France 2012: Primaryfest

France only votes on April 22 and May 6, 2012 but that hasn’t kept certain parties to hold their primaries way before then. All combining with DSKgate and the PS primaries in October to make people think that the election is being held next week rather than in nearly ten months. I’ll let the dust settle on the PS primaries before starting coverage of those, but two important nominating events/primaries have been held: the Communist Party (PCF) between June 16 and 18, and the first round of the Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV) primaries between June 16 and 24.

PCF Internal vote

Since the pitiful 1.93% won by the PCF’s Marie-George Buffet in 2007, the PCF has been desperately looking for a way to kick-start a party which is widely perceived to be approaching its deathbed. Since 2009, that effort at regeneration has taken the form of a close alliance with the Left Party (PG) founded in 2008 by former PS cabinet minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon. That alliance, styled Left Front (FG) did do some wonders for the PCF: the FG won 6% in the 2009 European elections, 5.8% in the 2010 regional elections and roughly 8% in cantonal elections earlier this year. But from the PCF’s standpoint, the problem with the FG is that it has become increasingly subjected to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s desires and personality. Though his party (the PG) would not exist in any viable shape or form without the PCF’s support, Mélenchon has a charisma, personality and fiery passion which is totally absent from the PCF Politburo. In sharp contrast to the fiery ambitious Mélenchon, the PCF’s boss, Pierre Laurent, appears to be a nice but totally boring bureaucratic apparatchik whose better fit is some dusty Moscow office in 1970. Thus, in the hyper-mediatized world of presidential elections which are influenced so much by personality, a boring party boss is certainly not a good candidate and would risk being totally overshadowed by an ambitious man with a huge media presence (a lot of which consists of hurling jabs and insults at journalists).

It thus shouldn’t be too surprising that the PCF’s Politburo led by Laurent has been very keen on pushing forth an inevitable Mélenchon candidacy within the FG. While it may seem somewhat surprising that a party’s boss is pushing the candidacy of a deeply ambitious potential future rival, the PCF Politburo keenly understands that Mélenchon is basically the only viable option for the party which would, by all measures, be far weaker without the boost that the FG (and Mélenchon) provides to it. A strong result by the FG in 2012 increases the PCF-FG’s bargaining power against the PS ahead of both the June 2012 legislative elections and, depending on who wins on May 6, the potential place of the PCF in a hypothetical left-wing government coalition. A strong result, of course, also allows the PCF to survive.

Mélenchon, of course, didn’t wait for Laurent to mention the idea of him running 2012 to think about it. He announced his candidacy officially on January 21.

But the strategy of a Mélenchon candidacy within the FG has always faced the opposition of a strong minority within the PCF. Some oppose him because they dislike some former Socialist cabinet minister running the show, others fear that Mélenchon running the show will end up killing the PCF. At first it appeared as if, whatever form the PCF’s nominating event would take, the opposition to a Mélenchon candidacy would be diverse. In 2009, Alain Bocquet, an orthodox PCF deputy from the Nord announced his interest but didn’t take it much further than exploratory stage. Maxime Gremetz, the famously insane Stalinist ex-PCF deputy from the Somme announced his candidacy in January 21 as well but took it no further than that. André Gerin, a hardline orthodox deputy from the Rhône, announced his candidacy but finally backed out on June 5. The anti-Mélenchon chorus joined the bandwagon of André Chassaigne. Chassaigne, unlike the previous three, is not particularly known to be an orthodox but is a rather talented politician on his own. Chassaigne has a huge personal vote in his eastern Puy-de-Dôme constituency, which translated into a record 14% showing for his FG list in the 2010 regional elections in Auvergne. However, he obviously has low name recognition and falls far short of Mélenchon’s notoriety.

On June 3-5, the PCF national conference approved the leadership’s resolution which included a Mélenchon candidacy within a continued FG by a vote of 416 to 238. It also approved the organization of an ‘internal consultation’ (by mail) of contributing PCF members between June 16 and 18 on the basis of three options: a Mélenchon-FG candidacy, a Chassaigne-FG candidacy or a Emmanuel Dang Tran-PCF candidacy.

Roughly 69,200 members were eligible to vote, of which some 48,631 did so (70.25% turnout): results available online by federation

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG candidacy) 59.12%
André Chassaigne (FG candidacy) 36.82%
Emmanuel Dang Tran (PCF candidacy) 4.07%

While the Mélenchon candidacy was approved, there is obviously a strong minority of opponents to his candidacy within the PCF as expressed by the strong 36.8% showing by Chassaigne (and Dang Tran’s 4.1%, representing the hardcore orthodox faction). What that means for his candidacy is unclear, but it shouldn’t be as huge a case as some make it out to be. Mélenchon has the media presence and the fiery charisma to win a respectable (though perhaps not excellent) result if he plays his cards right. His current polling numbers oscillate between 6 and 8%, which is far better than the PCF could have hoped for with a Chassaigne or orthodox candidacy.

The PCF was nice enough to release the internal results, allowing us to shed light on the geographic divide of the PCF base. Chassaigne won some big federations (Nord, Val-de-Marne, Seine-Maritime,  Pas-de-Calais, Rhône) and a lot of the old communist strongholds. The Nord (probably Pas-de-Calais too) and Rhône results were likely influenced by the support of Gerin and Bocquet. Other wins, such as Meurthe-et-Moselle appear to be orthodox federations. Mélenchon swept the vast majority of small federations in the southwest and southeast in addition to strong showings in Ile-de-France. Some of his big federation wins were Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hauts-de-Seine and Hérault. Dang Tran somehow won Haute-Saône (which isn’t his home department – he’s Parisian), though only 198 folks voted there. He also did well in the Aisne (28.8%) and Tarn (31%).

Europe Écologie – Les Verts Primary

The 2012 presidential ballot is both crucial and tricky from the new EELV party, the successor of the Greens. It is necessary that they run a candidate for obvious reasons, but in such an election more than any other election they lack the factors which led to their breakthrough success in 2009. Cohn-Bendit, the movement’s most prominent figure, had no interest in running. The Greens do have lots of talent – but aside from Cohn-Bendit and a few well-known figures, they lack many strong, modern, viable standard-bearers. Their two most prominent leaders both came out to play a prominent role.

Cohn-Bendit encouraged the candidacy of MEP Eva Joly, a Norwegian-born corruption-busting magistrate. Joly has relatively little political experience and is not very charismatic nor very used to the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, but has a good profile as “the honest candidate” of sorts. She announced interest by August 2010, but ran her operation quite badly until recently.

Nicolas Hulot is very well known as a prominent telecologist and host of the successful nature show Ushuaïa on TF1. He almost ran in 2007, but backed out at the last minute as he got 5 out of 12 candidates to sign on to his “Pacte de l’écologie” (including the top 3 contenders). Hulot is a rather well-liked figure, and many Greens liked both his background out of politics and the strong media impact and media frenzy his candidacy would have on EELV. But he has numerous opponents, both outside and inside the party. Aside from the enemies made from his ‘shock films’ and reports, many criticize him for being an hypocrite media icon funded by EDF or L’Oréal (which aren’t too ecofriendly) and working for the broadly right-wing TF1. Within the party, most of his opposition comes from the party’s old more left-wing fundie faction and the establishment which aren’t fond of Hulot ruining the show for them. The party’s boss, Cécile Duflot, isn’t fond of him to say the least while Cohn-Bendit is visibly pissed at a lot of things within EELV and its creation and seems to be sitting it out.

There were also two other candidates: Henri Stoll, known as “the Alsatian” who is the Green mayor of Kayersberg (Haut-Rhin) and known for wearing a wooden tie; and Stéphane Lhomme, an anti-nuclear activist who hates Hulot with a passion.

The first ever ecolo primary was organized for all EELV (and the much smaller MEI led by Antoine Weachter) paying members as well as non-member sympathizers (‘cooperators’ in greeniespeak) both online and by mail. The first round was between June 16 and 24 (June 23 for e-voting) with results having been announced on June 29. A runoff will run from July 1 to 9, with results to be announced on June 29.

The campaign was rather harsh on both sides. Joly was accused by Hulot of preaching a restrictive and pessimistic view of environmentalism, while Lhomme and Joly (to a lesser extent) made a case of Hulot’s hyper-mediatization. Joly received support from the old Greens (a lot of whom are lefties): Mamère, Voynet, Lipietz, Contassot (plus lesser known oldies: Buchmann, Blandin, Rivasi) but also, among others, MEP Yannick Jadot (ex-Greenpeace), Corsican regionalist MEP François Alfonsi and Nantes MP François de Rugy. Hulot got the support of José Bové, Yves Cochet, Antoine Waechter, Denis Baupin but also former resistance figure Stéphane Hessel and homeless rights activist Augustin Legrand.

These things are hard to poll and few dared, but a Viavoice poll showed Hulot crushing Joly (though only 133 Greens were sampled out of 1005).

Turnout was a strong 77%, roughly 25,400 out of some 32,900 eligible voters.

Eva Joly 49.75%
Nicolas Hulot 40.22%
Henri Stoll 5.02%
Stéphane Lhomme 4.44%
Blank 0.37%

Joly will need to wait a bit longer for a quasi-certain consecration in the runoff (though everything, technically, is still possible) but her victory is a real shocker. Hulot had been widely assumed to be coasting to a triumph in the primary, but apparently the limited voting pool made for a very restrictive and thus unpredictable primary. Many Hulot supporters say Joly’s victory is a victory for the left within the party, a victory for both the old fundie-left (with a past in the old party) and the establishment which dislikes him. Aside from frustration, that view is actually quite correct. Joly probably won because of the fears of the party’s voting base (paying members, thus more likely to be old traditionalist ecologists rather than new Hulot-fans) of Hulot hijacking the party or shifting it into something out of touch with the Green movement’s past as a traditional political party.

This is all a great big disappointment to Hulot, who has quit his “job” to do this and may potentially be looking at launching an independent green candidacy on his own. While I doubt he’ll go that far, and will probably grudgingly accept defeat, if he did go it alone it would likely destroy the EELV movement. It’s a matter of opinion whether or not he or Joly would be better candidates. Hulot might have attracted some nice polling numbers from various voters, but how much of that support was solid as opposed to fickle ten-month out nonsense we’ll never know. If he could have led a political campaign despite lacking political-electoral experience we’ll also probably never know. Joly might reassure the Green base, but likely has less of a chance at breaking out to voters than Hulot might have had though she could do well if she plays the ethical card well. So far she has proven that she has pretty mediocre campaigning skills and her pessimistic/restrictive view of ecology (as Hulot accused her of holding) might scare away some hesitating voters. Pollsters have traditionally shown her lower than Hulot, who won some very high polling numbers (sometimes over 10% in some polls), but the latest Ifop poll had her performing as well (6.5%) as Hulot though a CSA poll had her lower (4-5%) than Hulot (7-9%).

The good news in all this primaryfest is that the fun has only begun. The massive French political happening of 2011, the massive PS primary is happening in October!

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Posted on July 2, 2011, in France, Primaries, leadership contests or internal party votes. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nice coverage, thank you. The PCF primary map was quite fun, and the EELV results were a real shocker.

  2. I really should come more often on your fantastic website, as we learn alwyas many things here.

    And I could have seen your PCF primary map sooner ! :P

    Chassaigne is strong in old PCF strongholds, except in Limousin, famously “rénovateur” for so many years, and in Languedoc and Bouches-du-Rhône, where I have no explanation.

  1. Pingback: Election Preview: France 2012 « World Elections

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