo drag, is in the 6th arrondissement (although it’s drowned by the UMP bourgeois areas, the particular bobo part of the 6th is solidly on the left and Mennucci likely did well there). The phenomenon may also have been overstated: Marseille remains a city famous for its social problems and high poverty, and the influx of a few out-of-towners doesn’t change the social reality… but the media would never let reality ruin a good story.

The UMP will hold Marseille on March 30. At first, there was a chance that Gaudin might have fallen short of an absolute majority, but that would require a PS victory in both the 1st and 2nd sectors, which now seems rather unlikely given the UMP-PRG alliance in the 2nd. The focus in Marseille will now focus on individual races: in the 1st sector, will Mennucci be able to save his own seat? In the 2nd sector, will Narducci’s voters follow her into the alliance with the UMP? In the 7th sector, finally, will Stéphane Ravier, ahead in the first round, win the triangulaire? There was heavy pressure on Hovsepian (PS) to withdraw because he placed third and the ‘danger’ of the FN victory in the sector – most pressure came from hypocrites in the UMP although some in the PS (agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll) also called on the PS list to withdraw. If the transfers from the FG are good, and Diouf’s voters split in favour of the left, the PS still has a chance at holding the sector. The FN, as always, has little reserves and faces the historical tendency for the FN’s vote to decline somewhat in triangulaires. Will this time be different?


1 25.94 19.12 6.18 33.45 11.27 3.1 0.91
2 27.22 47.12 11.52 4.84 6.05 3.23
3 38.63 28.01 12.36 5.41 9.79 4.64 1.12
4 34.26 26.46 8.56 10.02 11.87 2.84 1.93 0.83 3.1
5 36.29 35.65 11.31 4.58 8.16 3.03 0.93
6 26.79 50.06 10.41 3.13 6.19 3.4
7 38.81 23.84 13.04 7.75 10.87 3.62 0.89 1.14
8 40.30 23.2 18.44 5.43 7.73 3.16 1.7
9 45.67 22.10 13.78 5.61 7.53 3.66 1.62

In Lyon, the incumbent PS mayor Gérard Collomb is seeking reelection for a third term. After a massive landslide in 2008 which saw him effectively win by the first round, his results in 2014 are not as remarkable but his third term remains a lock. Collomb, in keeping with Lyon’s noted propensity for centrist and moderate mayors and politics, is a good fit for the city – he’s on the right of the PS, and has criticized the government on some issues. He has good relations with right-wing mayors in the Grand Lyon, and his landmark project to transform the Grand Lyon urban community into a de facto department will be going ahead in 2015. Although the city likes moderate politicians, the MoDem has been weak and was divided this year – Eric Lafond, a former member of the MoDem excluded from his party, ran centrist lists in every arrondissement but won only about 3%.

In the first round, Collomb’s PS lists topped the poll in all but three arrondissement, two of which (the 2nd and the 6th) are very affluent strongholds of the right. Indeed, in the 6th arrondissement, the most bourgeois arrondissement, the UMP list led by Dominique Nachury won outright with 50.1% against 26.8% for the PS (a major drop from the PS’ 43.3% in the 2008 landslide). In the 2nd, a central arrondissement on the Presqu’île, the UDI-led list won 47.1% against 27.2% for the PS.

The PS’ best results came from the 8th and 9th arrondissements, with 40.3% in the 8th and 45.7% for Collomb’s own list in the 9th. The 9th is an old industrial zone on the outskirts of the city; it includes La Duchère, a large low-income and ethnically diverse cité on the limits of the city (unemployment is over 30%, about 30% are immigrants and the area is classified as a ‘zone urbaine sensible’ or ZUS). The 8th, at the other end of the city, is also an old working-class area, with two large ZUS/cités (États-Unis and Mermoz) and other poorer peripheral neighborhoods.

It is also the FN’s strongest arrondissement, especially the poorer areas which are outside but close to the ZUS (which have significant immigrant populations); with 18.4%, the FN list led by the mayoral candidate and FN regional councillor Christophe Boudot is qualified for the runoff. The FN outperformed Marine Le Pen in every arrondissement; in 2010, she had only broken 10% in the 8th and 9th, peaking at 14% in the 9th.

The closest battle will be in the 5th, where the PS (36.3%) lead over the UMP (35.7%, list led by its mayoral candidate, Michel Havard). On the west of the city, the 5th includes the Vieux-Lyon (the city’s historic core), the Fourvière hill and church but also residential suburbs – both middle-class and lower-income HLMs. It voted for Sarkozy in 2012, with a distinctive split between the suburban outskirts (for Sarkozy, minus the lower-income HLMs for Hollande) and the urban area (for Hollande). With the PS and EELV (8.2%) lists merging, the PS should retain this key arrondissement. In the 3rd arrondissement, which was gained by the PS in 2008, the PS has a ten point lead in the first round over the UMP.

On the Presqu’île of Lyon, the left-wing stronghold of the 1st arrondissement showed interesting results. The 1st is centered on the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse (les Pentes), a formerly poor working-class area (famous particularly for its silk workers) which has since been extensively gentrified and is now a bustling cosmopolitan, young, professional (many journalists, artists, academics, young cadres etc) and highly-educated ‘bobo’ area. The incumbent ex-PS mayor Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert, who left the PS in 2013, ran for reelection in alliance with the FG. She placed first, with 33.5% against 25.9% for the PS. Like in Paris, the PS and FG found no agreement in Lyon, so the FG list in the 1st and 4th arrondissements (the 4th includes the similarly bobo Croix Rousse, but the right is stronger because it includes some wealthier and older areas in the west) are maintaining themselves in the runoff; in the 1st, the PS list is now led by the first round EELV candidate. If there is one interesting contest to follow in Lyon on March 30, it would be the battle of the lefts in Lyon-1.


Jean-Luc Moudenc (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 38.19%
Pierre Cohen (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 32.26%
Serge Laroze (FN) 8.15%
Antoine Maurice (EELV) 6.98%
Jean-Christophe Sellin (PG-FG) 5.1%
Christine de Veyrac (UDI diss) 2.45%
Élisabeth Belaubre (Cap21) 2.42%
Jean-Pierre Plancade (DVG) 2.12%
Ahmad Chouki (EXG) 1.67%
Sandra Torremocha (LO) 0.63%

The race in Toulouse, a left-leaning city which was governed by the right between 1971 and 2008, is a rematch of the 2008 election between then-mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc, now a UMP deputy for a constituency covering part of the city (and a few of its affluent UMP-voting suburbs) and Pierre Cohen, the PS candidate who narrowly won (with 50.4%). Cohen now has the advantage of incumbency and the city’s strong bias for the left (62.5% for Hollande in May 2012), which means that in such a climate against such a strong candidate, he has a fighting chance. But the results of the first round put him in a weaker position than was expected prior to the first round. Firstly, he trails the UMP by nearly 6 points. The merger with Antoine Maurice’s EELV list (7%) and the assumption that EELV’s votes will transfer well to him (a reasonable assumption, in my mind, but nothing precludes a surprisingly bad transfer to the PS) helps him out and tightens the contest. Transfers from the PG list, which won 5.1%, might not be as good because there was no merger between the PS and PG lists. On the right, Moudenc can count on a solid chunk of the first round FN vote (but not all of it) as well as nearly all of UDI MEP Christine de Veyrac’s tiny 2.5%.

Two polls have come out after the runoff, and they confirm one thing: the runoff is very tight and up in the air. CSA had Cohen ahead of Moudenc with 50.5%, while Ifop had Moudenc ahead with 50.5%. A repeat of the 2008 photo-finish appears to be the horizon.


Christian Estrosi (UMP-UDI)* 44.98%
Marie-Christine Arnautu (FN) 15.6%
Patrick Allemand (PS-EELV-MRC) 15.25%
Olivier Bettati (DVD) 10.13%
Robert Injey (FG) 5.38%
Philippe Vardon (Nissa Rebela) 4.44%
Jacques Peyrat (DVD) 3.69%
Michel Cotta (EXD) 0.63%

Very little suspense in Nice, where the popular incumbent Christian Estrosi (UMP), first elected in 2008, will be handily reelected – although it will be in the second round rather than by the first round. Nice nowadays is a right-wing stronghold, with 60.3% for Sarkozy in May 2012 (little indicating that the PCF was once a major force in Nice); the city’s population is significantly older than most other major cities (especially compared to young cities like Toulouse) and largely middle-class (employees, shopkeepers, intermediate grade professionals). The FN also has a long history in the city, which has been a base for the far-right since 1960s and the influx of pied noirs refugees from North Africa to the region. In the recent years, however, the FN’s support has been less impressive, with a portion of the FN’s old right-wing petit bourgeois electorate staying with Sarkozy’s UMP after 2007. In 2012, Marine Le Pen nevertheless won 23% (but that was down from her father’s 26.8% in 2002). In this election, the FN, which won a paltry 4% in 2008, was interested in a strong candidate but it had trouble finding one (it settled on Marie-Christine Arnautu, who had Jean-Marie Le Pen’s blessing) and the campaign faltered in the face of Estrosi’s popularity and his focus on criminality and security issues (Estrosi has a strong national profile on those issues, and finds himself on the right of the UMP as far as crime/immigration is concerned) which likely drew some FN voters. Arnautu nevertheless placed second, albeit with a mediocre result, while Estrosi’s result was over 10 points better than Sarkozy’s first round result in 2012. The left did very poorly, with only 15.3% for a PS-EELV list (and 5.4% for the FG, whose list hasn’t merged with that of the PS), down from 22% for Hollande in April 2012 and for Allemand’s list in 2008 (which also faced a dissident list, which had won 6.5%). On the right, Olivier Bettati, the dissident UMP general councillor for Nice-8, did rather well. Bettati is a former adjoint au maire, but his relations with Estrosi have always been quite cool and they’re now frigid (he is maintaining his list in the runoff). Another right-wing, however, had less success: Jacques Peyrat, a former FN deputy and the former mayor of Nice (1995-2008) who was defeated by Estrosi in 2008, won only 3.7% – he had taken 23.1% in 2008. Peyrat, who had allied with his former colleagues in the FN in 2011 and 2012, now was left all alone without any partisan support. On the far-right, Philippe Vardon, the leader of the local extremist Nissa Rebela party, a regionalist and far-right (neo-fascist, skinhead type) party, won 4.4%.

Estrosi will glide to victory in the second round, with a huge majority.


Johanna Rolland (PS-PCF-PRG-UDB)^ 34.51%
Laurence Garnier (UMP-UDI-PCD) 24.16%
Pascale Chiron (EELV) 14.55%
Christian Bouchet (FN) 8.14%
Sophie Van Goethem (DVD) 5.59%
Guy Croupy (PG-Alternatifs-GA-NPA) 5.04%
Pierre Gobet (DVD) 4.3%
Xavier Bruckert (MoDem-UDI diss) 2.1%
Hélène Defrance (LO) 1.16%
Arnaud Kongolo (Ind) 0.46%

Nantes has been governed by the PS since 1989, and current (soon to be former?) Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was mayor between 1989 and 2012. The PS had already gained Nantes in 1977, ending 30 years of right-wing rule (but CNIP mayor André Morice, from 1965 to 1977, governed with an anti-Gaullist and anti-communist alliance including centre-right and Socialists); the shift followed the general shift of Brittany and the inner west from Christian democratic centre-right to moderate centre-left – a movement which was spearheaded by urban areas, and followed only later by more suburban and rural areas (except those rural areas already on the left prior to the 1970s). Nantes has since become a left-wing stronghold, with 61.5% for Hollande in May 2012, although the UMP retains a resilient base in bourgeois areas to the west of the historic centre. In the first round, Johanna Rolland, a young (34-year old) première adjointe and protege of Ayrault, placed first with 34.5% against 24.2% for Laurence Garnier, a UMP municipal councillor who is also 34. In 2008, Ayrault had won reelection by the first round, with 55.7% against 29.9% for the UMP, but at the time, the Greens were on his list by the first round (as they had since 1995). EELV and the PS in Nantes have been quite at odds for the past few years, because of a disagreement of national proportions on the construction of a new international airport for Nantes (and Rennes) in Notre-Dame-des-Landes: the PS, spearheaded by Ayrault and most of the PS leadership nationally (except its left-wing), has strongly supported the project, while EELV has strongly opposed the project. The crisis has had repercussions on national politics, notably as it concerned the behaviour of EELV’s cabinet minister serving in a government which supports the airport. Running independently, EELV performed very strongly, with 14.6%. As these maps show, EELV did best in downtown central Nantes, a young and well-educated area with a high proportion of cadres (professionals). Its results, predictably, were far less impressive in the low-income cités located on the outskirts of the city.

The disagreements on Notre-Dame-des-Landes did not prevent EELV and PS from reaching a merger agreement quickly. The runoff will oppose the PS-EELV and the UMP, and the PS will win without much trouble.


Fabienne Keller (UMP-MoDem) 32.92%
Roland Ries (PS)* 31.24%
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser (FN) 10.94%
Alain Jund (EELV) 8.52%
François Loos (UDI) 7.55%
Jean-Claude Val (FG) 3.96%
Tuncer Saglamer (Ind) 2.63%
Armand Tenesso (DVD) 1.08%
Pierrette Morinaud (LO) 0.73%
Élisabeth Del Grande (POI) 0.4%

Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital, is one of the UMP’s top targets and it has high hopes that Fabienne Keller, the UMP mayor of the city between 2001 and 2008, will take her revenge on PS mayor Roland Ries, who had defeated her in a landslide six years ago. Although Alsace is one of France’s most conservative regions, Strasbourg is often a pink ‘spot’ on the map – in 2007, Sarkozy won the city by a hair and Hollande won it with 54.7%. The city had traditionally been governed by centrists in the post-war era (from 1959 to 1989), but the PS held it between 1989 and 2001 and in the interwar years, when Alsatian politics were heavily influenced by a pro-German autonomist movement, Strasbourg had a Communist (autonomist) mayor between 1929 and 1935! In 2008, with the unfavourable national climate and public divisions within the UMP administration, Keller was steamrolled, trailing by ten points in the first round and losing 58 to 42 in the second round. This year, although Ries has the advantage of incumbency, and unlike the PS in 2001 and the UMP in 2008, no apparent divisions in his ranks, the cards have changed with the unpopularity of the PS government. In the first round, Keller came out narrowly ahead, with 32.9%, against 31.2% for the incumbent. Both are down from their 2008 results (although Keller improves on Sarkozy’s 27.5% in April 2012), but Ries especially so – down nearly 13 points. The runoff will be very tight. Keller has merged with the UDI list led by former cabinet minister and deputy François Loos, which won 7.6%, while Ries has merged with the EELV list, which won 8.5% (improving on the Greens’ 6.4% in 2008).

The bad news for the UMP in this extremely tight runoff is that it will be a triangulaire. The FN is usually weak in Strasbourg (11.9% in 2012), but with 10.9% this year, it narrowly surpassed the crucial 10% threshold. Although in such circumstances it is likely that the FN’s vote will drop somewhat in the second round (to 9% or so), with the defectors likely voting UMP (or PS, for a smaller share), the UMP’s dreams of reconquering Strasbourg might very well be thwarted by the FN’s qualification for the runoff. A poll by Ifop showed Ries leading Keller by 1 point, 46 to 45, with 9% for the FN. Ries wins 79% of Jund’s voters, Keller wins 82% of Loos’ voters and also 23% of the first round FN vote.

Rue89 Strasbourg has published excellent interactive maps by precinct. Fabienne Keller (UMP) won her best results in the north of the city, specifically the affluent central neighborhoods of L’Orangerie and Contades and the comfortable middle-class suburban neighborhood of Robertsau; in these areas, the UMP candidate won over 40% of the vote, in some cases 45-50%, in most precincts. The left has made gains in downtown Strasbourg, the result of ‘boboisation’ and gentrification – Ries won most polls in the Gare, downtown, Esplanade and Krutenau – these are predominantly young areas with large student populations (Esplanade, downtown), a large proportion of professionals, high levels of education but they also remained socially mixed areas, evidenced by the large proportion of social housing Esplanade and some poorer areas in the Gare area, a formerly working-class area close to the railway depot. Alain Jund won double digit results in the downtown, Gare and Krutenau; the FN is generally weak (predictably), but there remains substantial FN support in the more downtrodden precincts (Esplanade, Vauban) where social housing is dominant.

Both the UMP and PS split roughly equal in the Neudorf, a populous residential area south of downtown, traditionally lower middle-class or working-class but which has seen gentrification, bringing a younger and more educated population. The FN has substantial support in the poorer parts of the Neudorf. Further south, Ries won strong numbers in the cités of the Neuhof and Meinau, low-income working-class neighborhoods; but the UMP and FN were strong in the suburban residential areas surrounding these cités – the FN is particularly strong in the Neuhof, where its candidate won over 20% in numerous polls outside the cités – lower middle-class suburban areas with comparatively low unemployment but a low-income population with low levels of education and CSP- jobs (employees, workers). These are also in proximity to the cités, which have a large Muslim immigrant population (the halo effect of FN support).

Ries was also very strong in the cités on the western periphery of Strasbourg – with over 40% support in Hautepierrre, a large neighborhood of 1960s-era HLMs and social housing tracts for the working-class. Turnout in these areas is very low – below 40%, even 30%, in most cases. Ries also won most polls in the similarly low-income and working-class neighborhoods of Cronenburg Ouest, Koenigshoffen and Elsau; but, once again, he was defeated by the UMP and FN in the similarly low-income (marginally better off) but residential and white(r) suburban precincts. The FN won between 15 and 20% in parts of Elsau and Montagne Verte. In these kinds of neighborhoods, the left at all levels has lost support (while gaining in places such as the Neudorf and downtown).

It is also worth pointing out some very strong results in Hautepierre, Cronenburg and Elsau for Tuncer Saglamer, a ‘citizen’ candidate of Turkish descent (according to Rue89, he is known for ties to an organization which is supportive of the governing Turkish AKP). He won over 20% in Cronenburg, about 15% in Elsau and 10% in Hautepierre. Certainly, the candidate’s Muslim faith, shared with many inhabitants of these cités attracted many voters, dissatisfied with politics in general. Similar lists – listes citoyennes (citizens’ lists) – drawn from civil society in the banlieues have won some substantial support in other cities (especially in the 93), drawing on locals’ dissatisfaction with both left and right (and they won’t vote FN, for obvious reasons) and the sentiment that politicians in the PS take them for granted and use them as pawns in their electoral machines or for clientelist purposes (a very fair assessment).


Jean-Pierre Moure (PS-EELV-PRG-MRC)^ 25.27%
Philippe Saurel (DVG-PS diss) 22.94%
Jacques Domergue (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 22.72%
France Jamet (FN) 13.81%
Muriel Ressiguier (FG) 7.56%
Joseph Francis (UDI diss) 4.52%
Thomas Balenghien (NPA-FASE-PG diss) 2.05%
Maurice Chaynes (LO) 0.89%
Annie Salsé (POI) 0.24%

Montpellier, a young, professional and university city, is a left-wing stronghold – Hollande won 62.4% here in May 2012, and the PS has governed the city since 1977. However, this year, there is a highly contentious battle on the left for the mayor’s seat. Incumbent PS mayor Hélène Mandroux, described as a weak politician with little weight in metropolitan and regional politics and internal PS politicking, was forced to ‘retire’ despite her initial intentions to run again. Intervention from Paris ensured that she didn’t cause trouble. The official PS candidate is Jean-Pierre Moure, the current president of the agglomeration community who, in that position, gradually asserted his power over the local PS organization and rallied to his side most of the frêchiste Socialists – supporters of former mayor and regional president Georges Frêche, excluded from the PS in 2010 for anti-Semitic statements but who was reelected to the regional presidency in a landslide in 2010 (crushing an official PS list led by Mandroux in the first round) and who retained much weight and power in the PS in the Montpellier region until his death in October 2010. Moure, who is allied with EELV, very strong in Montpellier (18.9% in the 2008 runoff), faced a strong dissident candidacy – Philippe Saurel, a member of the governing majority considered close to interior minister Manuel Valls who had refused to participate in the primaries. In the first round, Moure came out ahead, with 25.3%, but Saurel placed a strong second with nearly 23%. Jacques Domergue, a former UMP deputy, placed third with a paltry 22.7% (which is, however, the right’s usual first round base in Montpellier). The FN is weak in Montpellier, with 13.7% for Le Pen in 2012, but 13.8% was enough for France Jamet, a FN regional councillor to qualify for the runoff.

The rivalry and bad blood on the left was enough to preclude any miraculous coming-together of the two PS lists. Despite calls from Ayrault, Valls, PS leader Harlem Désir and most of the PS leadership, Saurel has decided to maintain his list in the second round. The media, always looking for a scoop, is saying that this four-way runoff opens the door to a UMP gain on the back of the left’s divisions. While that cannot be ruled out, it looks fairly unlikely: with no FN reserves to fall back on because the FN is qualified as well, the UMP has little reserves except that of a UDI dissident who won 4.5%. The runoff will be tight, and again the UMP has an outside chance at sneaking up the middle to win, but it is hard to predict which of Moure, Saurel and Domergue will emerge as the winner.

An Ifop poll confirmed that the runoff is very close: it showed Saurel leading Moure by 1 point, 31 to 30, with the UMP in a threatening third at 26% and the FN stable at 13%.


Alain Juppé (UMP-UDI-MoDem)* 60.94% winning 52 seats
Vincent Feltesse (PS-EELV) 22.58% winning 7 seats
Jacques Colombier (FN) 6.06% winning 2 seats
Vincent Maurin (FG) 4.59%
Yves Simone (Ind) 2.58%
Philippe Poutou (NPA) 2.5%
Fanny Quandalle (LO) 0.51%

Hollande won 57.2% in Bordeaux in May 2012, thanks to strong results in Saint-Michel (historically working-class, now increasingly hip and gentrifying young area, albeit with persistent poverty and high unemployment) and peripheral ZUS (La Bastide, northern Bordeaux Maritime etc), although the UMP retains, in national elections, a very strong base in Caudéran and Bordeaux’s western neighborhoods which are very affluent. But at the municipal level, it has been a Gaullist stronghold since 1947 – first under Jacques Chaban-Delmas, mayor from 1947 to 1995, and since 1995 with Alain Juppé. The PS has made big gains at the national level, most emblematically with Juppé’s defeat in a central Bordeaux constituency in the 2007 legislative elections to a little-known PS candidate, signaling a shift to the left in the well-educated and professional middle-class areas (downtown, Saint-Augustin, Saint-Genès). Nevertheless, the right has remained thoroughly dominant in municipal elections – since at least 1971, the election has always been decided in the first round. This year was no different. Juppé was reelected with 60.9%, which is the best result for the right since 1983, against only 22.6% for Vincent Feltesse, the PS president of the urban community (CUB). The PS’ result is down about 12 points from its performance in 2008, when it had won a respectable 34.1% against 56.6% for Juppé. The FN, weak in Bordeaux (8.2% in 2012), nevertheless was represented on city council between 1989 and 2008 thanks to first round victories for the UMP allowing it to win seats by winning over 5% of the vote. In 2008, it fell to only 2.6%. This year, with 6%, it regains a two-seat bench on the city council.

The UMP is also in a favourable position to regain control of the CUB, which has been presided by the PS since 2004 because of the PS’ control of most of Bordeaux’s largest suburbs (Mérignac, Pessac, Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, Cenon, Lormont etc). But, in addition to the big defeat in Bordeaux, the left lost a few small suburban communes to the right in the first round and it is in a difficult position against the UMP in the runoff in Pessac, the CUB’s third largest city with over 58,000 inhabitants. Alain Juppé, who already presided the CUB from 1995 to 2004, would likely be president of the CUB if the UMP wins control.

Juppé’s excellent result increases speculation about a potential presidential candidacy in 2017. Juppé is one of the most popular politicians in France, with a 52-35 favourable rating in the Ipsos March 2014 barometer, with 76% favourable opinions with UMP sympathizers (ranking second behind Sarkozy) and 47% favourable opinions with PS sympathizers (making him the most popular right-wing politician on the left). Juppé has a moderate, pragmatic and consensual image; he remained neutral in the UMP’s 2012 civil war and escaped unharmed and he has a positive record as mayor of Bordeaux. Juppé ranks a very distant second behind Sarkozy (but miles ahead of both Copé and Fillon) when UMP sympathizers are asked their favourite 2017 presidential candidates.


Martine Aubry (PS-PRG-MRC)* 34.86%
Jean-René Lecerf (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 22.73%
Éric Dillies (FN) 17.15%
Lise Daleux (EELV) 11.08%
Hugo Vandamme (FG) 6.17%
Alessandro Di Giuseppe (Church of the Most Holy Consumption) 3.55%
Jacques Mutez (DVG) 1.88%
Nicole Baudrin (LO) 1.47%
Jan Pauwels (NPA) 1.1%

Lille is a PS stronghold, with 62.4% for Hollande in May 2012. Historically an industrial city dominated by the textile industry (along with a smaller metallurgical industry), it has a long history of working-class activism and socialist politics – Gustave Delory, from Jules Guesde’s POF, was elected mayor in 1896 and the Socialists have governed Lille since 1919, except for the German occupation and an ephemeral right-wing Gaullist mayor from 1947 to 1955. Famous Socialist leaders including Roger Salengro (mayor, 1925-1936), Augustin Laurent (1955-1973) and Pierre Mauroy (1973-2001) have all served as mayors of Lille. As an industrial and poor working-class city, Lille suffered the effects of deindustrialization and its population declined between the 1960s and the 1990s; it also gained a bad reputation as a dreary and depressed post-industrial city. However, under Mauroy and now Martine Aubry (mayor since 2001), Lille’s reputation and economic health have improved considerably thanks to the development of a strong tertiary economy. As a university city, it is also an ‘ideopolis’. Old working-class neighborhoods such as Wazemmes and parts of Moulins, alongside the regenerated Vieux-Lille have seen gentrification, with a young population of students or single professionals. However, many old working-class neighborhoods of the city – Lomme, Faubourg de Béthune, Lille-Sud, Moulins, Fives and Hellemmes – remain low-income neighborhoods with high unemployment, low qualifications and CSP- jobs (employees, workers); they are classified as ZUS. The PS has very strong support in these deprived areas, but it also polls strongly in Wazemmes and parts of downtown, the Vieux-Lille and Saint-Maurice Pellevoisin. The right remains strong in the old bourgeois neighborhoods in the old town and Vauban-Esquermes. Martine Aubry, the PS mayor since 2001, is very popular and has a good record at promoting the revitalization and regeneration of Lille, notably with cultural events. She was reelected handily in 2008, with 46% in the first round (despite the Greens winning 11%) and 66.6% in the runoff after a merger with the Greens and MoDem. Her reelection this year was never in doubt. In the first round, however, her performance was rather mediocre, with 34.9% (although it is close to Hollande’s 35% in April 2012, which was her level in 2001, when she faced a stronger Green list (15.5%). The main beneficiary, besides abstention (52.6%) was the FN and not the UMP. UMP senator Jean-René Lecerf won barely one point more than what the UMP’s Sébastien Huyghe had won in 2008; however, the FN, which qualified for the runoff in 1995 and 2001, saw its support increase from 5.7% to 17.2% (far better than Marine Le Pen’s 13%), its best showing in a municipal election. The FN has strong support in Lomme, Hellemmes, Fives and Lille-Sud; the FN won 26% in the associated commune of Hellemmes this year.

The runoff makes little doubt. With the support of EELV, whose list predictably merged with the PS, Aubry will be handily reelected.


Nathalie Appéré (PS-PCF-UDB-PRG)^ 35.57%
Bruno Chavanat (UDI-UMP-MoDem-PCD-PB) 30.12%
Matthieu Theurier (EELV-PG-Ensemble) 15.09%
Gérard de Mellon (FN) 8.37%
Caroline Ollivro (Regionalist/federalist) 3.82%
Rémy Lescure (MoDem diss-Pirate) 3.4%
Valérie Hamon (LO) 1.69%
Alexandre Noury (LaRouchite) 0.97%
Pierre Priet (POI) 0.96%

Rennes is a left-wing stronghold – Hollande won 67.2% of the vote in May 2012, and it has been held by the PS since 1977. The left finds strong support in nearly every part of the city – the low-income peripheral cités (Villejean, Maurepas, Le Blosne, Bréquiny), middle-class neighborhoods, students (Rennes is a major university town) and the young professional population of the city centre. In 2008, Daniel Delaveau, the PS mayor of the suburban town of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande, easily succeeded the longtime mayor, Edmond Hervé, who had been mayor since 1977. Delaveau won 47% in the first round and 60% in a three-way runoff with the UMP (27%) and MoDem (12.2%). Delaveau, who has been in active politics since 1983, did not seek reelection this year. The PS candidate to replace him was Nathalie Appéré, the 38-year old deputy for the 2nd constituency since 2012. This was somewhat controversial because she was a public opponent of the cumul des mandats, yet she hasn’t, to my knowledge, pledged to step down as deputy upon her election as mayor (she is under no legal obligation to do so until 2017). Her first round performance is down over 10 points from the PS’ 2008 result, largely benefiting Matthieu Theurier, the candidate of a EELV-PG alliance. As a relatively young, middle-class, university ‘ideopolis’, Rennes offers a strong base for EELV – the Greens had won 8.9% in 2008 and the Greens won the city in the 2009 EU elections. The EELV-PG list won 15%, and has merged with the PS list, not without creating some issues. The right’s candidate, UDI municipal councillor Bruno Chavanat, backed by the UMP (and the MoDem, although the MoDem’s 2008 candidate, Caroline Ollivro, ran as a regionalist/federalist), did relatively well and the FN’s candidate did better than the FN in 2012. In the second round, Appéré will win handily, albeit with a majority significantly reduced from the PS’ 2008 majority.

The right had more success in suburban Rennes: it gained Bruz (the second largest commune in Rennes Métropole) by the first round, the UDI incumbent Grégoire Le Blond in the solidly leftist Chantepie was reelected handily and the UMP is very likely to gain Cesson-Sévigné from the PS (the third largest commune in Rennes Métropole).


Arnaud Robinet (UMP-UDI) 39.63%
Adeline Hazan (PS-PCF-EELV)* 38.29%
Roger Paris (FN) 16.01%
Karim Mellouki (PG-PCF diss-Ensemble) 3.41%
Thomas Rose (LO) 2.65%

Reims, controlled by the right since 1983 (and, except for a PCF mayor between 1977 and 1983, the city has a moderate and centre-right tradition), was gained by the PS’ Adeline Hazan in 2008, thanks to the divisions of the right (two UMP rivals in the first round: Renaud Dutreil and Catherine Vautrin) – the transfers from Dutreil, who won 23% in the first round, to Vautrin (the candidate backed by the retiring DVD mayor and the MoDem) were so bad that Hazan won with 56% in the runoff. She faces a much more difficult reelection – the city has no clear partisan lean (a slight edge to the left), with Hollande winning with 53% in 2012 but Sarkozy (in 2007) and Chirac (in 1995) both winning with about 51%. The left finds strong support in the peripheral areas of the city, poorer areas with social housing projects; the right is very strong in the central core, which is affluent. The FN has significant support, with 18% in 2012, with the best numbers in the peripheral cités and lower middle-class residential suburbs. In the first round, the UMP candidate, Arnaud Robinet (a deputy in the National Assembly, Dutreil’s heir of sorts), who has united the divided right around his name (Vautrin is second on his list), won 39.6%. Hazan did fairly well, with 38.3%, down from 42% in 2008 but beating Hollande’s numbers from the first round in 2012 (30%). The FN won 16%, and their qualification may be just enough to save Hazan (a PS-UMP runoff would have been fatal for her). Nevertheless, the runoff will be extremely tight.

Other major races


Gaël Perdriau (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 36.74%
Maurice Vincent (PS-PCF-PRG)* 31.34%
Gabriel de Peyrecave (FN) 18.3%
Olivier Longeon (EELV) 5.41%
Belkacem Merahi (PG) 4.18%
Hubert Patural (DVD) 2.39%
Romain Brossard (LO) 1.64%

Saint-Étienne was another major pickup for the PS in 2008: Maurice Vincent, benefiting from a triangulaire with former UDF-MoDem deputy Gilles Artigues, defeated UMP incumbent Michel Thiollière, ending 25 years of centre-right rule. Saint-Étienne was a major industrial centre – one of France’s first industrial cities in the mid-19th century – set in the middle of a (now shut down) coal basin and a very industrial valley (the Gier valley, known for mining, metallurgy, weapons manufacturing etc). However, it has never been a left-wing stronghold, although the PCF had strong support and it briefly held the city hall between 1977 and 1983; nevertheless, Hollande won 58% in 2012 – polling strongly in the low-income cités with a large immigrant population (Montreynaud, Montchovent, Tarentaise-Beaubrun-Severine). Saint-Étienne has suffered from deindustrialization and struggle to reinvent itself – its population has been consistently declining since 1968, and unemployment is high. In this context, the FN is a strong presence in the city, having qualified for the runoff in every municipal election between 1989 and 2001 and with 17.6% for Marine Le Pen in April 2012. The incumbent PS mayor, Maurice Vincent, faces a very tough runoff, despite a triangulaire with the FN. The right’s candidate, Gaël Perdriau (UMP), has managed the unlikely feat of uniting the disparate and divided right (still reeling and fighting amongst itself from the 2008 defeat) – the UMP, Gilles Artigues (now UDI) and supporters of Thiollière. He won 36.7% in the first round, against 31% for the incumbent. The FN also did very well, with 18%, a result better than that of Marine Le Pen in 2012. The triangulaire will be difficult for Vincent, who did not reach a merger agreement with EELV, which won 5%.

The right is likely to regain Saint-Chamond, an industrial town in the Gier valley which the PS gained from the right in 1989. The incumbent PS mayor already trailed in the first round, with 24.6% against 33.8% for a DVD, which faced competition from a UMP list which took 18.7% (it has withdrawn) and the FN (15.6%).


Éric Piolle (EELV-PG-Alternatifs) 29.41%
Jérôme Safar (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC-Cap21)^ 25.31%
Matthieu Chamussy (UMP-UDI-AEI) 20.86%
Mireille d’Ornano (FN) 12.56%
Philippe de Longevialle (MoDem) 4.56%
Denis Bonzy (DVD) 3.53%
Lahcen Benmaza (Ind) 1.82%
Catherine Brun (LO) 1.19%
Maurice Colliat (POI) 0.81%

Grenoble, a left-wing stronghold (64% for Hollande), has a highly interesting contest – fought largely on the left – to succeed retiring PS mayor Michel Destot, who has been mayor since 1995. The outgoing mayor’s heir-apparent, Jérôme Safar (PS, allied with the PCF), had a substantial lead in polling and was considered as the favourite despite stiff competition from Éric Piolle (EELV), a regional councillor supported by the PG. When Piolle placed first, beating Safar, it was a major surprise and there is now a very real possibility that, nearly out of the blue, Grenoble – a major city with a population of 157,000 – will elect a EELV mayor. The right is structurally weak in Grenoble (only 21% for Sarkozy in April 2012), and it continues to suffer from the effects of Alain Carignon, the RPR mayor of Grenoble between 1983 and 1995 whose political career ended in disgrace due to corruption scandals for which he served jail time. Carignon has attempted to return to active politics since 2007, and did so again this year, firstly by trying to become the UMP candidate and then by lobbying for an eligible spot on the UMP list led by Matthieu Chamussy, the leader of the municipal opposition. Chamussy tried to resist Carignon’s lobbying, but the UMP leadership in Paris (led by Copé) briefly withdrew its nomination from Chamussy after he demoted Carignon. A compromise was reached and Carignon is ninth on the UMP list. In the first round, Chamussy placed a distant third with 20.9%, while Piolle won 29.4% against 25.3% for the PS. The FN did well, with 12.6%, enough to qualify for the runoff in a city where the party is usually rather weak.

There was strong pressure, especially from EELV and parts of the PS, for Safar to withdraw from the runoff given the left-wing tradition of the runner-up dropping out in favour of the first-placed left-wing candidate. However, given wide policy differences between the two candidates, no agreement of any kind was reached and Safar has maintained his candidacy. The PS has withdrawn its endorsement from Safar. Safar has been endorsed by MoDem candidate Philippe de Longevialle, who was a member of Destot’s governing majority. The second round will be extremely tight. On the basis of the first round, Piolle has an edge, but given the MoDem candidate’s endorsement and other unpredictable factors (turnout, vote transfers etc), it is still possible that Safar can pull it out. It remains rather unlikely, as in Montpellier, that the weak UMP will be able to benefit from the left’s divisions enough to actually win, but stranger things have happened.

Grenoble is a young and highly-educated city with a strong academic and research orientation. Politically, the city has been noted for its progressive and ‘New Left’ traditions - former mayor Hubert Dubedout (1965-1983) is recognized as a model of ‘municipal socialism’ and his administration was a laboratory for innovative and utopian urban policy projects. The Greens have a strong base in the city – in the 2008 elections, the Greens won 15.6% in the first round and 22.5% in the second round. A gain by EELV, in alliance with the PG and other ‘alternative’ forces of the left outside the PS (often on bad terms with the PS) would be a major victory for EELV, and would be emblematic of the potential strength of opposition to the PS on the left.

This website has maps by precinct for each candidate. EELV is particularly strong in Berriat, in the west of the city, with support over 40% in a number of polls and over 30% in most other polls, spilling over into the downtown area. Berriat is a gentrified, formerly working-class, neighborhood which has a vibrant young and middle-class population. There is also strong support downtown, which is where the UMP did well, with decent support in the most affluent polls. EELV also performed well, along with the PS, in the southeastern end of the city – a rather low-income area developed up in the 1960s; the support for EELV there would indicate that it didn’t only appeal to the typical bobo clientele, but also had some support in the quartiers populaires (although EELV did poorly in Teisseire, another large low-income ZUS).


Christophe Béchu (UMP) 35.91%
Frédéric Béatse (PS-PCF-EELV)* 26.77%
Jean-Luc Rotureau (PS diss) 16.2%
Laurent Gérault (UDI) 7.44%
Gaétan Dirand (FN) 6.73%
Nathalie Sévaux (Ind) 3.29%
Martin Nivault (PG-NPA-Ensemble) 2.1%
Marie-José Faligant (LO) 0.93%
Hubert Lardeux (POI) 0.6%

Angers, which has been held by the PS since 1977, is one of the UMP’s main targets. Its candidate, the president of the general council Christophe Béchu had already come extremely close to defeating PS mayor Jean-Claude Antonini in 2008, winning 49.4% in the runoff after having placed first in the first round with 45.6%. Playing in the UMP’s favour this year (besides national trends) is the division of the left: incumbent PS mayor Frédéric Béatse, who has been in office since 2012, faced a challenge from Jean-Luc Rotureau, a PS councillor who lost a 2012 internal vote to decide Antonini’s successor (won by Béatse) and saw his request for open primaries rejected. The situation after the first round, however, isn’t catastrophic for the PS: Béchu’s result, down about 10 points from his 2008 result, is hardly brilliant – although he does lead the PS by nearly ten points. Rotureau did as well as polls predicted he would – which is rather well but not in a position to actually win himself. Rotureau has chosen to withdraw from the runoff, but he makes no endorsement. Similarly, UDI candidate Laurent Gérault (7.4%) didn’t merge with the UMP. Although Béchu remains the favourite, given that transfers from the dissident to the official PS candidate will probably be rather poor, there does remain a small outside possibility that the PS will miraculously save this city, which gave 57% to Hollande in May 2012.


Maryse Joissains-Masini (UMP)* 37.79%
Édouard Baldo (PS) 19.65%
Bruno Genzana (UDI) 11.32%
Catherine Rouvier (FN) 10.34%
François-Xavier de Peretti (DVG-PS diss-PRG) 8.11%
François Hamy (EELV) 4.88%
Anne Mesliand (FG) 4.78%
Jean-Louis Keïta (Ind) 2.82%
Najia Jennane (DVG) 0.24%

Despite everything – defeat in 2012, a political profile which is a bit out of place for the city (very right-wing in a city which, while centre-right, has trended to the left and is generally affluent, young, liberal and with a large student population), major divisions in the majority and an open judicial investigation for corruption – the incumbent UMP mayor, Maryse Joissains-Masini, in office since 2001, remains the favourite to win reelection (and perhaps ensure a smooth mid-term transition to her daughter, Sophie Joissains, a UDI senator). In the first round, she handily won first with a huge margin over her closest rival, PS candidate Edouard Baldo. Her result, 37.8%, is also up from her result in the 2009 by-election and Sarkozy’s first round showing in Aix in 2012. The only danger for her is that all her opponents are on bad terms with her: Bruno Genanza (UDI), a former ally, ran a list with other UMP dissidents, and won 11.3% – he has chosen to withdraw but hasn’t endorsed Maryse. That being said, the PS really doesn’t look like it is anywhere close to victory. It did not reach a merger agreement with François-Xavier de Peretti, the son of a former UDF mayor who ran a list made up of centrists (like him, he’s an ex-MoDem), PS dissidents and others with the backing of Guérini; because EELV and the FG won less than 5%, there can’t be a merger with them either. With this situation, Maryse will likely be reelected, and probably with room to spare – unlike in her past three elections (2001, 2008, 2009) which were all won by a hair.


Serge Babary (UMP-UDI) 36.42%
Jean Germain (PS-PCF-MoDem)* 27.82%
Gilles Godefroy (FN) 12.93%
Emmanuel Denis (EELV) 11.3%
Claude Bourdin (PG-Ensemble-NPA) 8.35%
Anne Brunet (LO) 1.67%
Claire Delore (POI) 0.48%

Held by the PS since Jean Germain defeated longtime conservative strongman Jean Royer (mayor from 1959 to 1995, famous for his failed foray into national politics as a very socially conservative candidate in the 1974 presidential election) in 1995, Tours may now switch to the right. Likely weakened by natural fatigue after 13 years in office, Jean Germain has also been the focus of recent controversy for which he was indicted (for embezzlement) in October 2013. In a time of media scrutiny into those cumulards – parliamentarians with several local offices – Germain has also been cited as one of the most cumulard politicians in France (he’s a senator). After the first round, Germain, unforeseen by polls, is in a very difficult position. He trails the UMP candidate, Claire Delore, by about 9 points and is far below his 2008 result (46.7%). However, all hope is not lost for him and the PS: with 12.9%, which is a bit better than what Le Pen won in 2012, the FN is qualified for the runoff in a triangulaire against the PS and UMP. The EELV list, which has merged with Germain’s PS list, provides him with a significant reserve and a PG list also polled well. Serge Babary has very little potential reserves, except first round FN voters who will vote UMP in the second round, while Germain’s reserves – on paper – are much better. Yet, it remains a close contest.


Brigitte Fouré (UDI-UMP-MoDem) 44.79%
Thierry Bonté (PS-EELV)^ 24.65%
Yves Dupille (FN) 15.54%
Cédric Maisse (PG) 8.86%
Bruno Paleni (LO) 2.55%
Nicolas Belvalette (DVG) 2.17%
Mohamed Boulafrad (DVG) 1.4%

Gained by the left in 2008, Amiens is now nearly certain to switch back to the right on March 30. Brigitte Fouré, a UDI general councillor and a former mayor of Amiens (between 2002 and 2007), running in tandem with UMP deputy Alain Gest, took a decisive lead in the first round, with 44.8% against only 24.7% for Thierry Bonté, a vice-president of the agglomeration community who won the PS primaries to succeed retiring one-term mayor Gilles Demailly (PS). Even if the FN qualified, with 15.5%, and the left theoretically has wider reserves than the right, with such a decisive advantage in the first round, there is little doubt that Amiens will switch to the right. Amiens, historically a fairly working-class city, was governed by Socialists until 1971 and by the PCF between 1971 and 1989, before being gained by Gilles de Robien (UDF), who lost reelection in 2008. Hollande won nearly 60% of the vote in Amiens in May 2012, largely due to strong results in the old working-class neighborhoods and the post-war peripheral cités.


Dominique Gros (PS-PRG-EELV)* 35.68%
Marie-Jo Zimmermann (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 34.24%
Françoise Grolet (FN) 21.32%
Jacques Maréchal (PG) 3.57%
Stéphane Aurousseau (NPA-FASE) 3.31%
Mario Rinaldi (LO) 1.36%
Marie-Jeanne Becht (POI) 0.52%

The situation for the PS in Metz is rather positive. The Socialists gained the city, which had been governed by the right for ages, in 2008 – but only due to a very divided right, split between 4 lists in the runoff and 2 in the second round. The city is also historically right-leaning, and Hollande won only 51.7% in Metz in May 2012, performing best in the lower-income ZUS (Borny, Bellecroix, the north) but also winning young middle-class bobo areas in the central area. Nevertheless, after the first round, PS mayor Dominique Gros is in a relatively favourable position, although still vulnerable. He leads the field with 35.7%, up from 34% in the first round in 2008 – although this time he won’t benefit from a divided right. UMP deputy Marie-Jo Zimmermann leads a united right, winning 34% in the first round. The FN, led by regional councillor Françoise Grolet, performed very well, winning 21.3% – a result substantially better than Marine Le Pen’s 17.3% and past FN results in municipal elections. The FN has very strong support in the city’s lower-income areas, but especially in lower middle-class suburban residential neighborhoods. The second round remains quite open: the PS has potential reserves to its left, but transfers from the far-left are notoriously poor and the PG may not be any better. The race will certainly be decided by a handful of votes.


Louis Aliot (FN) 34.18%
Jean-Marc Pujol (UMP-UDI)* 30.67%
Jacques Cresta (PS-PCF) 11.87%
Clotilde Ripoull (DVC) 9.62%
Jean Codognès (EELV) 5.66%
Philippe Simon (CDC) 2.81%
Stéphanie Font (NPA) 2.24%
Axel Belliard (DVG) 1.89%
Liberto Plana (LO) 1.01%

Perpignan is the largest city in which the FN has a real chance of winning, although it remains a long shot. Perpignan is very favourable terrain for the far-right: it has a substantial pied noir population since the 1960s (although that is never enough to explain the far-right’s success in the region), a large immigrant population, high unemployment (16%), a generally lower middle-class population, major concerns over security and a depressed and pauperized downtown which has seen shops close down. Marine Le Pen won 22.5% in Perpignan in April 2012, and her boyfriend, Louis Aliot, has built a substantial base and network in the city over the past few years. In the first round, Aliot led with 34.2%, with incumbent UMP mayor Jean-Marc Pujol, who is seeking his first full term in office, trailing with 30.7%. The left did extremely poorly, with only 11.9% for Jacques Cresta, a PS deputy and 5.7% for Jean Codognès, a former Socialist who has since joined EELV. Jacques Cresta, following the ‘logic’ of the ‘republican front’ against the FN (which is not and has never really been a thing), dropped out, turning it into a two-way battle between the UMP and the FN. Although recent experience shows that the FN can make remarkable gains, including from first round PS voters, in two-way runoffs against the UMP, it remains an uphill battle for the FN to win here. Its reserves are still sparse. A CSA poll showed Pujol leading Aliot 59 to 41.


Yvon Robert (PS-PCF)* 30.24%
Jean-François Bures (UMP-MoDem) 23.29%
Patrick Chabert (UDI) 13.62%
Guillaume Pennelle (FN) 13.38%
Jean-Michel Bérégovoy (EELV) 11.09%
Raphaëlle Brangier (PG) 5.33%
Clément Lefèvre (NPA) 1.93%
Frédéric Podguszer (LO) 1.03%

Traditionally a fairly bourgeois city surrounded by a very industrial, proletarian and socialist region to the south, Rouen has moved to the left quite substantially – with Hollande, who was born in Rouen, winning 59% of the vote (with strongest support in low-income cités, such as Le Plateau, but also some gentrified and bobo areas downtown). Governed by the right and centre since 1945, the PS gained the city in 1995 but lost it to a centrist in 2001. In 2008, the PS regained Rouen in the first round. The incumbent PS mayor, Yvon Robert, took office when Valérie Fourneyron was named to cabinet in 2012; but he had previously served as mayor between 1995 and 2001. Although a poll had shown him to be in little trouble, the results of the first round indicate that he could be vulnerable. He leads with 30.2% against 23.3% for the UMP, with the FN placing a very solid fourth with 13.4% – a result up on Marine’s performance in the city in 2012. On the left, the mayor’s list has merged with that of EELV, which won 11.1%. On the right, the UDI list led by Patrick Chabert and senator Catherine Morin-Desailly has merged with the UMP list. Assuming orderly and clean transfers from EELV to the PS and from the UDI to the UMP, the left retains a small advantage and is left with more reserves than the right, with the PG winning 5%.


Jean Rottner (UMP-UDI)* 42.17%
Pierre Freyburger (PS-EELV-PRG-MoDem) 31.39%
Martine Binder (FN) 21.85%
Aline Parmentier (FG) 3.06%
Julien Wostyn (LO) 1.53%

An old industrial city – known as the ‘French Manchester’ – Mulhouse has a Socialist tradition, having elected a SFIO mayor in 1925; however, the Socialist tradition in Mulhouse has always been very moderate and anti-communist: Émile Muller, the Socialist mayor from 1956 to 1981, left the PS in 1970 in opposition to the alliance with the PS and later joined the UDF (leading a small Social Democratic Party within the UDF made up of other moderate anti-communist Socialist dissidents refusing the alliance with the PCF) and Jean-Marie Bockel, the PS mayor from 1989 to 2010, was very much on the PS’ right-wing (declaring his model to be Blair’s Third Way) and left the PS to join Sarkozy’s government in 2007. He was reelected in 2008 with the support of the right. Bockel retired in 2010, although he remains president of the agglomeration community, and Jean Rottner (UMP) became mayor, allegedly as part of a deal signed in 2007 with Sarkozy. The city has shifted to the right, especially the far-right, since deindustrialization hit the city hard after 1973, but Hollande still won 52%. The PS remains strong in old working-class neighborhoods and peripheral ZUS with a large immigrant population. The FN has a solid base of support in Mulhouse, although it was stronger in the 1990s – Le Pen senior won 26.7% in the 1995 election, while his daughter won ‘only’ 17.5% in 2012; at the municipal level, thanks to strong local candidates (Gérard Freulet, who even won the canton of Mulhouse-Nord in a cantonal election in the 1990s, won 30.5% in 1995 and 34.5% in the runoff; it still won about 26% split between the MNR and FN in 2001; in 2008, with FN regional councillor Patrick Binder, it won 14.3% in the runoff). In a more favourable climate, the PS could have regained Mulhouse (after all, in 2008, Bockel was reelected by a hair – 43.2% vs 42.6%); but in the current climate, it stands no chance. The UMP incumbent (Bockel is fifth on the list) came out far ahead of the PS in the first round, with 42.2% against 31.4% for the PS, a former premier adjoint when Bockel was in the PS and a general councillor. The FN, represented by Martine Binder, a regional councillor and the wife of Patrick Binder, did very well with 21.9% of the vote, a result significantly better than the FN’s 2012 presidential election. The UMP will win easily in the runoff; the PS’ potential reserves on the left being woefully insufficient.


Joël Bruneau (UMP) 30.79%
Philippe Duron (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 26.21%
Sonia de la Provôté (UDI-MoDem) 18.01%
Rudy L’Orphelin (EELV) 10.22%
Philippe Chapron (FN) 7.31%
Étienne Adam (Ensemble-NPA-PG) 5.81%
Pierre Casevitz (LO) 1.62%

The PS is in serious danger of losing Caen, a city which it gained in 2008, breaking the right’s dominance over the city since 1945. The city has been shifting left, with Hollande taking 60.7% in May 2012. However, in the first round, the UMP candidate, regional councillor Joël Bruneau, placed first with 30.8% against a paltry 26.2% for incumbent PS mayor Philippe Duron, who had won by a landslide in 2008. The right also has wider and deeper reserves than the PS does: Bruneau’s list merged with the UDI list, led by general and municipal councillor Sonia de la Provôté, which won a solid 18%. With the FN failing to qualify for the second round, it also provides the UMP with a small reserve. On the left, the PS merged with the EELV list, which won 10%. On these numbers, it seems likely that the PS, which had finally gained Caen after decades of coming up short (with Louis Mexandeau), might lose it after only one term.

Saint-Denis (93)

Didier Paillard (FG-EELV-MRC)* 40.21%
Mathieu Hanotin (PS) 34.3%
Houari Guermat (UMP-UDI) 8.78%
Georges Sali (DVG) 7.74%
Stanislas Francina (DVD) 4.09%
Catherine Billard (NPA) 2.74%
Philippe Julien (LO) 2.12%

A working-class and heavily industrialized town in Paris’ suburban Red Belt, Saint-Denis has been a PCF stronghold since 1922 and, more broadly, a left-wing stronghold (77.8% for Hollande in May 2012, Sarkozy only won 12% in the first round). It remains a low-income suburb, with a very high immigrant population, high unemployment and a very young population. The PCF’s all-around dominance in Saint-Denis and the whole department has been challenged by the PS and, in most national elections, the PCF is no longer the largest party in Saint-Denis. In 2012, in a major blow, the PS gained Saint-Denis’ constituency from the FG. This year, that new PS deputy, Mathieu Hanotin, is seeking to topple what is the largest city in France governed by the PCF and one of the longest-standing PCF bastions in the country. In the first round, incumbent PCF mayor Didier Paillard, backed by EELV, led Hanontin by about 6 points. However, the PCF-PS runoff will be very close. The UMP candidate, with 8.8%, failed to qualify for the runoff, and those right-wing supporters who turn out on March 30 are far more likely to support the PS to turf the PCF mayor (as has happened in other cases, notably in Montreuil in 2008, when the right contributed to Dominique Voynet’s defeat of the Communist incumbent). But there’s also a PS dissident, who seems to hail from the party’s left, who won 7.7%, and it’s hard to tell which way his voters (if they turn out) will lean.

In neighboring Aubervilliers, gained by the PS from the PCF in 2008, ending PCF dominance since 1945, the incumbent PS mayor Jacques Salvator narrowly trails former PCF mayor Pascal Beaudet, 32.1% to 32.9%. Unlike in Saint-Denis, the UMP candidate did qualify (12.3%), which changes the dynamics of the runoff somewhat. Like in Saint-Denis, however, it is impossible to say whether the PS or PCF will win.


Laurent Hénart (UDI-UMP-MoDem)^ 40.47%
Mathieu Klein (PS-PCF-EELV-PRG) 35.75%
Pierre Ducarne (FN) 6.91%
Frank-Olivier Potier (DVD) 6.17%
Bora Yilmaz (PG) 5.44%
Denis Gabet (DVD) 4.03%
Christiane Nimsgern (LO) 1.19%

The PS was confident that it could gain Nancy, a bourgeois white-collar city governed by the right since the war but shifting fast to the left (55% for Hollande in May 2012). The incumbent UDI mayor, André Rossinot, in office since 1982, is retiring this year in favour of his dauphin, former deputy Laurent Hénart, who lost reelection in a constituency covering nearly all of the city in 2012. The PS had a strong candidate, Mathieu Klein, a young vice-president of the general council, and two polls before the first round gave the PS a narrow advantage over Hénart in both the first and second round. So when the first round results fell, it was a major blow for the PS’ hopes in Nancy. With 40.5%, Hénart leads Klein by nearly 5 points. And with the FN usually quite weak in Nancy, there will be no triangulaire here which would arrange things for the left. Laurent Hénart will win comfortably in the runoff.


Jean-Pierre Brard (CAP) 25.54%
Patrice Bessac (FG) 18.8%
Manon Laporte (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 16.68%
Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi (EELV)^ 15.25%
Mouna Viprey (DVG) 10.95%
Razzy Hammadi (PS) 9.8%
Aline Cottereau (NPA) 1.93%
Aurélie Jochaud (LO) 1%

Montreuil was the ultimate left-wing civil war. The city, historically a poor working-class town in the Red Belt, was governed by the PCF between 1945 and 2008 (although the mayor since 1984, Jean-Pierre Brard, had left the PCF in 1996 for the CAP) until Brard lost reelection to Green senator Dominique Voynet, who had the backing local dissident Socialists (the PS officially supported Brard’s reelection bid) and the votes of right-wing voters whose candidates had failed to qualify for the second round. Voynet’s term was a disaster, with her heterogeneous majority beginning to divide in 2010 over her decision to raise taxes over the opposition of some of her PS allies. Facing certain defeat, Voynet preferred not to run for reelection, but she was widely seen as the driving force and master behind Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi, the EELV candidate. The city is a big prize, and attracted many contenders on the left. Jean-Pierre Brard has retained a strong base in Montreuil since his defeat, although he lost his seat as deputy in 2012 to the PS’ Razzy Hammadi, a former PS youth leader who had difficulty getting elected anywhere. However, Brard’s age and his autocratic tendencies make him a polarizing figure and his candidacy faced strong opposition. The FG, which had backed Brard’s reelection bid in 2012, supported PCF regional councillor Patrice Bessac; the PS candidate was Razzy Hammadi, supported by the powerful PS boss of the department, Claude Bartolone (who has been eager to destroy the remnants of PCF outposts in the 93). There was also a PS dissident, Mouna Viprey, who had been excluded from the PS for supporting Voynet in 2008 and served as an adjointe au maire under Voynet (until 2010).

In the first round, Brard narrowly led, with a fairly weak 25.5%. Bessac, as predicted, placed second with 18.8%. The right did about as well as it could, united behind a single candidate (Manon Laporte, the wife wife of former rugby coach and junior minister for sports Bernard Laporte). Razzy Hammadi, meanwhile, suffered an extremely embarrassing defeat, being the only one of the five main left-wing candidates to fail to qualify for the runoff, winning a terrible 9.8%. The FG, EELV and PS lists merged to form some kind of common front against Brard, although Mouna Viprey refused to join this heterogenous alliance and is maintaining her candidacy in the runoff. The alliances of FG, EELV and the PS add up to a total of 44%, which would place them miles ahead of Brard. However, perfect transfers of that kind are far from certain, and there remains a significant dose of uncertainty as to the conclusion of this ultimate left-wing civil war and four-way runoff. has produced some handy maps of the support for the five left-wing candidates. They both show a very clear split between the Bas-Montreuil, in the west, and the Haut-Montreuil, in the east. The Bas-Montreuil, which used to be a poor proletarian area, has been very gentrified and now has a mixed population of young, well-educated professionals and cadres (many journalists, artists etc) but also poorer immigrant families and young families; the Haut-Montreuil, developed in the post-war years to accommodate a growing working-class population, is marked by grands ensembles (housing estates/HLMs) and significantly lower levels of education and less CSP+ jobs. It is worth pointing out that while Bas-Montreuil is wealthier and more professional, it isn’t an affluent area – unemployment remains high, incomes are still rather low by national standards, precarious work is high and there is a growing wealth gap between the poor and the richer residents. In 2008, Voynet’s support had been heaviest in the Bas-Montreuil, while Brard remained dominant in the poorer Haut-Montreuil. This year, Brard won over 35% in most polls in the east of the city, while polling in the low teens (placing third or fourth) in the gentrified Bas-Montreuil. Hammadi’s vote was more evenly spread out, with stronger results in both ends of the city. FG candidate Patrice Bessac did best in the Bas-Montreuil. EELV and Viprey also polled best in the Bas-Montreuil.


Philippe Lottiaux (FN) 29.63%
Cécile Helle (PS-EELV) 29.54%
Bernard Chaussegros (UMP)^ 20.9%
André Castelli (FG) 12.46%
André Seignon (UDI-MoDem) 4.79%
Stéphane Geslin (EXG) 1.41%
Kader Guettaf (DVG) 1.23%

The result in Avignon has sparked a lot of interest, a lot in the form of silly concern trolling. The FN candidate, a Parisian who only moved to Avignon in November, placed first with 29.6% of the vote – a result significantly better than Le Pen’s 20.5% in 2012. The FN finds very strong support in lower middle-class banlieues pavillonnaires located outside the historic heart of the city - these areas suffer or feel, directly or indirectly, problems such as high unemployment, poverty, cost of living pressures, immigration (there are large immigrant concentrations in low-income and troubled ZUS located nearby) and criminality. Cécile Helle, a PS regional councillor, placed a very close second with 29.5%, 27 votes behind the FN candidate. The current UMP mayor, Marie-Josée Roig, who has held the office since 1995, is retiring and leaves office facing corruption and nepotism allegations. Her heir, Bernard Chaussegros, is a low-key businessman who suffers from low name recognition and may be dragged down by the corruption allegations marring the UMP incumbent’s retirement. Like Lottiaux, Chaussegros, although born in the Vaucluse, moved back from Paris only a year ago.

The FN’s result led Olivier Py, the director of the Avignon festival, a popular theater festival held in the city’s historic heart during the summer months, to warn that he would ask for the festival to be moved if the FN won. He claims that the FN would manipulate and use the festival to its own advantage, either to present itself as a more respectable party or to promote the FN’s own cultural visions – very nationalistic, hostile to foreign culture and alternative forms of cultural expression. Both the FN and UMP candidates have criticized Py, with Lottiaux saying that Py is not the owner of the festival and is spreading fear. While Py’s reaction is totally legitimate and understandable given the record of previous FN local administrations on cultural issues, there is a risk that it could strengthen the FN; or, at the very least, have no effect because FN voters are unlikely to be swayed by a cultural festival.

Although nearly 30% in undoubtedly an excellent result for the FN, a lot of the concern in the media is overstating things. It was not a massive ‘surprise’ to see the FN place first: the last poll had placed it at 27%, two points behind the PS, so within the margin of error for first place. Fairly low turnout (57.2%) should also be kept in mind, although despite less votes being cast than in April 2012, Lottiaux did win more votes than Le Pen had in the first round. Finally, the odds of the FN winning are low. It has no reserves, while Cécile Helle merged with the FG list led by PCF general councillor André Castelli, which won 12.5%, down from 14% in 2008. Even if transfers from the FG to the PS are less than perfect, it should be more than enough for her to win.


François Bayrou (MoDem-UMP-UDI) 41.85%
David Habib (PS)^ 25.76%
Yves Urieta (Ind/DVD) 13.2%
Georges De Pachtere (FN) 6.74%
Eurydice Bled (EELV) 5.34%
Olivier Dartigolles (FG) 5.32%
Mehdi Jabrane (Ind) 1.75%

After falling short in 2008, François Bayrou, three-time presidential candidate and MoDem leader, is favoured to become mayor of Pau. Although he had personally endorsed Hollande over Sarkozy in 2012, Bayrou is running with the support of the right, and he will be elected thanks to the votes of the right. Obviously, the UMP was not universally keen on endorsing Bayrou – many in the party have not forgiven him for endorsing Hollande in 2012. However, thanks to the support of his friend Alain Juppé, Bayrou won the endorsement of the UMP. In the first round, Bayrou won 41.9%, beating his PS opponent, David Habib (a deputy and mayor of a neighboring town) by about 16 points. In addition to the national mood, the PS has been weakened by divisions over the succession of retiring one-term mayor Martine Lignières-Cassou: the outgoing mayor’s preferred candidate was not selected (he ranked third on the PS list) and Habib was alleged to be removing many incumbent councillors from his list. Bayrou also ran a fairly strong campaign, focusing exclusively on the local aspects – he refused to speak to or even be followed by national media crews, and he has said that he wouldn’t run for President in 2017 (his mayoral term would expire in 2020). In third place, former mayor Yves Urieta (2006-2008), a former Socialist who ran for reelection in 2008 with the support of the UMP, won 13% running as an independent centre-right candidate. Although qualified, he chose to withdraw without endorsing anybody. Many of his votes should transfer to Bayrou, who will win the second round handily.

La Rochelle

Anne-Laure Jaumouillié (PS)^ 30.21%
Jean-François Fountaine (DVG-PS diss-PRG) 28.79%
Dominique Morvant (UMP-UDI) 18.91%
Jean-Marc de Lacoste-Lareymondie (FN) 8.51%
Jean-Marc Soubeste (EELV) 6.04%
Jessica Dulauroy (DVG) 3.78%
Thierry Sagnier (Ind) 2.7%
Antoine Colin (EXG) 1.01%

La Rochelle is the other major left-wing battle. The candidacy and subsequent defeat of Ségolène Royal by a local PS dissident in the 2012 legislative elections has left major cracks in the PS machine of retiring mayor Maxime Bono, who had endorsed Royal. The candidate backed by the mayor, Anne-Laure Jaumouillié, a 34-year old teacher who has been a municipal councillor since 2008, won the PS primaries by 34 votes over Jean-François Fountainea veteran 62-year old politician who is vice-president of the CA La Rochelle. Fountaine, who was a regional councillor between 1992 and 2010, and had a very public spat with Ségolène in 2008 and strongly supported Falorni in 2012 (which led to his falling out with Bono). Alleging irregularities, he refused to withdraw and ran as a dissident candidate. In the first round, the two PS candidates ended up with similar results: 30.2% for Jaumouillié against 28.8% for Fountaine. Like in 2012, the left-wing civil war also drew down the UMP vote – the UMP’s candidate won 24.5% in 2008 (Bono was reelected by the first round) and Sarkozy won 24.2% in April 2012. A small but significant number of right-wingers likely voted for Fountaine by the first round. However, unlike Olivier Falorni in June 2012, he will not be able to benefit from the full backing of the UMP (the UMP candidate didn’t qualify for the runoff in 2012 but did so this year). Nevertheless, an Ipsos poll found Fountaine leading Jaumouillié by 5 points, 45 to 40, with 15% for the UMP. Only 55% of the UMP’s first round voters, according to the polls, were still supporting the UMP candidate, while Fountaine drew 31%. He is also pulling 22% of FN voters.


Robert Ménard (FN-DLR-MPF-RPF) 44.88%
Élie Aboud (UMP)^ 30.16%
Jean-Michel Du Plaa (PS-EELV) 18.65%
Aimé Couquet (FG) 6.29%

Béziers will likely elect a far-right mayor on March 30, in the person of Robert Ménard, the former boss of Reporters Without Borders, who claims to be an ‘independent’ and to have never voted for the FN, but who is backed the FN. Béziers, located in the Hérault department, is socially similar to Perpignan: a very large pied noir population, high unemployment, a pauperized downtown, security concerns, an aging population (many retirees) and a lower middle-class population of shopkeepers and employees. Although polls had shown a swing to Ménard over the course of the campaign, no pollster had predicted that Ménard would come out with such a huge lead in the first round – he was ahead by only a few points in poll, but on March 23, he lead UMP deputy Elie Aboud, the candidate to succeed retiring UMP mayor Raymond Couderc, by nearly 15 points. Given that Le Pen only won 25.7% in April 2012, Ménard had substantial crossover appeal to other voters, presumably on the right.

Ménard would likely have won even in a two-way runoff with the UMP, but, unlike in Perpignan, the PS candidate, who has no chance, has not dropped out. Totally unassailable, Ménard will win handily on March 30. An Ifop poll showed him winning 47 to 31, with the PS candidate winning 22%.


Simon Renucci (CSD)* 36.57%
Laurent Marcangeli (UMP-UDI-Bonapartist) 35.17%
Joseph Filippi (Aiacciu Cità Nova-Nationalist) 10.78%
José Risticoni (FN) 8.31%
Anne-Marie Luciani (DVG) 3.83%
Jacques Billard (DVD) 2.78%
François Filoni (Ind) 2.56%

The incumbent centre-left mayor of Ajaccio since 2001, Simon Renucci, faces a very close contest for reelection against UMP deputy Laurent Marcangeli, who had defeated Renucci in the 2012 legislative election. In the first round, Renucci won 36.6% against 35.2% for his UMP rival. Joseph Filippi, a nationalist candidate backed by both moderate autonomists (Femu a Corsica) and the separatists (Corsica Libera), placed third with 10.8%. He remains qualified for the runoff, so the result will be decided by the behaviour of those who voted for other minor candidates, such as the FN.


Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP-UDI)* 45.47%
Bruno Piriou (FG) 22.33%
Carlos da Silva (PS) 21.14%
Martine Soavi (DVG) 4.71%
Mohamed Chabbi (DVG) 3.41%
Jean Camonin (EXG) 2.91%

Corbeil-Essonnes is a low-income, working-class suburban town in the Essonne department which is solidly left-wing at the national level (63% for Hollande) but which has been governed by the right since 1995, after 36 years of Communist rule. The local right is led by UMP senator Serge Dassault, a businessman who remains owner of Le Figaro and leading player in the family enterprise, the aeronautics and weaponry giant Dassault. Dassault was mayor until 2009, when he was declared ineligible for public office in a vote buying case from the 2008 election (when he defeated the PCF 50.7% to 49.3%). His protege, Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP), won a 2009 by-election and another by-election in 2010, has also been indicted for benefiting from vote buying and electoral corruption organized by Dassault in the last 3 elections. In the first round, Bechter placed first with 45.5%. The left remains very divided: the FG candidate, PCF general councillor Bruno Piriou, narrowly defeated his PS rival, deputy and general councillor Carlos da Silva, 22.3% to 21.1%. Both lists have merged, although da Silva is only 31st on the new FG-PS list. Despite the UMP’s wide lead in the first round, a left-wing victory remains possible if (and only if) transfers from the various left-wing candidates to Piriou go off without a hitch.


Jean Zuccarelli (PRG-PCF)^ 32.51%
Gilles Simeoni (Inseme per Bastia) 32.34%
François Tatti (DVG-PRG diss-PS-EELV) 14.64%
Jean-Louis Milani (UMP) 9.73%
Eric Simoni (Corsica Libera) 5.4%
Sylvain Fanti (DVD) 3%
Jean-François Baccarelli (AEI) 2.34%

Bastia is a very interesting and highly contested race. The incumbent PRG mayor, Émile Zuccarelli, who has been mayor since he succeeded his father in 1989, is retiring – in favour of his own son, Jean Zuccarelli, who was defeated in the 2012 election while trying to regain his father’s old seat in the National Assembly from the UMP. Politics in Corsica are very family and clan-based, and political dynasties often last for hundreds of year: the city of Bastia has been governed by the Zuccarelli clan since 1888. Émile’s decision to have his son, Jean, replace him alienated François Tatti, a former ally who saw himself as Zuccarelli’s heir, and Tatti ran as a dissident with the support of Emmanuelle de Gentili (PS) and EELV. But the strongest competition came from Gilles Simeoni, a moderate nationalist leader who is the son of nationalist icon Edmond Simeoni. In the first round, Zuccarelli placed first with 32.5%, 29 votes ahead of Gilles Simeoni (32.3%). Zuccarelli is in a very difficult position against an heterogeneous anti-Zuccarelli alliance between the nationalists, Tatti’s dissidents and the UMP (the list is led by Simeoni, with de Gentili in second, Tatti in third and the UMP candidate in fifth).


Steeve Briois (FN) 50.25% winning 28 seats
Eugène Binaisse (PS-PCF-EELV)* 32.04% winning 6 seats
Gérard Dalongeville (DVG) 9.76% winning 1 seat
Georges Bouquillon (MRC) 4.05%
Jean-Marc Legrand (DVD) 3.88%

It was one of the most remarkable victories of the first round in a highly symbolic city for the far-right. FN candidate Steeve Briois, Marine Le Pen’s local lieutenant and ally in her adoptive electoral home in the Pas-de-Calais, was elected mayor of Hénin-Beaumont with 50.3% against 32% for the PS-PCF-EELV list led by incumbent mayor Eugène Binaisse (PS). Former mayor Gérard Dalongeville, arrested in 2009 for embezzlement, placed a distant third with 9.8%. Hénin-Beaumont, like most of its surroundings, is a poor former mining town in the coal mining basin of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The mines closed down by the 1990s, leaving behind a very poor area with few employment opportunities, high unemployment, low incomes, degraded public services, a tired old left-wing clientelistic machine and a population which is largely forced to commute long distances to find jobs in larger centres (Douai, Lille). In Hénin-Beaumont itself, the PS was historically the dominant party over the PCF, having governed the city since 1953. The PS in the Pas-de-Calais has been very weakened by factional conflict and endemic corruption; this has been especially true in Hénin-Beaumont itself, where Dalongeville was removed from office because of corruption and financial mismanagement in 2009 and the PS has struggled to lift itself up. The FN, led by Marine and Steeve Briois (who has been active in politics in the area since the 1990s, has managed to benefit from the socioeconomic reality of the place and the PS’ troubles, and set up a strong local machine. The FN speaks openly of its aims to recreate a tradition akin to ‘municipal communism’, providing services to its constituents. In the next six years, the town will receive disproportionate media attention as everybody tries to evaluate how the FN manages the city.


Florian Philippot (FN) 35.74%
Laurent Kalinowski (PS)* 33%
Éric Diligent (DVD) 18.99%
Alexandre Cassaro (UMP) 12.25%

In eastern Moselle’s old coal mining basin, another FN leader - vice-president Florian Philippot – is seeking to establish his own local roots. Forbach, the largest city in the Moselle’s coal basin, is a working-class and economically depressed (14% unemployment, declining population since 1982) town. Despite being very working-class, like most of the coal basin in Moselle, it is historically right-wing (51.5% for Sarko in 2012). The right governed the city between 1953 and 2008, and generally held the corresponding canton for most of that time as well. The incumbent PS mayor, Laurent Kalinowski gained the city in 2008 because of a very divided right. In 2012, Kalinowski was elected deputy, narrowly defeated Philippot in a two-way runoff – the UMP deputy was eliminated by the first round. Although local left-wingers are quick to point out that Philippot is a carpetbagger with little local knowledge of the place (Philippot is a well-educated and polished technocrat) and only plays on residents’ fears, he has nonetheless managed to establish a strong base for himself. There were only four candidates in the first round, all four qualified and there was no alliance on the right or ‘republican front’ behind the PS incumbent to defeat the FN. This puts Philippot in a strong position to win, having placed first in the first round with 35.7% against 33% for the PS. There is an outside chance of some anti-FN strategic voting in favour of the PS: UMP deputy Céleste Lett, the mayor of Sarreguemines, has endorsed the PS incumbent to defeat the FN. The prospect of a FN victory also worries Forbach’s cross-border German partners: as a border city, Forbach has close ties with cities and the regional government of the Saar in Germany. Both the CDU and SPD in the Saar have signaled concern about the prospect of the FN winning.


Sonia Lagarde (Calédonie ensemble) 36.28%
Gaël Yanno (UCF-UMP) 34.66%
Jean-Claude Briault (R-UMP-Avenir ensemble-LMD-MoDem)^ 15.42%
Jean-Raymond Postic (FLNKS-UC-PT-LKS) 6.86%
Marie-Claude Tjibaou (FLNKS-UC diss-FLNKS-Palika-PS) 4.57%
Bertrand Cherrier (Ind) 2.2%

In New Caledonia’s capital and largest city, there was an interesting battle on the right, the dominant force in an overwhelmingly white European and anti-independence city. The right was divided between Calédonie ensemble (moderate centre-right, allied to the UDI) deputy Sonia Lagarde; the old Rassemblement-UMP, the dominant force of the local right but increasingly challenged from all parts since 2004, split between Jean-Claude Briault, backed by retiring mayor Jean Lèques, the party leadership (Pierre Frogier) and the president of the government Harold Martin’s centre-right Avenir ensemble and Gaël Yanno, a municipal councillor and deputy for Nouméa until his defeat by Lagarde in 2012. Yanno’s supporters, strong in Nouméa, split from the R-UMP in 2013 over Frogier’s conciliatory policy towards the nationalists and received the support of the metropolitan UMP and Copé. In the first round, Lagarde and Yanno dominated, with 36.3% and 34.7% respectively, while the candidate of the governing majority won only 15.4%. He chose to withdraw from the second round. Lagarde won the second round with 51.6% against 48.4% for Yanno.

Other contests

In Le Havre, incumbent UMP mayor Edouard Philippe was reelected in a landslide by the first round with 52% against 16.7% for Camille Galap (PS-EELV), 16.4% for Nathalie Nail (FG) and 13.4% for the FN. Le Havre, an industrial and fairly working-class city, leans to the left but it has been held by the right since 1995. It was governed by the PCF between 1965 and 1995.

In Toulon, incumbent UMP mayor Hubert Falco was reelected to a third term with 59.3% against 20.5% for the FN and 10.1% for the PS.

The incumbent PS mayor of Dijon, François Rebsamen, remains the favourite for a third term in office. He won 44.3% in the first round, against 28.3% for the UMP and 12.7% for the FN.

Similarly, the PS faces little difficulty in the lower-income Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, which has been held by the party since 1947. Incumbent PS mayor Jean-Paul Bret won 41.5% in the first round against 22.5% for the UMP, 17.5% for the FN and 15.8% for EELV. EELV has been rather strong in Villeurbanne, which has seen some degree of gentrification and is increasingly middle-class rather than working-class. The EELV list did not withdraw, so it will be a four-way runoff. In neighboring Vaulx-en-Velin, a poorer working-class suburban town and old PCF stronghold (since 1929), the PS list ended up narrowly ahead of the incumbent PCF mayor, 27.1% to 26.1%; the UMP won 17%. The second round will oppose the PS, PCF and UMP – two independent lists withdrew, one (16.8%) merged with the PS and the other (10.5%) with the PCF.

In Le Mans, incumbent PS mayor Jean-Claude Boulard placed first in the first round with 34.7% against 21.1% for the UMP, 15.2% for the FN and 11.3% for a UDI list. The UMP and UDI lists merged, but there was no similar merger between the PS and the FG (9.1%), which may weaken the PS. The runoff will be close, although the PS likely retains a narrow advantage.

In Nîmes, the UMP incumbent, Jean-Paul Fournier, is in little trouble after the first round. He won 37.2% against 21.8% for the FN, 14.7% for the PS and 12% for the FG. No list has withdrawn, so it will be a four-way runoff, meaning that the left has no chance of victory.

In Brest, PS mayor François Cuillandre should win a third term. In the first round, he won 42.5% against 27.6% for Bernadette Malgorn (UMP), a regional councillor and former regional prefect; another UMP candidate, municipal councillor Laurent Prunier, won 9.9%. The runoff will presumably go in the PS’ favour. In the second largest city in the Finistère, Quimper, however, the PS is in deep trouble. Incumbent PS mayor Bernard Poignant, a close friend and ally of Hollande, trailed the UMP in the first round, 27.9% to 29.3%. A MoDem list led by incumbent municipal councillor Isabelle Le Bal won 14.9% and merged with the UMP list. A EELV list (7.6%), a left-wing regionalist (6.1%) and the PG (5.8%) may provide Poignant with some reserves, but he remains in a very difficult position against the UMP-MoDem, which can additionally count on some share of the FN’s 8.4%.

In Clermont-Ferrand, an open seat held by the PS, PS candidate Olivier Bianchi won 31% in the first round against 24.9% for the UMP, 12.7% for the FN, 11.5% for FG-far left candidate Alain Laffont and 8% for Michel Fanget (MoDem), a former UDF deputy. The PS remains the favourite, given its merger with Laffont’s list, while there was no similar alliance between the UMP and the MoDem on the right.

In Limoges, an old Socialist stronghold, PS mayor Alain Rodet faces a potentially difficult runoff. In the first round, he won 30% against 23.8% for the UMP, 17% for the FN, 14.2% for the FG (which has withdrawn) and 12.3% for the centre (which merged with the UMP). An Ipsos poll after the first round showed Rodet ahead by 6, 46 to 40 against 14% for the FN.

Jean-Louis Fousseret, the incumbent PS mayor of Besançon, a city governed by the party since 1953, should hold on in a tight contest. He won 33.6% in the first round against 31.6% for the UMP, with the FN qualifying for the runoff with 11.8%. The FG won 7.1% and a DVG candidate took 6.2%.

The right-wing battle in the affluent Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt turned to the advantage of incumbent mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet (UMP, ex-UDF) who won 48.8%. In second, Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel (UMP), backed by former mayor/senator Jean-Pierre Fourcade, Juppé and local UMP (elected as a dissident in 2012) deputy Thierry Solère, won 27.9%. In the extremely affluent suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Sarkozy’s old stronghold before the presidency, the incumbent UDI député-maire, Jean-Christophe Fromantin, begrudgingly backed the UMP which failed to recruit former cabinet minister Michèle Alliot-Marie to challenge him, was reelected easily with 66.5% against 18.1% for Bernard Lepidi (DVD),  a self-described Sarkozyst candidate. In neighboring Levallois-Perret, incumbent UMP mayor Patrick Balkany had no trouble, winning reelection by the first round with 51.6%. Balkany, in office since 1983, has strong support at home but he’s a highly controversial guy, being mixed up in countless corruption scandals and with a fiery temper (during the campaign, he stole a TV crew’s camera when they asked him about his latest indictment for corruption). His closest rival was Arnaud de Courson (32.4%), an anti-Balkany right-wing general councillor who defeated Isabelle Balkany in a Levallois cantonal by-election a few years ago. In neighboring Clichy, the PS mayor Gilles Catoire faces a very close battle. He won 25.3% in the first round, against 21.9% for the UMP and 20.7% for Didier Schuller (UDI), a former RPR general councillor attempting to restart his political career after a corruption scandal in the 1990s forced him into exile in the Caribbean. An EELV list won 11.4%, and a PRG list won 8.1%. The EELV list has not withdrawn, citing major differences and disagreements with Catoire; the PRG list merged with Schuller’s UDI list, while the UMP remains in the race as well.

The incumbent UMP mayor of Orléans, Serge Grouard, was reelected with 53.6% against 23.2% for the PS, 10.3% for the FN and 8.3% for the FG.

In Argenteuil, a low-income suburban community in the Paris region, PS mayor Philippe Doucet is in trouble. He placed second, with 41.8%, against 44.2% for Georges Mothron, the former UMP mayor between 2001 and 2008 and deputy between 2002 and 2012 (when Doucet defeated him). The FG won only 6.6% in a city which was a PCF stronghold between 1945 and 2001. In close by Cergy, the PS is also locked in a close battle against the UMP: 43.2% against 42% for the PS and UMP respectively in the first round, with the FG at 7.6%.

Roubaix, France’s poorest major city and a depressed old textile town in the Lille region, incumbent PS mayor Pierre Dubois placed second with 20.4% against 21.3% for the UMP, with the FN coming in very strong with 19.3%, and a PS dissident, André Renard, winning 10.1%. Renard’s list merged with another PS dissident list, led by former adjoint Richard Olszewski (7.9%) while the incumbent mayor merged his list with Slimane Tir’s EELV list, which took 8.8%. The incumbent PS mayor of Tourcoing Michel-François Delannoy, reelected by the first round in 2008, is also in difficulty with 39.2% against 37.7% for young UMP deputy Gérald Darmanin. The FN, which won 17.5%, may allow the PS to narrowly save this old textile town. In Halluin, an old working-class town on the Belgian border which is increasingly a middle-class suburb, the PS may lose this city to the UMP, which won 40% against 33.8% for the PS in the first round. UMP victories in Roubaix, Halluin and Tourcoing may very well allow the UMP to gain control of the Lille urban community, currently led by Martine Aubry, the PS mayor of Lille.

In Poitiers, the PS mayor Alain Claeys should hold on. He won 35.7% in the first round against 24% for the UMP, 15.3% for EELV (which maintains its list) and 12% for the FN.

In the Seine-Saint-Denis, there were several interesting results. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, gained by the PS in 2008, the UMP’s young copéiste candidate Bruno Beschizza is heavily favoured, with 41.3% in the first round against 26.7% for incumbent PS mayor Gérard Segura. In Bobigny, a PCF stronghold since the 1920s, a shocking result: the right (UDI) placed first, with 44% against 40.4% for the incumbent PCF mayor. The PCF may lose this solidly left-wing Communist stronghold to the right. In the confusing race in Bagnolet, the FG candidate won 21.3% against 21.2% for the PS, 17.9% for EELV, 15.9% for incumbent ex-PCF mayor Marc Everbecq, 10.4% for a DVG candidate and 10.2% for the right. The runoff is a tight match: Everbecq, a controversial and unpopular mayor, withdrew without endorsing anybody while the DVG list which won 10.4% merged with the PS. All other lists which qualified maintained their candidacies. The PCF is also threatened by the right in Le Blanc-Mesnil while the UMP is the heavy favourite to gain Villepinte.

In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, an old cité cheminote in the Val-de-Marne and old PCF stronghold, the PCF incumbent finds herself in trouble – she won 38.9% in the first round, against 31.8% for the UMP and 26% for the FN. But in one of only two cases of such alliances in the entire country, the UMP list – later disavowed by the party leadership – merged with the FN list. The other city where this happened was L’Hopital, an old mining town in Moselle, where the FN list (24%, in second behind the left) merged with a DVD list.

In Meaux, UMP leader Jean-François Copé was reelected with 64.3%. In Fontainebleau, incumbent mayor Frédéric Valletoux, who was not endorsed by the UMP but who received the support of Fillon and Valérie Pécresse, placed first with 43.7% against 35.8% for the official UMP candidate, backed by Copé.

In Cannes, the UMP battle between David Lisnard, the filloniste candidate backed by the retiring mayor, and Philippe Tabarot, the copéiste challenger and brother of Michèle Tabarot, the mayor of Le Cannet and the copéiste general-secretary of the UMP, will turn to the advantage of the former. Lisnard won 48.8% against 26.7% for Tabarot, the FN coming in third with 14.8%.

In Calais, an old PCF stronghold gained by the UMP’s Natacha Bouchart, the PCF may regain the seat – Bouchart placed first, with 39%, but the PCF list led by former mayor Jacky Hénin (22.6%) merged with the PS list led by PS deputy Yann Capet (19.7%) while the FN, which had withdrawn in 2008 to favour Bouchart against Hénin, won 12.5% and isn’t withdrawing this time. In Dunkerque, incumbent PS mayor Michel Delebarre, an old politico who’s been at the helm of the industrial city on the English Channel since 1989, is in trouble against Patrice Vergriete (DVG), a former adjoint running as a dissident. The dissident won 36% against 28.9% for Delebarre; the FN placed third with 22.6%.

In Bourges, the PS may gain the city from the right, with incumbent UDI mayor Serge Lepeltier retiring. The PS list placed first with 24.4% against a UDI list, backed by Lepeltier, which won 24.2% and a UMP list which won 21.6%. The UDI and UMP merged, and the PS merged with a FG list which took 17.6%.

In La Seyne-sur-Mer, an old shipbuilding city on the outskirts of Toulon, the PS mayor since 2008, Marc Vuillemot, placed first with 29.3% against 26.3% for the FN. UMP deputy Philippe Vitel won 17%, but he merged his list with a UDI list which won 12.8%.

Again in the Var, one key FN target is Fréjus. David Rachline, a FN leader, placed first with 40.3%. Philippe Mougin (UMP-UDI) placed a distant second with 18.9%, closely followed by incumbent mayor Élie Brun, sentenced in early 2014 in a corruption case but appealing in order to seek reelection (as a dissident, having lost the UMP endorsement), who won 17.6%. Although the PS, which won 15.6%, withdrew to block the FN, there was no agreement reached on the right and the FN should be able to win the city handily, benefiting from the right’s divisions. In Brignoles, FN general councillor Laurent Lopez placed first with 37.1% against 35.5% for UMP deputy Josette Pons and 27.4% for the PS-PCF list (the PCF has held the city since 2008); the left withdrew, leaving the UMP alone to face the FN.

In the Vaucluse, the FN targeted several towns. In Carpentras, the incumbent PS mayor leads with 37.3% against 34.4% for the FN’s Hervé de Lepinau, the suppléant of FN deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. UMP deputy Julien Aubert won 16.6% but he did not withdraw. In Sorgues, the incumbent UMP mayor was reelected with 51.2%, but the FN list placed a strong second with 33.8%. In Cavaillon, UMP deputy and incumbent mayor Jean-Claude Bouchet ranked first with 41.6% against 35.7% for the FN, the EELV-PS list, which did not withdraw, won 17.6%. In Orange, incumbent far-right (but not FN) mayor and deputy Jacques Bompard, in office since 1995, was reelected with 59.8%. His wife, the incumbent mayor of Bollène, nearly won reelection by the first round, taking 49.3%.

In the Gard, FN deputy Gilbert Collard placed first in Saint-Gilles, the first town ever won by the FN (in 1989), with 42.6% against 25.4% for the UMP and 23.1% for incumbent PS mayor Alain Gaido, who withdrew to block the FN. The FN also placed first in Beaucaire.

Election Preview: France Municipal Elections 2014 – Part II

In the first part of this election preview, I explained how local government works in France and the context to these municipal elections. Focus now shifts to the major contests which are worth following. Please note that this is a hurried and basic guide, with only basic details for each race. It is also far from a thorough guide: I have likely forgotten many interesting races, and omitted races which I feel are less interested (but results may prove me wrong!).

Follow @welections on Twitter on March 23 and 30 for major results.

Overview: lists and party strategies

One of the major issues attracting interest in this election was the ability of the FN to run a large number of lists in a major cities, and their ability to win municipalities. The FN has usually struggled in municipal elections, more so than in other elections. The focus on local issues and local dynamics (the popularity of sitting mayors, local political machines) has usually hurt the FN, a protest party par excellence which has a weak local organization in many places. Secondly, electoral rules has also hurt the FN. In order to run, all parties must submit a complete list (and, since 2001, those lists must include an equal number of men and women) of candidates. For the FN, which has very few municipal councillors across France and relatively few elected officials compared to all other parties, it struggles to put up complete lists. Putting up complete lists requires recruiting and finding a large number of willing candidates, of both genders (the FN is a largely male-dominated party, in terms of cadres and candidates); lacking a local organization in many places, it also has difficulties in recruiting candidates for those lists, given that there’s generally been some reluctance by individuals in cities (especially in less populated towns where people are more likely to know one another) to take a spot on a FN list, fearing consequences it might have for them for employment and in their social circles. The result has been that when the FN does put up lists, a lot of its candidates, who can’t be properly vetted, turn out to be cranks and fruitcakes. Embarrassment ensues when the media digs up a picture of them posing in front of a Nazi flag, posting some racist nonsense on social media, praising some fascist lunatics on the internet or saying something beyond the pale. For example, the FN was forced to drop one of its candidate in the Ardennes after it was revealed that she compared justice minister Christiane Taubira (who is black, from French Guiana) to a monkey. In Nevers, however, it came too late for the FN: one of their candidates on the list has pictures of herself with Nazi flags or with Nazi/SS memorabilia on Facebook. According to media reports this year, the FN may also turn to unorthodox tactics to fill up its lists: by tricking random citizens into signing up for their lists (under guises of ‘signing a petition’) or putting up dead people; Le Monde reports the cases of senior residents protesting their appearance on FN lists against their will.

The FN’s best performance in municipal elections came in 1995, when the FN ran 444 lists in communes with over 9,000 people and won 505 seats. That year, the FN also won several major towns: Toulon, Orange, Marignane – with a later by-election victory in Vitrolles. In other towns throughout France, the FN won significant results: Perpignan (32.7%), Marseille (22%), Saint-Priest (34.5%), Vénissieux (27.5%), Vaulx-en-Velin (31%), Villefranche sur Saône (35.2%), Mulhouse (30.5%), Dreux (35.2%), Mantes-la-Jolie (25.6%), Noyon (44%), Roubaix (24.4%) and Tourcoing (32.5%). In 2001, the FN was badly hurt by the 1999 split by Bruno Mégret (whose wife was mayor of Vitrolles) to create the National Republican Movement (MNR). On the ground, a lot of FN elected officials – like Toulon mayor Jean-Marie Le Chevallier – left the FN for Mégret’s MNR (Le Chevallier remained neutral) and many FN sections in departments defected. Therefore, only 184 lists ran in communes with over 9,000 inhabitants. If Jacques Bompard, the well-entrenched mayor of Orange was reelected handsomely, he had already taken his distances with the FN and would later leave the party entirely (he briefly joined Philippe de Villiers’ MPF before creating, in 2010, his own party, the Ligue du Sud). In Marseille, where Mégret ran for the MNR, the MNR placed ahead of the FN. In Toulon, the ex-FN mayor, running against an official FN candidate, failed to even qualify for the runoff. In 2008, one year after Sarkozy crippled the FN electorally, the FN was in an even more difficult position and only managed to put up 106 lists; the silver lining was a decent showing for Marine Le Pen in Hénin-Beaumont, her adopted electoral home base, and the election of one municipal councillor in Marseille. Elsewhere, the FN was crushed.

After the FN’s 2012 successes and the feeling of the wind being in its sails, Le Pen was determined to put up as many lists as possibles. Invariably, the FN ran in the aforementioned problems, but it has put up 422 lists in communes with over 9,000 people. A handy Ifop study shows the presence of FN lists on the territory compared to 1995. It has managed to significantly expand its territorial footing, putting up FN lists in western and southwestern cities generally unfavourable to the FN. In the Pas-de-Calais, Marine Le Pen’s stomping ground, the FN ran 7 lists in 1995; today, it’s putting up 16 lists. Compared to 1995, however, there is a clear decline of the FN’s presence in the Parisian region: it ran 30 lists in the Seine-Saint-Denis, 23 in the Hauts-de-Seine and 25 in the Val-de-Marne in 1995 – this year, the FN has only 2, 8 and 10 lists in those departments. Similarly, the FN’s presence in Lyon’s suburbs is weaker than it was in 1995.

On the left, a major issue was the strategy of the Left Front (FG) and specifically the PCF, which is the only FG party with a significant municipal base. As mentioned in the last post, since 1977, there’s a powerful strategy of first round left-wing unity (union de la gauche) behind a single candidate. Through that strategy, the PCF has managed to save for itself a few seats in municipal councillors and the administration of left-wing controlled communes. It has not staved off the PCF’s inexorable decline, although the PCF still controls a sizable number of towns and the tradition of municipal communism remains a reality in some places. The PCF’s presence in municipal councils is especially important for the PCF because municipal councillors form the bulk of the electoral college which elects senators; hence, having many municipal councillors allows the PCF to defend its senatorial caucus. Therefore, the imperatives for the PCF to ally, by the first round, with the PS was and remains strong. That, however, displeases the PCF’s allies in the FG, especially Mélenchon’s PG. Mélenchon, whose party is so tiny it has nothing to lose by going it alone, has been on a firm anti-PS stance when it comes to first round alliances with the PS (since the 2010 regional elections, which already split the FG in some regions).

Mélenchon insisted on autonomous first round FG lists in as many towns as possible. The PCF’s incumbent councillors and leadership saw it otherwise. In a number of major cities, the PCF decided to ally with the PS by the first round. Paris caused a massive firestorm in the FG, endangering the future of the alliance and poisoning PG-PCF relations with the European elections coming up in June. In Paris, the local PCF voted 57-43 to participate in the PS lists by the first round, as the national leadership, backed by Paris senator Pierre Laurent (whose seat in the Senate depends on the PCF having seats in Paris), had wanted it. In other cities, such as Lyon, Brest, Caen, Grenoble, Nancy, Nantes, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Saint-Étienne, Toulouse and Tours, the PCF is also backing the PS by the first round. In all those cases, the PG and smaller components of the FG (Ensemble etc) with a similar anti-PS stance, opted to form autonomous lists anyways. In some towns, such as Rennes and Grenoble, they allied with the Greens (EELV). In a handful of towns, the PG’s lists allied with the far-left New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), which is otherwise marginalized and isolated.

EELV chose autonomous lists in many cases, although in place such as Amiens, Angers, Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Le Mans, Limoges, Marseille, Metz, Montpellier, Nice and Reims it allied with the PS by the first round. In Paris and Lyon, EELV has autonomous lists; although EELV is part of the governing majority in Paris, it has run independently of the PS there in the past municipal elections, while in Lyon the Greens had allied with the PS by the first round since 1995.

On the right, the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) – a centre-right coalition of small parties led by Jean-Louis Borloo – has generally chosen alliances with the UMP, but it has also been wanting to show that it can exist autonomously of the UMP. In the European elections, the UDI will run a common list with François Bayrou’s MoDem. In Strasbourg, Rouen, Caen and Aix the UDI is running independently of the UMP in the first round, sometimes with the MoDem’s support. Otherwise, the UDI is generally on UMP-led lists, while the UMP supports UDI-led lists in Amiens, Nancy and Rennes. The MoDem has more or less firmly aligned with the right, even if Bayrou endorsed Hollande over Sarkozy in 2012. The MoDem’s claims of being ‘beyond left and right’ and aiming to fill the centre ran into the reality of left-right politics in municipal elections as early as 2008. That year, the MoDem followed a confusing strategy: autonomy here and there, allied with the UMP there, allied with the PS here and so forth. Its incumbent mayors, elected for the centre-right UDF in 2001, won reelection with the right’s support. In a strategy which has left many confused, the MoDem supports many UMP-UDI lists by the first round, most notably in Paris. The cause of the MoDem’s alliance with the UMP-UDI seems to be in return for the UMP and UDI endorsing Bayrou’s mayoral candidacy in Pau. In Tours and Dijon, two towns where the MoDem has been in the PS-led governing majority since 2008, the MoDem is allied with the PS incumbents by the first round. In Marseille, the MoDem’s candidate, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, a MEP who joined the MoDem from the Greens (and is on the MoDem’s left) endorsed the PS-EELV list, but Bayrou’s national leadership disavowed him to officially back the UMP incumbent.

Major contests: France’s largest cities


Paris is always one of the most closely followed races in all municipal elections; sometimes frustratingly because many other races are actually far more interesting. Nevertheless, the capital, political centre and largest city in France is always the ultimate crown. Paris, however, has had an elected mayor with actual powers for only a short while: after the 1871 commune de Paris, municipal government (and the office of mayor) was abolished in favour of direct rule by the prefect (although a city council with a president of the council retained very symbolic powers), and it was only restored in 1977. That year, Paris was the major prize and all parties wanted it: the RPR’s leader Jacques Chirac, who had just broken with President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, threw his hat into the race; he went up against a patchy PS-PCF alliance marred by PS-PCF infighting and a centre-right led by Michel d’Ornano backed by the Prime Minister and (unofficially) by Giscard. Chirac’s lists defeated d’Ornano in the first round, with about 26% to 22% city-wide, and the RPR went on to a narrow victory over the left in the second round. Chirac proceeded to establish Paris’ city hall as his political base (alongside his seat as deputy in rural Corrèze in central France). He became very popular with consensual policies, and when he won reelected in 1983 and 1989, Chirac’s lists swept all 20 arrondissements in Paris – a huge feat given the political polarization of the city.

With Chirac elected to the presidency a month prior, he was succeeded in 1995 by his local ally, Jean Tiberi (RPR). Although Tiberi’s lists held a large majority on the Conseil de Paris, with 98 out of 163 seats, the left made major gains – winning 62 seats on council, and gaining no less than six arrondissements from the right, all in the historically left-leaning eastern half of the city. It was under Tiberi’s administration that the whole RPR machine built by Chirac since 1977 began to unravel, with the first revelations of corruption – kickbacks and corruption in the construction of social housing, the ‘faux emplois‘ (fake jobs) with salaries paid by the city to RPR cadres who didn’t work for the city and so forth. Tiberi was targeted by a judicial investigation opened in 1999 about his role in the corruption in the social housing (HLM) office. By the time of the 2001 elections, the right refused to endorse Tiberi, instead backing Philippe Séguin (RPR), who became the official candidate of the right (RPR-UDF-DL). Tiberi and his supporters ran dissidents lists in every arrondissement. On the evening of the first round, Séguin’s lists won 25.7% and placed on top of the right in 14 out of 20 arrondissements, while the tibéristes won 13.9% and topped the right in 4 arrondissements, including the Tiberi stronghold of the 5th arrondissement. The PS-PCF, led by PS senator Bertrand Delanoë, won 31.3% and negotiated a second round alliance with the Greens, who won a solid 12.4%. Although the right united for the runoff in all but three safely right-wing arrondissements, the divisions haunted and crippled the right in the runoff: vote transfers were imperfect, allowing the PS-Green alliance to win 12 out of 20 arrondissements and a solid majority (92 seats) on the city council. City-wide, Delanoë won on a minority of the vote (49.6%), with the combined total of the right over 50%.

Delanoë’s victory in 2001 owed a lot to the divisions of the right, but it also signaled a political shift in Parisian politics. Gentrification and the political shift of well-educated, middle-class urban professionals towards the PS (and Greens) is the other explanation for Delanoë’s initial victory – and why Paris is increasingly safe for the left. Delanoë became very popular during his first term, with landmark projects including Paris Plages (summer recreational activities and beaches on the banks of the Seine), the Vélib’ (a bicycle sharing system), an expansion in social housing and promotion of cultural activities. With high popularity and weak opposition, Delanoë was easily reelected in 2008, with about 41% of the city-wide vote in the first round. The Greens suffered major loses, winning only 6.8% in the first round, weakening their position against the PS. The right, united behind UMP deputy Françoise de Panafieu, won only 27.9%. In the second round, the left won a slightly expanded majority, but in a confirmation of the city’s political polarization, the left did not gain any arrondissements from the left. One of the closest contests was in the 5th arrondissement, where Jean Tiberi (UMP) ran for a fifth term as mayor of the arrondissement. Although polls had placed the left ahead, Tiberi won 45% against 44.1% for the PS in the runoff.

Strengthened by his victory, Delanoë took an increasingly prominent role in national politics and he was considered the early favourite to win the PS leadership at the 2008 Reims Congress. But after a poor campaign, Delanoë’s motion performed poorly and he ultimately withdrew from the leadership ballot, endorsing Martine Aubry. Refocusing his attention to municipal politics, Delanoë declined to run for reelection this year.

The PS candidate is Anne Hidalgo, who has served as Delanoë’s première adjointe (top deputy) since 2001 and could be seen as Delanoë’s heir-apparent. Behind her, Hidalgo has united the PCF and Left Radicals (PRG). EELV, a critical member of the governing left-wing majority since 2001, once again opted to run independently in the first round (the Greens have run alone in the first round ever since 1977) before allying with the PS lists in the second round. As in 2001 and 2008, EELV’s hope is for the strongest possible showing in the first round to gain a stronger bargaining position against the PS in the runoff and obtain a number of seats in the executive. EELV nominated Christophe Najdovski, an adjoint au maire. The PCF’s decision to ally with the PS, as noted above, created a national firestorm in the FG, prompting the PG and other small FG components to run their own autonomous list, led by incumbent city councillor Danielle Simonnet (PG).

The right was far more confident of its chances at victory in Paris this year, and the UMP sought to attract a top-rate star candidate (after de Panafieu, a mediocre candidate with a bourgeois image). Originally, speculation centered on Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon (who abandoned his seat in the Sarthe to run for a seat in Paris in the 2012 legislative elections) and Rachida Dati, the copéiste UMP mayor of the 7th arrondissement since 2008 (she’s also a MEP and was justice minister under Sarkozy’s first years). Fillon, who saw that victory would nevertheless be an uphill battle, did not run and Dati’s polling numbers were very poor. In a February 2013 open primary, the UMP nominated Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (widely known as NKM). NKM, who is députée-maire of the suburban town of Longjumeau in the Essonne, served as environment minister under Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012. Her moderate (unlike the vast majority of the UMP, she abstained rather than vote against same-sex marriage/adoption) and ‘green’ profile is a fairly good fit for a left-leaning and socially liberal city like Paris. NKM defeated second-tier opposition handily, with 58% by the first round. If she successfully managed to forge a first round alliance with the UDI and the MoDem (which ran autonomously in 2008), she has been less successful at holding her campaign together. For the past few months, NKM’s campaign has been dogged by awkward moments by the candidate (struggling to shake off a bit of a bourgeois image) and, more importantly, dissident after dissident.

There are right-wing dissidents running against the official UMP-UDI-MoDem lists in all but two arrondissements. The Parisian right has been in poor shape since the 2001 defeat, and the severe divisions in UMP ranks during the 2011 senatorial elections and the 2012 congress worsened matters even further. A number of dissidents have pooled together around Charles Beigbeder, a copéiste businessman and brother of the crazy writer-philosopher Frédéric Beigbeder, who announced a dissident candidacy in the solidly right-wing bourgeois 8th arrondissement in December 2013, after a disagreement with NKM on his place on the official list. Beigbeder has federated some right-wing dissidents around his Paris libéré makeshift label, although besides him none of his candidates have much notoriety.

But, to complicate things further, there are stronger local UMP (and some UDI and MoDem) dissidents in other arrondissements. In the 5th arrondissement, the UMP incumbent Jean Tiberi was sentenced to 3 years electoral ineligibility (in addition to a fine and suspended jail sentence) for the ‘faux électeurs‘ (fake voters; Tiberi and his wife Xavière were accused of voter fraud by registering fictional names in the arrondissement; the common joke is that Tiberi’s strongest demographic was the cemetery) affair in 2013 and the UMP refused to support his son Dominique, who is running as a dissident. Polling has shown that Dominique Tiberi, whose family still controls a powerful machine in the arrondissement, may pull up to 20%, qualifying for the runoff. A triangulaire with the official UMP-UDI-MoDem candidate, Florence Berthout, and the PS candidate would be deadly for the right, especially given that the arrondissement has been moving left rapidly: Hollande won 56% in the 5th in 2012. In the solidly right-wing bourgeois 7th arrondissement (71% Sarkozy), the incumbent mayor Rachida Dati (UMP) is facing stiff competition on the right, with two prominent dissidents: Michel Dumont, the former mayor of the arrondissement (2002-2008) and Christian Le Roux, a former premier adjoint. Dati, as her opponents point out, seems to have little interest in either of her gigs (MEP and mayor).

NKM has chosen to run in the 14th arrondissement, which has been held by the PS since 2001 and gave Hollande over 60% in May 2012. Similar to the 12th arrondissement, it is one which is a must-win for the right if it is to win city-wide, but it is a huge uphill battle for her. Polls show that Carine Petit, the PS top candidate in the 14th, has a wide lead over NKM and the left would easily retain the arrondissement in the second round.

Paris was one of the far-right’s earliest strongholds: in 1983, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s list in the 20th arrondissement (eastern Paris) won 11.3% in the first round and 8.5% in the runoff – it was one of the FN’s first electoral successes, a year before its national breakthrough. In 1989, the FN won over 10% in four arrondissements, including 15.6% in the 20th for Le Pen. In 1995, the FN broke 10% in 9 arrondissements and obtained its only city councillor to date. However, the FN-MNR split crippled the Parisian far-right, which has also been one of the big losers of the demographic shifts in the city: less blue-collar, with the arrival of ‘new middle-classes’ with high cultural capital and also high repulsion towards the FN. The FN won 3.2% in 2008 and Marine Le Pen won only 6.2% of the vote in Paris in April 2012. The FN candidate is Wallerand de Saint-Just, a far-right lawyer from the FN’s traditionalist Catholic wing. With about 8-9% in citywide polls, there is an outside chance that the FN may win over 10% of the vote in some arrondissements, qualifying for the runoff.

Anne Hidalgo is the favourite in Paris. She has several advantages going for her: structurally, the electoral system in Paris tends to favour the left, whose strongholds are worth more seats on council than the right’s western strongholds. This means that the left would likely win even if it won a minority of the vote across the city. Secondly, Paris has shifted towards the left in recent years, culminating in no less than 55.6% for Hollande in May 2012.  The electorate in the key swing arrondissements is increasingly allergic to the UMP in its current shape: the Sarkozy and post-Sarkozy rhetoric of the right is a very poor fit for Paris, especially the swing arrondissements. The UMP’s constant vilification of the Parisian ‘bobo’ (bourgeois bohemian; a term which most on the right use without actually knowing what it means or who it refers to) does it no favours. Nevertheless, given the national climate far more favourable to the UMP than 2008, NKM should manage a more respectable performance for the right – but a personal defeat in the 14th and a potential gain by the PS in the 5th would be major blows to the right. Citywide polling is rather useless, but Hidalgo is stable at 52-53% in all runoff scenarios while both her and NKM poll roughly 35-39% in the first round. EELV, desperate for a good result given the party’s troubles, is between 5 and 7% in the polls, which would be mediocre.


The most interesting major city to watch on both March 23 and 30 is Marseille: the largest city in the south of France is well worth following in every municipal elections because Marseille politics is so… fascinating, but this year the contest in Marseille could go both ways. All will be decided by the results in one, maybe two, key sectors. The mayor of Marseille since 1995 is Jean-Claude Gaudin (UMP).

Between 1953 and 1986, Marseille was the fiefdom of Gaston Defferre. In a city with a very strong PCF base – the PCF dominated politics in the working-class northern neighborhoods of the city (the present-day 8th sector), Defferre, a Socialist, governed with a coalition uniting Socialists, centrists, Radicals and non-Gaullist right – a coalition reminiscent of the anti-communist and anti-Gaullist Third Force coalitions so popular under the Fourth Republic. Defferre’s main opposition was the PCF, while the Gaullists, outside his majority, were a rather weak force in the city. The 1960s was the heyday of Defferre’s socialocentriste coalition; in 1977, Defferre was reelected without the PCF but his right-wing supporters had left and, finally, in 1983, Defferre’s final victory was with the PCF. That same year, Defferre was reelected despite losing the popular vote to Jean-Claude Gaudin (UDF), who had been an adjoint in Defferre’s previous administrations. The reason? As interior minister, Defferre had gerrymandered the sectoral map to benefit the left; a gerrymandering undone by Chirac’s government in 1986. Under Defferre’s administration, Marseille saw several major social and economic transformations: the fall of the French colonial empire, which had fueled Marseille’s industrial economy, led to an influx of white pied-noirs settlers from North Africa in the 1960s, followed by waves of mass immigration from North Africa. Defferre, as mayor, built a clientelist system which governed through corrupt agreement with the unions and the mafia – Marseille, as a major harbour, was and is a major transit point in drug trafficking from Asia to North America.

Defferre failed to groom an heir-apparent, and his succession opened a crisis in the Marseille PS which lasted for at least ten years. In 1986, after his death, Defferre was replaced by Robert Vigouroux, a PS senator backed by municipal councillors and due to be a ‘transition’ mayor until the 1989 elections. In 1989, the lingering crisis exploded: the PS-PCF officially nominated Michel Pezet, a PS deputy who had the support of the PS membership. Vigouroux ran for reelection as a dissident, rallying PS and PCF dissidents to his lists. The conflict on the left took a national dimension, because Michel Pezet was a close ally of Prime Minister Michel Rocard, while Rocard’s sworn enemy, President François Mitterrand the Élysée Palace gave covert support to Vigouroux, in a move to deny Rocard and Lionel Jospin the control of the Bouches-du-Rhône PS federation (the most important PS federation) ahead of the 1990 Rennes Congress. Vigouroux, who attracted significant crossover support from the right to his side, was elected in a landslide – sweeping all 8 sectors, taking about 42% to Pezet’s 15% and the UDF-RPR’s 24%. The Vigouroux episode proved to be a flash in the pan: the local PS dumped him, favouring instead local businessman and aspiring politician Bernard Tapie, leading Vigouroux to ally with the right (and endorsed Balladur in 1995), but the right lost interest in him after Tapie was eliminated from politics due to his corruption scandals. Vigouroux retired, leaving a few hardened supporters to back centre-right senator Jacques Rocca-Serra. The PS-PCF nominated Lucien Weygand, president of the general council, but this time Pezet, with Rocard’s blessing, ran as a PS dissident. Gaudin, leading a united right, won 36% in the first round against 28.7% for Weygand, 22% for the FN, 6% for Pezet and 4.8% for Rocca Serra. In the second round, Gaudin took five out of eight sectors, winning a solid majority on the council – 55 seats against 37 for the right and 9 for the FN.

Gaudin had little trouble winning reelection in 2001, against weak opposition from the left and a far-right weakened by its division between the FN and Mégret’s MNR. 2008, however, was won by a hair. Jean-Noël Guérini, the local big boss of the PS and president of the general council, gave Gaudin a run for his money. The left was able to pick up the first sector, in downtown Marseille, from the UMP, but the result hinged on the race in the third sector, where Guérini ultimately lost to the UMP by 2.8%. Gaudin was reelected, but he held only 51 ou