Monthly Archives: March 2014

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 out of 101 seats on the municipal council, against 49 for the left and 1 for the FN, which had taken a seat in the 8th sector in the first round.

At 74 years old, many felt that Gaudin would not run for reelection. The prospect of an open seat whet the appetite of many UMP parliamentarians: Renaud Muselier, the mayor of the third sector, was once perceived as Gaudin’s successors, but relations between the old patriarch and the younger initial heir-apparent broke down after 2008 and Gaudin likely clapped his hands at Muselier’s defeat in the 2012 legislative elections against Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the PS junior minister for the disabled. Other potential successors included Dominique Tian, Guy Teissier and Valérie Boyer, all three sitting deputies. Gaudin announced he would seek reelection in November 2013.

The PS is eager to regain Marseille. The PS in the Bouches-du-Rhône has been wracked by internal divisions and corruption scandals, all revolving around Guérini. Guérini, who hails from the same Corsican village as two of France’s most famous gangsters (but denies any family connection), has been embroiled in a major scandal since 2009. Guérini’s brother runs waste management companies suspected of ties to organized crime, and Guérini is said to have intervened to favour his brother’s businesses. In September 2011, Guérini was indicted on several charges, including conspiracy and influence peddling. The scandal proved a headache for the national PS, which dragged its feet in disciplining Guérini and rooting out corruption; only suspending him once he was indicted. Guérini was indicted in two new scandals in 2013. Nevertheless, Guérini remains senator and president of the general council. While many of those who were originally under his wings have transformed themselves into upstanding moral opponents of his corruption, Guérini retains significant influence over the PS in Marseille and the department and the local PRG is, for all intents and purposes, a guériniste front.

The PS held an open primary in October 2013, which attracted six candidates, including five heavy-weights: Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the junior minister and perceived as the establishment/government candidate; Patrick Mennucci, mayor of the 1st sector and deputy since 2012; Samia Ghali, senator and mayor of the 8th sector; Eugène Caselli, president of the urban community and Christophe Masse, vice-president of the general council. All candidates had, at one time or another, supported Guérini. But Mennucci and Carlotti have since clearly broken with Guérini, and Guérini seems to dislike both pretty strongly, having encouraged one of his stooges (Lisette Narducci, the PRG mayor of the 2nd sector) to run against Mennucci in the 2012 legislative elections. Mennucci focused his attacks on Force ouvrière (FO), a union accused of ‘co-governing’ the city with Gaudin and the CU with Caselli. FO is extraordinarily powerful in the local and metropolitan administration, it has its word to say in promotions, demotions and hiring while the mayor of the president of the CU both favour FO over other unions. Samia Ghali, who became senator thanks to Guérini’s backing, was considered by her opponents as Guérini’s candidate.

In the first round, Ghali won 25.3% against 20.7% for Mennucci, while Carlotti won 19.5%. Caselli took 16.6%, Masse won 14.3% while Henri Jibrayel, a deputy and Ghali’s rival in the 8th sector, won 3.7%. Ghali received very strong support in her strongholds of the quartiers nord, where she has a strong machine and GOTV operation. Overall, it was very much a friends-and-neighbors primary, each candidate (except Jibrayel) dominating their home turf. In the second round, Menucci was endorsed by Carlotti, Jibrayel (who hates Ghali) and Caselli while Masse (on bad terms with Mennucci) remained neutral. Somewhat disingenuously, Ghali presented herself as the ‘anti-system’ candidate and decried that her opponent was the candidate of the Parisian establishment, the Élysée and Matignon. Mennucci won the runoff with 57.2%. Ghali’s ‘concession’ was extremely ungrateful, whining that she had been up against 5 candidates and the government and, upon mentioning Ayrault and Hollande, the crowd booed. The ambiance was so terrible that talk of dissident lists ran wild, while her supporters swore not to back Mennucci. Ultimately, knowing what’s best for her, she made her peace with Mennucci. Mennucci’s lists have united all his primary opponents (except Jibrayel, who was never interested in municipal politics anyways): Mennucci in the 1st sector, Caselli in the 2nd sector, Carlotti in the 3rd sector, Masse in the 6th sector and Ghali in the 8th sector.

EELV, led by Karim Zéribi, a MEP (ex-PS), originally envisioned to run its own autonomous lists, but given the party’s weak base in the city, it rallied Mennucci’s PS lists in January. Zéribi is the top candidate in the 5th sector, which is safely UMP. Mennucci was also joined by the MoDem’s local leader and 2008 candidate, MEP Jean-Luc Bennahmias, a former Green. Bennahmias and some of his friends joined Mennucci’s lists in February 2014, but the national MoDem leadership (= Bayrou) disavowed him and are backing Gaudin.

For the first time since 1977, the PCF won’t be running with the PS in the first round. Jean-Marc Coppola (PCF), a regional vice-president, is the top candidate for the FG. Mélenchon won 13.8% in Marseille, and the PCF retains some level of support, especially in their old strongholds in the north of the city. But the PCF lost the mayoralty of the 8th sector in 2008; the PCF had controlled Marseille’s northern neighborhoods since World War II.

Guérini is behind a PRG list in five sectors. The only one which has a presence and nuisance power on the PS is that of Lisette Narducci, the loyal guériniste incumbent in the 2nd sector. In the 2012 legislative elections, Narducci won about 22% of the vote in the 2nd sector. However, the 2nd sector is firmly on the left; there is no chance of the right winning it.

Marseille has long been a strong spot for the FN: Marine Le Pen won 21.2% in April 2012 in Marseille, even placing first of all candidates in two arrondissements. In 2008, the election of one FN municipal councillor was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible season for the FN. The FN’s lists are led by Stéphane Ravier, a regional councillor and the FN’s 2008 candidate. Ravier is leading the FN list in the 7th sector, located in northeastern Marseille – a low-income white working-class area with large immigrant pockets, it is one of the strongest regions in the city for the FN (Le Pen won 25% in 2012). Across the city, with the FN polling between 16% and 21%, the FN will likely qualify for the second round in every sector (unless some are won by the first round) and have a clear nuisance power for the UMP. Indeed, Mennucci’s hope of defeating Gaudin are hugely dependent on the FN’s numbers: a strong FN will create difficult triangulaires across Marseille, drawing votes from the UMP and allowing the PS to win with a plurality.

The race will be decided in one key sector: the 3rd sector, the same where Guérini’s mayoral ambitions hit a wall in 2008. Marie-Arlette Carlotti, one of two cabinet ministers who is a top candidate this year, is the PS top candidate in the 3rd sector, against Bruno Gilles, the UMP incumbent. The sector is a mix of right and left-leaning areas; poorer areas, middle-class neighborhoods and left-voting gentrified and educated downtown neighborhoods. Overall, Hollande won it with 52.9% in May 2012. The control of Marseille will be decided there: a UMP hold more likely than not reelects Gaudin, a PS win would probably be enough for them to win Marseille. It will be a contest to watch: polling shows that the runoff is well within the margin of error, with a 1-2% lead for Carlotti.


There is much less media interest in Lyon, the third largest city in France. The city, a fairly bourgeois place, has a long tradition of centrist or moderate mayors: Édouard Herriot, the Radical grandee, served as mayor of Lyon between 1908 and 1957 (with the exception of the war years). He was replaced by Louis Pradel, a centre-right independent who preached local interests, uniting a broad array of politicians from the centre to Jacques Soustelle’s French Algeria friends. He was the target of major Gaullist assaults in both 1959 and 1965, but both times Pradel was reelected and in 1971, the Gaullists now backed Pradel. He was replaced after his death by Francisque Collomb (UDF), who was badly defeated in 1989 by Michel Noir, a young ambitious RPR leader whose rising star was shot down by a corruption scandal involving Noir and his father-in-law (a corrupt businessman). In 1995, Noir, indicted for corruption, retired but supported dissident lists around Henry Chabert, his adjoint. The UDF-RPR nominated former Prime Minister Raymond Barre (UDF), who narrowly outpolled the noiristes in the first round (29% to 26%) and defeated the PS-Greens and FN in the runoff. Barre’s retirement after one term reopened the civil war on the right, now divided between an official RPR-UDF list led by Michel Mercier (UDF) and Jean-Michel Dubernard (RPR) and lists led by Charles Millon (DLC), a former regional president. The division of the right, as in Paris, allowed Gérard Collomb, a PS senator backed by the Greens, to win the second round. In the city council, the left took 42 seats against 21 for the millonistes and 10 for the official right.

In tune with Lyon’s political moderation and benefiting from a shift to the left of the city’s well-educated and urban middle-class milieus, Collomb has been very popular. Governing very much as a centrist, Collomb was reelected in a landslide in 2008: his lists won 6 out of 9 arrondissements in the first round, while the UMP only won (in the runoff) the very affluent 2nd and 6th arrondissements, rock-ribbed strongholds of the right. Collomb has not been afraid of going against his party: in the 2012 legislative elections, Collomb backed Thierry Braillard (PRG), a dissident, against a EELV candidate endorsed by the PS; Collomb has also signaled that he is less than enamoured with Hollande’s record thus far. Collomb’s relations with the president of the general council, Michel Mercier (UDI), are also solid: it is thanks to an understanding between both men that the transformation of the CU of Lyon into a de facto department is going ahead.

Running for a third term, there is nothing which can stop him. He is weakened by a more fragmented left: EELV is running autonomously, with Étienne Tête as top candidate; the FG lists include Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert, the ex-PS dissident mayor of the 1st arrondissement. The UMP has likely chosen the best possible candidate. In a primary, local members chose Michel Havard, a former deputy and a moderate. He defeated Georges Fenech, a deputy for a suburban constituency known for his more right-wing positions.

Other cities

Toulouse: In 2008, the PS, led by Pierre Cohen, finally regained Toulouse, a left-leaning city which it had lost back in 1971. Since 1971, the city, which voted for the left in national elections, was governed by the right: Pierre Baudis (1971-1983), succeeded by his son Dominique Baudis (1983-2001), followed by Philippe Douste-Blazy (2001-2004) and ultimately Jean-Luc Moudenc (2004-2008). Despite the national climate, Moudenc, a rather well-liked consensual moderate, put up a solid fight. In the first round, Moudenc came out ahead (42.6%) of the PS (39%) and he lost the runoff by a tiny margin (49.6% to 50.4%). This year’s election is a rematch of the 2008 election: Jean-Luc Moudenc, who was elected to the National Assembly in the 3rd constituency in 2012, is backed the UMP, UDI and MoDem (Christine de Veyrac, a UDI MEP, has maintained her dissident candidacy but she’s not a factor) while incumbent mayor Pierre Cohen is backed by the PS, PCF and PRG. Unlike in 2008, the Greens (EELV) are running autonomously behind Antoine Maurice, a sitting municipal councillor. There is a PG list led by sitting municipal councillor Jean-Christophe Sellin. Polls indicate a very close battle, especially in the first round. However, it appears that with good transfers from EELV and the PG, Cohen is the favourite in the second round. The last poll showed Cohen leading the second round 52-48, but trailing the first round by 1.5.

Nice: Christian Estrosi (UMP) won the 2008 election, comfortably defeating Patrick Allemand (PS) and incumbent mayor Jacques Peyrat. Peyrat is a Algérie française type, ex-FN (FN deputy in 1986) who was close to Jean-Marie Le Pen but, having been defeated by a hair in several close races, quit the FN in 1994 to move closer to the right while still publicly supporting much of the FN’s policies. He was elected mayor in 1995, defeating incumbent RPR mayor Jean-Paul Baréty (1993-1995) by over 10 points in a quadrangulaire with the left and the FN.

Peyrat was also close, however, to the Médecin clan – he was first elected to the municipal council in 1965 when mayor Jean Médecin (1928-1944, 1947-1965) took him under his wing. Médecin the elder, a right-wing nationalist (but, formally, close to the Radicals), was an enthusiastic Pétainiste in 1940 and until the Italian occupation in 1942, and viscerally anti-Gaullist. Médecin successfully set up a ‘système Médecin‘ – a clientelistic network, a distributor of patronage, a local lobby, the expression of a local ‘notable’ who refused all ties with national parties – a right-winger who could be called a fascist without exaggeration who was on good terms with the local PCF deputy, Virgile Barel; nationalistic but more pro-European and pro-American/NATO than most Gaullists. He was deputy from 1932 to 1962, of some relevance nationally but ultimately not very interested by national politics and, because of his independence and localism, kept away from most Parisian cabinets. Jacques Médecin succeeded his father in 1965. He was less anti-Gaullist than his father, being instead very much anticommunist; he was still very right-wing (if not far-right; he said he shared 99.9% of the FN’s idea) and racist. Very crooked, he resigned and fled to Uruguay in 1990, before being extradited to France in 1994 and sentenced in four separate trials but somehow fled back to Uruguay and escaped jail in 1996. While Peyrat wasn’t an ally of Jacques Médecin, there was a rather friendly entente between the two men, whose political differences didn’t go much beyond the fact that one was open about being in the FN and the other was too closely tied to the dynastic family history to do so. Indeed, in 1995, Peyrat visited Médecin in jail and presented himself as his natural successor. Peyrat, however, didn’t set up a ‘système’ of his own, and joined the RPR in 1996, serving as deputy (1997-1998) and senator (1998-2008).

His time was up in 2008, when the now Sarkozyst UMP had little interest in the old man and was, locally, led by Christian Estrosi – who in those years was known as one of Sarkozy’s most loyal footsoldiers. Estrosi is very much on the right: his main image is that of a law-and-order guy who recently prided himself on his administration’s ‘dealing’ with the Roma (and proposed to help other mayors with tips on how to do so). Estrosi is the leading baron of the UMP in the Alpes-Maritimes, his support for Fillon was enough for Fillon to carry the department in the 2012 congress. Estrosi’s reelection, perhaps by the first round, makes no doubt. The city is firmly on the right. The FN’s campaign, led by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (supported by Jean-Marie Le Pen, over the opposition of his daughter; the FN patriarch is given free rein by her daughter over FN affairs in PACA), has foundered. It is likely that many FN voters have flocked to Estrosi, whose campaign has focused on highlighting his record on criminality.

Estrosi’s non-FN right-wing dissidents are no threat. Jacques Peyrat wants his old job back, but he lacks partisan support (he floated back to the FN, running for them in 2011 and 2012). Olivier Bettati, a UMP general councillor and former ‘adjoint au maire‘ who has always distrusted Estrosi. Bettati, a copéiste, defeated Estrosi in a cantonal election back in 1994. The PS-EELV list is led by local opposition leader (and perennial candidate) Patrick Allemand.

Strasbourg: Governed by centrists (notably Pierre Pfimlin, from the MRP, between 1959 and 1983), Strasbourg was gained by the left, namely Catherine Trautmann (PS) in 1989. She was reelected by the first round in 1995, but she resigned her job in 1997 to become culture minister in Jospin’s government. Her return to municipal politics upon her departure from the government in 2000 created a crisis within the PS majority: she wanted her jobs as mayor and president of the CU, whereas Roland Ries, who had held both offices since 1997, had been previously set to retain the presidency of the CU. Although an agreement was found to allow Trautmann to retake both jobs, the episode profoundly divided the left in Strasbourg. In 2001, Trautmann’s PS-Green list faced a dissident list led by Jean-Claude Petitdemange, a member of the municipal majority and leader of the PS federation in the Bas-Rhin. In the first round, Trautmann won 29.1%, a few decimals behind Fabienne Keller (UDF), while Petitdemange won 12.1%. The latter’s decision to maintain his list in the runoff, sparking a triangulaire, proved fatal for the PS: Keller won with 50.9%, against 40.4% for Trautmann and 8.7% for Petitdemange. In 2008, buoyed by a helpful national climate, Roland Ries (PS) regained control of Strasbourg for the left. Fabienne Keller’s administration had been marred by complaints of authoritarianism by some of councillors in the right-wing majority, as well as a conflict with Robert Grossmann, the president of the CU. In the first round, Ries led Keller by over 10 points – 43.9% to 33.9% – and, with the backing of the Greens (6.4%), Ries won the runoff in a landslide with no less than 58.3%.

This year is another rematch between Keller and Ries, and the UMP is far more confident of its chances of victory. Going for the UMP is the national climate and the right’s greater mobilization in times of lower turnout; going for the PS is the popularity of the incumbent and the city’s lean to the left (Hollande won 54.7%, the culmination of a strengthening of the left since the 1990s in gentrified neighborhoods and the downtown core). Both sides face significant, but not damaging, challenges from their own sides: EELV is running autonomously, like in 2008, with Alain Jund; the UDI is trying its luck with an independent candidacy by François Loos, a former deputy and industry minister under Chirac. The race, originally looking good for the left, has tightened significantly. The last two polls showed that, in the case of a straight PS-UMP runoff, both candidates are tied at 50% apiece. A lot hinges on whether or not the FN, weak in Strasbourg, will qualify for the runoff. If it does, a triangulaire would favour the left, which holds a lead of a few points over the UMP in those scenarios. The UMP is heavily targeting the city, which may be the biggest city which it may gain: the enemies of the party, Copé and Fillon, were brought to a ‘unity’ rally with Keller a week or so ago.

Montpellier: Montpellier has been governed by the PS since 1977, and now leans solidly towards the left – Hollande won 62.4% in the city back in May 2012. Governed by Georges Frêche between 1977 and 2004, he was replaced by Hélène Mandroux. Mandroux originally governed in the shadow of her controversial but masterful predecessor, who remained president of the CA while he served as president of the regional council after 2004. She was easily reelected in 2008, with 47.1% in the first round against 26.1% for UMP deputy Jacques Domergue and 11.1% for the Greens. In the second round, she won 51.9% against 29.5% for the UMP and 18.6% for the Greens. Mandroux, however, saw her relationship with Frêche deteriorate. She was called upon to lead an official PS list against Frêche in the 2010 regional elections (Frêche had been excluded from the PS for anti-Semitic comments), and her result in the first round – 7.7% – was an unmitigated disaster which weakened her leadership. She was left further weakened by conflicts in her majority, still divided between frêchistes and anti-frêchistes. Mandroux was unable to take control of the CA after Frêche’s death in 2010; it went to Jean-Pierre Moure, who allied himself with the frêchistes. In the PS, she gradually lost her influence. Despite these challenges, Mandroux insisted on running for reelection, but in a convoluted process, she was convinced by Ayrault to withdraw her candidacy in favour of Jean-Pierre Moure. However, Moure’s nomination, confirmed in a primary, has divided the PS. Philippe Saurel, a member of the governing majority considered close to interior minister Manuel Valls, is running as a dissident after having refused to participate in primaries (claiming they were manipulated). Saurel’s support in polls has increased exponentially over the campaign, and the last poll placed him at 21%, only 3 points behind UMP-UDI-MoDem candidate Jacques Domergue and 7 points behind Moure, who has won the support of EELV (slightly surprising, given EELV’s longstanding opposition to the Frêche system and the party’s ability to poll well if it ran independently, as in 2008). Saurel has seemingly little intention of withdrawing from the runoff. To jumble things up further, the FN, led by regional councillor France Jamet, has been consistently polling over 10%. A four-way runoff, even maybe a five-way runoff with the FG, is a real possibility. However, despite UMP wet dreams of winning thanks to PS divisions, polls show that Moure retains a strong advantage in all runoff scenarios.

Bordeaux: Hollande won 57% in Bordeaux in 2012 and the city is firmly on the left politically, but there’s no chance that the PS will win it this year. Since 1947, the city has been governed by Gaullists: Jacques Chaban-Delmas was elected for the first time in the Gaullist RPF wave of 1947 and governed the city until his retirement in 1995. Chaban-Delmas, a leading ‘baron of Gaullism’, was reelected year after year with huge majorities by the first round, even in unfavourable climate like 1977. In 1995, he supported Alain Juppé, an ally of Chirac and the new Prime Minister, who won 50.3% in the first round. Juppé, forced out of politics by his sentencing in a corruption scandal (where he is seen as having taken the fall for Chirac), returned as mayor in 2006 following a by-election. His defeat in the 2007 legislative elections to a little-known PS candidate caused undue optimism on the left, which nominated a heavyweight candidate to challenge Juppé in 2008: regional president Alain Rousset. But it wasn’t to be: Juppé won 56.6% by the first round, against 34.1% for the left. The PS, however, won control of the CU of Bordeaux. This year, Juppé is nearly ensured another term by the first round. His PS opponent is Vincent Feltesse, the president of the urban community of Bordeaux.

Lille: Incumbent PS mayor Martine Aubry (since 2001) is a lock to win a third term in a city governed by Socialists with uninterrupted since 1955. The UMP candidate is senator Jean-René Lecerf and the FN, led by Éric Dillies, will likely qualify for the runoff as it had in 2001 and 1995.

Reims: In 2008, the PS (Adeline Hazan) gained Reims, governed by the right since 1983, thanks to the divisions of the right between Renaud Dutreil (UMP, 23% in the first round) and Catherine Vautrin (UMP dissident-MoDem, backed by the retiring DVD mayor, 25.2%). With bad transfers between the two right-wing lists, Hazan defeated Vautrin with 56.1%. This year, the city is a key target for the UMP, which is led by young deputy Arnaud Robinet and supported by Catherine Vautrin, who is also a deputy. Polls indicate a very tight race, with the FN likely to qualify for the runoff.

Le Havre: A major industrial centre and Communist stronghold (it had a PCF mayor between 1965 and 1995, most famously André Duroméa), Le Havre was gained by the RPR in 1995, and the right has twice frustrated Communist attempts to regain its former stronghold. In 2008, incumbent mayor Antoine Rufenacht (UMP) defeated PCF deputy Daniel Paul with 54.7% in the runoff. In the first round, the PCF list, with 29.2%, had outpolled a PS-Green list (13.9%). Rufenacht retired in favour of Édouard Philippe, who was elected deputy in June 2012. With no polling in the race, there’s an element of added suspense: can the left finally regain a city which gave Hollande 58.6% of the vote? Which of the PS and FG will come out ahead on the left? Can the FN, which won 20.8% in 1995 but has performed poorly since then, qualify for the second round?

Saint-Étienne: With the exception of a PCF mayor between 1977 and 1983, Saint-Étienne, despite being a rather blue-collar and industrial city, had been governed by the centre-right for most of its history. In 2008, incumbent mayor Michel Thiollière (Radical-UMP) was seen as the favourite, but he was badly hurt by Gilles Artigues (MoDem), a former UDF deputy who won 20.2% in the first round against 37.9% for Thiollière and 33.7% for Maurice Vincent (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC). In a fatal triangulaire with the centre, Thiollière was narrowly defeated, 41.6% against 46.1% for Vincent. Vincent, now a senator, is credited for cleaning up the city’s finance, after his predecessors had signed up for ‘toxic debts’. Nevertheless, and despite Hollande’s strong result in the city in 2012 (58.3%), Vincent is very vulnerable. Gaël Perdriau (UMP, leader of the opposition) has managed the feat of uniting a very fractious and divided right, including supporters of the former mayor and Gilles Artigues (UDI, third on the list). The first round promises to be closely fought, while the second round will almost certainly be a triangulaire with the FN (Marine won 17.6% in the city, and the FN qualified for the runoff in 1989, 1995 and 2001) in which the incumbent has a small, but weak, lead.

Grenoble: Governed by the PS since Michel Destot (PS) won the city in 1995, the incumbent is now retiring. The city is firmly on the left, with 64.3% for Hollande, and the FN is weak (10.9% in 2012); nevertheless, the left is traditionally divided between the PS and the Greens. There is a strong New Left/environmentalist tradition in Grenoble, most famously channeled by former mayor Hubert Dubedout (1965-1983) and the local Groupe d’action municipale (GAM). More recently, the Greens won 12% in 1995, 19.8% in 2001 and 22.5% in the 2008 (runoff, after 15.6% in the first round). The PS candidate, backed by the PCF, is Jérôme Safar, an ally of the outgoing mayor. He faces a strong challenge from Eric Piolle, a EELV regional councillor who is supported by the PG. The right in Grenoble continues to traumatized and divided by the tenure of Alain Carignon (RPR, 1983-1995), once a rising star of the right before his career was compromised by two corruption scandals (for which he actually served jail time). Carignon, who is unpopular with the wider electorate and divides within his own party, wanted to run this year. The UMP, however, endorsed opposition leader Matthieu Chamussy, who placed Carignon further down on his list (eligible for a seat only if the list won); Carignon refused and convinced Copé to withdraw the UMP endorsement from Chamussy in October. Facing pushback from Chamussy and the Fillon camp, the UMP backtracked and Chamussy was re-endorsed, while Carignon took the 9th spot on the UMP list. Polls show that Grenoble will stay on the left, but there is an interesting battle between Safar (PS-PCF) and Piolle (EELV-PG): polls have shown Piolle to be in second, about 10 points behind Safar, but ahead of the UMP. Even in the case of a triangulaire with EELV, the PS should likely win (a normal two-way battle would result in a left-wing landslide).

Angers: Angers has been governed by the left since 1977, but fittingly for a Christian democratic department, the PS has been centrist: Jean Monnier, the mayor between 1977 and 1998, was excluded from the PS in 1983 for refusing to ally with the PCF and forming a coalition with the centrist CDS. Reelected handily with centrist crossover support, Monnier’s successor, Jean-Claude Antonini has somewhat followed in his footsteps (but no formal alliances with the centre-right) and his relations with the PCF and far-left were tense. Antonini, reelected by a wide margin in 2001, survived a very hot race in 2008, which pitted him against Christophe Béchu, the young UMP president of the general council and the ‘rising star’ of the local right (he’s been a UMP candidate in municipal, cantonal, regional, European and senatorial elections!). Antonini resigned in 2012, and was replaced by Frédéric Béatse (PS), who defeated Jean-Luc Rotureau (PS) in an internal vote. The succession has been badly handled: Rotureau, whose demand for open primaries was rejected, is running as a dissident against the incumbent mayor. With polls indicating that the dissident is taking up to 17%, the situation looks perfect for a UMP gain: Christophe Béchu, now a senator and president of the general council after having been a regional councillor and MEP, is the favourite and polls show that he would win the runoff by a comfortable margin (and will likely dominate the first round).

Aix-en-Provence: Incumbent UMP mayor Maryse Joissains-Masini, in office since 2001, is facing a tough reelection – but she’s used to winning very narrowly. But this year, two years after losing her seat in the National Assembly, she is weakened by a divided right and a judicial investigation against her for a case of emplois fictifs. Her municipal majority is divided, with Bruno Genzana (UDI), a former member of her majority, leading a UDI list backed by Jean Chorro (UMP), a former premier adjoint to the mayor. Attempts at mediation and compromise have failed; the mayor is dead-set on running for reelection and grooming her daughter, UDI Sophie Joissains, to succeed her. However, the left is also divided in its own right: the PS candidate is Edouard Baldo, but there is an independent centre-left list (backed by Guérini) led by François-Xavier de Peretti (ex-MoDem, son of a former UDF mayor) and Alexandre Medvedowsky (PS, candidate in 2008 and 2009). Maryse won her first term in 2001 with 50.7%, and won reelection in 2008 with 44.3% against 42.9% for Medvedowsky (PS) and 12.8% for de Peretti (MoDem). Invalidated, she won a 2009 by-election with 50.2% against 49.8% for Medvedowsky (PS-MoDem-Greens). One poll shows Maryse as the favourite, but if de Peretti’s list joins that of the PS and the FN qualifies for the runoff, she could be in mortal danger.

Amiens: The PS scored a surprise victory in Amiens over incumbent mayor Gilles de Robien (NC) in 2008, with Gilles Demailly (PS) winning 56.2% in the runoff. Demailly is not seeking reelection, and the PS-PCF-EELV list is led by Thierry Bonté, vice-president of the CA. The right is led by Brigitte Fouré (UDI), a general councillor and former mayor (2002-2007, while Robien was in cabinet); she’s running in tandem with Alain Gest (UMP), deputy and a former president of the general council who would be president of the CA in the case of victory. The FN has a strong enough base – over 16% for Le Pen in 2012 – to qualify for the runoff. The last poll showed the right leading by 10 in the first round, but a perfect tie in the runoff.

Metz: For the first time since 1848, as the media reported, the PS gained Metz in 2008. Dominique Gros profited from the division of the right, whose legendarily ugly divisions in Metz and Moselle finally hurt them. Metz had been governed since 1971 by Jean-Marie Rausch, a centrist (CDS) who had joined the PS government in 1988. Rausch was reelected with PS support in 1989, and his last two victories – in 1995 and 2001 – came despite RPR and PS opposition. In 2008, the right and centre was a huge mess: Rausch, running out of steam, piled on for another term; the UMP endorsed Marie-Jo Zimmermann, a UMP deputy; Nathalie Griesbeck, a MoDem MEP and general councillor ran and there was one smaller DVD list. In the first round, Gros (PS) won 34% against 24.2% for Rausch, 16.9% for Zimmermann, 14.7% for Griesbeck and 5.6% for the other right-winger. The UMP HQs instructed Zimmermann to withdraw in Rausch’s favour, but she refused and merged her list with that of the MoDem and the DVD. In retaliation, the UMP withdrew their support from her list to support Rausch. In the runoff, Gros won 48.3% against 27.4% for the incumbent and 24.3% for Zimmermann. The contest this year is cleaner and competitive: Gros (backed by the PRG and EELV) faces Zimmermann, who leads a united right and centre (UMP-UDI-MoDem). The outcome hinges on the FN: if the list led by regional councillor Françoise Grolet qualifies, a triangulaire would likely favour Gros; a two-way runoff, according to polls, would be open-ended but the one poll showed the UMP ahead by 2 in a PS-UMP runoff scenario.

Perpignan: Located in southwestern France, Perpignan, where Le Pen won 22.5% in 2012, is a major FN target. The city has been governed by the right since the 1970s, when Socialist mayor Paul Alduy (1959-1993) was excluded from the PS in 1976 for opposing the alliance with the PCF. He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Paul Alduy (UDF, UMP), reelected in contentious conditions in 2008 and reelected in a 2009 by-election. He has since retired, and Jean-Marc Pujol (UMP) replaced him and is now running for a first full term. The FN candidate is Louis Aliot, a regional councillor and party vice-president who is also Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend. Aliot has built a strong base for himself in Perpignan, a city with high security and immigration concerns favourable to a strong FN vote; even in 2008, a terrible year for the FN, Aliot’s list won 12.3% in the first round (but only 9.4% in 2009). The left is divided, between Jacques Cresta, a newly-elected PS deputy and Jean Codognès, a former PS deputy and candidate in both 2008 and 2009 who’s new atop a EELV list. While Aliot is polling nearly 30%, he is nowhere near striking distance of first. The UMP incumbent should hold his seat without much of a sweat.

Boulogne-Billancourt: Suburban, affluent (but it hasn’t always been so: it used to be a fairly leftist industrial place) and in the Hauts-de-Seine, Boulogne-Billancourt is a right-wing stronghold (63% Sarkozy in 2012) and the right has been in charge since 1971. However, the right is very divided, split by complex personal animosities and complicated by shifting alliances. As in 2008, the right is very divided: incumbent mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet (UMP, UDF until 2006) won the seat in 2008, defeating senator Jean-Pierre Fourcade (UMP dissident), who had been mayor between 1995 and 2007, when he had resigned in favour of Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel (UMP), in order to block Baguet from being mayor. Duhamel betrayed Fourcade by not running in 2008 and allowing Baguet, endorsed by the UMP, to run unencumbered; that forced Fourcade to run. In the 2008 runoff, Baguet won 44.3% against 34.9% for Fourcade and 20.8% for the left. This year, Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel is running against incumbent mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet. Baguet is the official UMP candidate, but Duhamel is backed by Alain Juppé, Fourcade and sitting deputy Thierre Solère (app. UMP), who was elected in 2012 as a dissident candidate (backed by Duhamel) against the official UMP candidate, Claude Guéant.

Caen: In 2008, the PS finally gained Caen: for years, the PS, led by Louis Mexandeau (a PS deputy between 1973 and 2002), had tried for thirty years – each time in vain – to wrestle control of city hall from the hands of Jean-Marie Girault (UDF, mayor 1971-2001) and his successor, Brigitte Le Brethon (UDF, UMP). Finally making good on the city’s shift to the left – Hollande won about 61% in 2012 – the PS, led by Philippe Duron, the president of the regional council, defeated incumbent UMP mayor Brigitte Le Brethon, who had already lost her seat in the National Assembly to Duron in 2007. In the runoff, Duron won 56.3%. This year, the PS may fall victim to the national mood. But first, the right will need to figure out who will lead it in the runoff: in one of the most competitive ‘primaries’ between UMP and UDI, the UMP’s regional councillor Joël Bruneau faces UDI general councillor Sonia de la Provôté (a strong candidate, having gained, despite very unfavourable tail winds, a Caen canton from the PS in 2011). A poll in late February showed the UMP with 26% against 20% for the UDI (and 28% for the PS mayor, who faces a EELV and PG-NPA list, both standing at 9% in that poll). That same poll showed that, regardless of the candidate, the right leads the mayor in the runoff: 51-49 if it’s the UMP, 53-47 if it’s the UDI.

Saint-Denis (93): Saint-Denis, a proletarian suburb in Paris’ famous Red Belt, has been held by the PCF since 1945, and before that since 1922 (save for the Doriot episode in the mid-1930s). Up until recently, the PS had not challenged the PCF’s hegemony over the city; however, the decline of the PCF in national elections has whet the PS’ appetite and the PS ran a candidate against PCF mayor Didier Paillard in 2008; the PCF held on rather easily, with 51.1% in the runoff but the PS took 30.6% in the runoff. In 2012, in a major shock, FG incumbent Patrick Braouezec was defeated by PS candidate Mathieu Hanotin, a young ally of the department’s powerful PS president of the general council, Claude Bartolone (whose ambition is to further cripple the PCF). This year, competition is even more ferocious: Paillard, backed by EELV, faces Hanotin, the new PS deputy. A poll gave the FG a 10 point lead over the PS in the first round, with the UMP on 10%. A runoff with the UMP would help the FG; a two-way battle between the FG and PS in the runoff may play more to the PS’ advantage, given that UMP voters would likely back Hanotin to defeat the PCF.

Nancy: The PS has never held Nancy, which has been ruled by centre-right or Gaullist mayors (albeit sometimes in socialocentriste coalitions with the Socialists) since at least 1945. The incumbent mayor, André Rossinot (UDI), in office since 1983, is retiring (but still running for reelection to the municipal council) in favour of Laurent Hénart (UDI), a young deputy defeated in 2012. The city is one of the left’s best hopes for a pickup: the PS-PCF-EELV candidate, Mathieu Klein, a young vice-president of the general council, is a strong candidate and the city has shifted left (55% for Hollande). Two polls have both shown Klein as the narrow favourite, but nothing is decided yet.

Argenteuil: The RPR, led by Georges Mothron and by focusing heavily on security issues, picked up Argenteuil, a working-class suburb in the Val-d’Oise which had been ruled by the PCF since 1945. In 2008, he was defeated by Philippe Doucet (PS-PCF), although very narrowly (50.6% for the left in the second round). This year, Mothron, who lost his seat in the National Assembly to Doucet in 2012, is running against Doucet, who has lost the support of the PCF, running autonomously on a FG list. One poll back in 2013 showed Doucet in the lead, but that was a while ago and it’s very unclear how things will shape up.

Montreuil: In the Seine-Saint-Denis, Montreuil is another solidly left-wing and historically very proletarian suburban commune, governed by the PCF since 1945. In 2008, incumbent mayor Jean-Pierre Brard, in office since 1984 (originally PCF, he left the party in 1996 for the CAP), faced a strong challenge from the Greens, who had already placed a distant second in 2001. The Greens have been increasingly strong in Montreuil, a result of gentrification in parts of the city which has seen educated and professional ‘bobos’ replace older working-class residents. In 2008, the Green candidate was Dominique Voynet, a two-time Green presidential candidate and senator; although Brard was still endorsed by the PS, Voynet was supported by many local PS dissidents. In the first round, Brard won 39.4% against 32.5% for Voynet; in the runoff, benefiting from the absence of the right, she won with 54.2%. Her administration, however, has been a mess, wracked by numerous divisions in her majority. Knowing that she would lose reelection badly, she will not be running again. The result is a very divided left. Brard, who lost his seat in the National Assembly in 2012, is running again and is the man to beat; but he doesn’t have the FG’s support (unlike in 2012) and his age and autocratic tendency make him a polarizing figure on the left. The FG candidate is PCF regional councillor Patrice Bessac. The PS is behind Razzy Hammadi, a former PS youth leader who had difficulty getting elected before emerging victorious in the constituency covering Montreuil in June 2012. Hammadi, however, is rather unpopular on the left and even within his own party, and faces a PS dissident, incumbent (pro-Voynet) municipal councillor Mouna Viprey. While EELV is in poor shape here, their candidate, Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi, backed by Voynet, is still worth noting. The UMP’s candidate is Manon Laporte, the wife of former rugby coach and junior minister for sports (2007-2009) Bernard Laporte. Polls show a real mess: Brard is ahead, with a substantial lead in the first round, but all other leftist candidates are in contention: the FG’s Patrice Bessac appears to be in second, while Hammadi (PS), Dufriche (EELV) and Laporte (UMP) fight for third. Viprey, with 9-10%, may qualify for the runoff. The first round is so messy that the runoff has not been polled: because nobody knows what it’ll look like!

Nouméa: Politics in New Caledonia are complicated and worlds apart from metro France, but the contest in the capital of the territory – Nouméa – is very interesting. A white city, Nouméa is strongly on the right (with the anti-independence parties) while the pro-independence left is a non-factor. As in 2008, therefore, the battle is fought on the right. The city has been controlled since 1977 by the RPCR/Rassemblement-UMP, the leading right-wing party whose leadership of the right has been challenged in the past decade and which is very divided. Incumbent R-UMP mayor Jean Lèques is retiring in favour of Jean-Claude Briault. Briault is backed by senator Pierre Frogier’s R-UMP and president of the government Harold Martin’s centre-right Avenir ensemble. But in 2013, the R-UMP split, with right-wingers opposed to Frogier’s conciliatory policy towards the nationalists walking out of the party to create a new party, led by Gaël Yanno, a municipal councillor and deputy for Nouméa until his defeat by Calédonie ensemble‘s Sonia Lagarde in 2012. Gaël Yanno’s supporters have split the governing majority down the middle, with 20 councillors against 22 for Lèques -Briault-Frogier. Yanno is running, with the endorsement of the national UMP; Sonia Lagarde, Calédonie ensemble (UDI) deputy since 2012 and runner-up in 2008, is also running. With little coverage in the French metropolitan media, I can’t say I have any idea how this right-wing civil war, which sets the ground for a major showdown in the May 2014 provincial election, will shape up.

Avignon: The RPR, with Marie-Josée Roig, gained Avignon in 1995 and successfully defended it against a high-profile PS assault in 2001 (led by then-cabinet minister Elisabeth Guigou) and narrowly held it again in 2008. Roig, embroiled in corruption allegations and accused of employing her son as her parliamentary assistant, is retiring and supporting Bernard Chaussegros, a low-profile UMP businessman, to succeed her. With a weak UMP candidate, Avignon is the most likely PS pickup. Cécile Helle, a PS regional councillor, has a wide lead in polls. In the first round, the last poll showed her with 29% against 27% for the FN, 23% for the UMP and 16% for the FG (led by PCF general councillor André Castelli, who won over 14% in 2008); in the runoff, she leads the UMP by 15.

Pau: The race in Pau drew nationwide attention in 2008: François Bayrou, the leader of the MoDem, tried to conquer a city governed by the PS since 1971 (with local icon André Labarrère until his death in 2006). The incumbent PS mayor, Yves Urieta, had switched sides to support Sarkozy’s government (like the PS mayor of Mulhouse, Jean-Marie Bockel) and was seeking reelection with the UMP’s endorsement. Bayrou faced Martine Lignières-Cassou, a somewhat anonymous PS deputy. The first round saw the PS pull ahead with 33.9% against 32.6% for Bayrou and 27.8% for Urieta. In the runoff, the PS won 39.8% against 38.8% for Bayrou and 21.4% for Urieta. It was a major defeat for Bayrou. He’s trying again this year, after losing his seat in the National Assembly to the PS in June 2012. This year, Bayrou, despite having endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, has ensured for himself the backing of the UMP. It’s a marriage of convenience, which annoys the right of the UMP and the local party, but which allows the UMP to count on Bayrou’s support in places such as Paris. The PS mayor retiring, the PS candidate is David Habib, a PS deputy since 2002. Urieta, who now lacks UMP backing, is running as an independent. Polling have shown a growing lead for Bayrou, who is uniting the right without hassles; in the latest poll, Bayrou leads Habib by 14 in the first round and would win a triangulaire (with Urieta, polling in the low 10s), by 8.

Aubervilliers: Aubervilliers, an historic PCF stronghold (held since 1945), was the only Seine-Saint-Denis city with a ‘PS-PCF primary’ in 2008 to fall to the PS. This year, incumbent PS mayor Jacques Salvator faces a rematch against former PCF mayor Pascal Beaudet (FG). Beaudet was defeated by 3 points in a four-way runoff in 2008, but he successfully picked up an Aubervilliers canton from the PS (held by Salvator’s wife) in 2011, which may indicate that this rematch will be rather close. There has been no polling that I know of.

La Rochelle: In 2012, La Rochelle made national headlines because of the left-wing civil war in the legislative election between Ségolène Royal (2007 presidential candidate and Hollande’s ex girlfriend) backed by the PS mayor Maxime Bono, and local PS dissident Oliver Falorni, who emerged victorious by a wide margin. The painful civil war in La Rochelle, a left-wing stronghold governed by the left since 1971, isn’t over yet. Bono, who took office at the death of his predecessor Michel Crépeau (PRG, mayor 1971-1999), is retiring but is supporting Anne-Laure Jaumouillié, a 34-year old teacher who has been a municipal councillor since 2008. She won a primary (by 34 votes, out of 3.6k votes) over Jean-François Fountaine, a veteran 62-year old politician who is vice-president of the CA La Rochelle. Fountaine, a former member of the PRG, was 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). Fountaine, alleging irregularities, refused to withdraw and is standing as a dissident with PRG support against the PS candidate. A poll in late February found the PS candidate leading Fountaine by 2 in the first round, with the UMP, as in 2012, suffering from a left-wing civil war which draws some right-wingers to vote strategically (for Fountaine, who is drawing UMP-UDI votes). However, unlike in 2012, the UMP will qualify for the runoff, which changes matters because Falorni’s victory owed a lot (but not entirely, unlike Bono/Royal pretended) to right-wing support in both rounds.

Cannes: On the sunny Côte-d’Azur, Cannes is a right-wing stronghold and sees a civil war on the right, as in 2008. Incumbent UMP mayor Bernard Brochand, in office since 2001, is retiring in favour of his young dauphin, general councillor David Lisnard, who is a filloniste like his mentor. Lisnard faces a challenge from Philippe Tabarot, a general councillor and leader of the municipal opposition since 2008 – he is also the brother of Michèle Tabarot, the mayor of Le Cannet and the copéiste general-secretary of the UMP. Tabarot lost to Brochand by a bit over 1,000 votes in 2008. The national UMP, divided between supporters of both candidates, has chosen not to choose any candidate: no official endorsement, so both are UMP members and candidates. Polls show that Lisnard, endorsed by Sarkozy, is the favourite, with a 7 point lead in the first round over Tabarot and consistent and significant leads over Tabarot in the second round. The left and FN may both qualify for the runoff, but are non-factors.

Béziers: This is the largest city in which the FN has a fighting chance of winning. The UMP incumbent, Raymond Couderc, is retiring this year in favour of UMP deputy Élie Aboud. The FN, along with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Arise the Republic (DLR) and small right-wing parties (RPF, MPF), is backing Robert Ménard, a pied-noir journalist and former president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Ménard was more on the left in the past, but has moved towards the far-right, without joining or voting for (he claims) the FN although he has openly said that he shares most of the FN’s positions. The race, which has attracted national attention, has seen a clear tightening in Ménard’s favour: he now leads the field in the first round, while he trails Aboud in the runoff by only 1 or 2 points.

Ajaccio: A very close and interesting battle in Napoleon Bonaparte’s hometown. The incumbent mayor, Simon Renucci (CSD/DVG), has held office since 2001, when he ended 54 years of Bonapartist (yes, for real) rule – in all, the local Bonapartist party, the CCB, ruled Ajaccio for 109 of the 117 years between 1884 and 2001. Handily reelected in 2008, Renucci was defeated in the 2012 legislative elections by Laurent Marcangeli (UMP), who is now his top rival. Polls have shown that Renucci remains the favourite, with a substantial lead over Marcangeli (who is endorsed by the CCB). The nationalists are united (between autonomists and separatists) here, but while they may be kingmakers in a runoff, they are not in contention (15% in polls).

Corbeil-Essonnes: The town is a low-income suburb which leans solidly left in national elections (63% for Hollande) and was ruled by the PCF between 1959 and 1995, when Serge Dassault (RPR), a businessman who remains owner of Le Figaro and leading player in the family enterprise, the aeronautics and weaponry giant Dassault. Reelected in 2008, with 50.7% against 49.4% for the PCF, his PCF rival accused him of vote buying and the election was invalidated, and Dassault declared ineligible to hold municipal office for one year. In a 2009 by-election, Dassault’s protege Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP) was reelected by a 27 vote margin against the PCF. Bechter was reelected with a wider majority against a common PCF-PS candidate in a 2010 by-election. Dassault, who remains in the Senate, is now facing another scandal: he’s alleged of paying millions of euros to ensure Bechter’s victory. His senatorial immunity was lifted in February 2014. This year, Bechter is running for reelection, facing a divided left: the PS is supporting Carlos da Silva, a deputy and close ally of Manuel Valls (who was mayor of neighboring Évry until 2012); the FG candidate is Bruno Piriou (PCF), a general councillor. The outcome of the PS-PCF battle is very unclear; regardless of who wins that, the runoff is a pure tossup.

Bastia: Incumbent mayor Émile Zuccarelli (PRG), in office since he replaced his father in 1989, is retiring and wants his son, Jean Zuccarelli, to succeed him. Traditionally hegemonic in the city, the family took a hit with Émile Zuccarelli’s defeat at the hands of the UMP in the 2007 legislative elections (nationalists, who loathe the stridently anti-nationalist and Jacobin Zuccarelli, vowed to have him defeated) although the divisions of the opposition allowed him to win reelection without too much trouble in 2008. But in 2012, Jean too fell victim to nationalist backlash and failed to reconquer his father’s seat in the National Assembly. The succession has been handled poorly: a frustrated former ally of the mayor who saw himself as his heir-apparent, François Tatti, is running as a dissident. The moderate nationalist candidate is Gilles Simeoni, the son of nationalist icon Edmond Simeoni. The race promises to be a nail-biter: polls show Simeoni and Zuccarelli nearly tied in the first round, with the runoff hinging on the alliances forged: if Tatti joins forces with Simeoni, then the nationalists would be the favourites; if Tatti does not withdraw, the runoff remains very close with no clear favourite.

Hénin-Beaumont: Hénin-Beaumont, an impoverished former mining town in the Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin, is Marine Le Pen’s political homebase since 2007. In addition to the social reality of the depressed post-industrial town, the division, troubles and discredit of the local PS (former mayor Gérard Dalongeville was arrested in 2009 for embezzlement) has been a godsend for the FN. In addition, locally led by Le Pen’s lieutenant Steeve Briois, the FN has done a great job at setting up a powerful machine on the ground – to the point where the FN speaks openly of its aims to recreate a tradition akin to ‘municipal communism’, providing services to its constituents. Although Briois/Le Pen’s list did poorly in the 2008 election, the 2009 by-election which followed Dalongeville’s removal from office, the FN won 47.6% in the second round. In the 2012 legislative elections, Marine Le Pen won a majority of the vote in Hénin-Beaumont in the runoff (she lost the constituency because her PS rival, Philippe Kemel, did well in his town of Carvin). This year, incumbent PS mayor Eugène Binaisse is seeking reelection, going up against Steeve Briois. Dalongeville, despite having been sentenced to prison last year, is running as a left-wing independent. Polls have shown that Briois may win the runoff.

Forbach: Forbach is one of the FN’s main targets. It is the largest city in Moselle’s coal mining basin, and as such it is 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. Kalinowski had been general councillor since 2004 and was elected deputy for the 6th constituency in 2012, defeating Le Pen’s campaign director and FN vice-president Florian Philippot in a PS-FN runoff (with only 53.7%: transfers from the UMP incumbent, defeated by the first round, to the FN were very high). Philippot, an ENA/HEC technocrat has set up shop in the depressed post-industrial Moselle coal basin, which is one of the FN’s strongest regions. The right is divided, between the official UMP candidate Alexandre Cassaro, the leader of the Jeunes Pop and very close ideologically to the far-right; and the local dissident, Eric Diligent, who is more centrist. One poll has shown a very close race between the PS and the FN, with both candidates tied in the second round.

Other races to follow:

  • Right hoping for a gain from the left: Auxerre, Laval, Belfort, La Seyne-sur-Mer, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, Albertville, Briançon, Bourgoin-Jallieu, Clamart
  • Left hoping for a gain from the right: Nîmes, Bourges, Mulhouse, Calais, Biarritz, Bayonne, Montauban, Vienne
  • Left-wing solid or likely: Nantes, Rennes, Brest, Dijon, Besançon, Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Dunkerque, Tours, Créteil, Villeurbanne Istres, Poitiers, Dieppe, Le Mans
  • Right-wing solid or likely: Toulon, Orléans, Saint-Quentin, Chartres
  • PS-PCF primaries in many towns in the Seine-Saint-Denis: Bagnolet, Saint-Ouen, Sevran, Villepinte, Villetaneuse
  • Right-wing divisions: Saint-Maur-des-Fossés
  • FN targets: Sorgues (Marion-Maréchal Le Pen in second on the list), Carpentras, Brignoles (after a FN gain in a cantonal by-election in 2013, the new FN general councillor takes on the incumbent left and a UMP deputy), Saint-Gilles (FN deputy Gilbert Collard running for mayor in the first town won by the FN), Fréjus (a divided right with the ex-UMP mayor running as a dissident may help the FN win)
  • Crazy: Noyon (two brothers, one UMP and one PS, fighting it out with the FN on a strong footing), Propriano

Follow @welections on Twitter on March 23 and 30 for major results.

Election Preview: France Municipal Elections 2014 – Part I

Municipal elections will be held in France on March 23 and 30, 2014. The municipal councils of all 36,681 communes in France will be up for reelection.

How it works: French municipal government

La commune in France

Communes of France

The commune is the lowest echelon of government in France, below the State, the regions and the departments. France has 36,681 communes – 36,552 in metropolitan France and Corsica and 129 in overseas departments and regions. Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, French Polynesia and New Caledonia (overseas collectivities) are also divided into communes, like the rest of France, and they vote at the same time in municipal elections. Only Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Wallis-et-Futuna and uninhabited territories (French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Clipperton Island).

France has, by far, the most communes of any EU country: Germany has about 12,000 municipalities, the UK has about 10,5000 civil parishes, Spain and Italy have about 8,100 municipalities. Most French communes are very sparsely populated: 54.3% have less than 500 inhabitants, 73.4% have less than 1,000 inhabitants. Yet, only 14.6% of the French population lives in communes with less than 100,000 people; about half of the population lives in 946 communes (2.6% of all communes). The smallest populated commune, Rochefourchat, has a legal population of one; there are six communes in the Meuse which have no inhabitants: they were destroyed during the Battle of Verdun (1916) and never rebuilt. They have retained a status as communes (officially, communes mortes pour la France), but they are totally uninhabited and administered by a mayor and two deputies nominated by the prefect.

Communes are a Revolutionary creation, dating back to 1789 when the new Revolutionary authorities established about 40,000 communes, largely corresponding to religious parishes. Indeed, almost every single commune in France has a Church (in addition, nowadays, to the obligatory local monument aux morts for the war dead). Until 1870, the State’s policy was to abolish communes with excessively low populations which were no longer viable and creating communes in areas where the original map was problematic (large territory, hamlets blocked by physical features). By the waning days of the Second Empire, municipal mergers (fusions) were unpopular with the local populations, and the Republican opposition promised emancipation for communes. An 1884 law established the main structures of local government, the broad principles of which have remained unchanged to this day. Each commune has a municipal council directly elected by the population and a mayor elected by the municipal council. The 1884 law also established the clause de compétence générale (a legal clause which has allowed communes/departments/regions to intervene in all matters which they can argue to be in the local public interest).

In part because of their long history and Revolutionary heritage, communes are still largely perceived as the base of local democracy and decision-making – a core “republican value”. Citizens, especially in small villages, are very attached to their commune and they have tended to care a great deal about local politics and local democracy (again, particularly in rural areas), much more so than in other countries. Turnout in French municipal elections has been above 60% in every election since World War II; in fact, it was over 70% in every election before 1995 and while 2008 marked an all-time low, turnout was still 65%. Turnout increases linearly as the population of the commune decreases.

The extremely large number of communes in France, combined to successive rural exoduses since the Industrial Revolution which have reduced the populations of thousands of small rural communes, has made local governance problematic. Successive governments since the 1890s, and particularly since 1945, have struggled to come up with solutions to this fundamental challenge to local democracy. Given that communes, by and large, are hostile to mergers with larger (more viable) communes; most governments since the 1890s have usually shied away from promoting ambitious municipal merger schemes. The main exception to that tradition came in 1971, with the Marcellin law (after interior minister Raymond Marcellin), which sought to promote municipal mergers. Individual prefects were instructed to come up with merger plans, which were to be approved by municipal councils. These could either be full mergers, in which one commune would disappear entirely within another, or retain some individual autonomy (for example, a delegated mayor and a decentralized town hall providing vital records) as a commune associée (associated commune). The Marcellin law was a failure: individual prefects acted differently (either proposing vast mergers, or limited and partial mergers depending on the region) and created a mess, and the associated commune status was unattractive. Between 1971 and 2009, only 1,100 communes effectively disappeared (most in the 1970s). There are currently 712 associated communes. A good number of the original mergers and associations were later dissolved, with old communes regaining their independence.

The 2010 Sarkozy reform tried to encourage municipal mergers and effectively replaced the moribund Marcellin law’s associated communes with the status of commune nouvelle (new communes) which is pretty much the same thing as associated communes (although slightly closer to a full merger) with the guidelines for their creations not all that different from the ones in the Marcellin law. Its application has been very limited: there are only 17 fewer communes in 2014 than in 2008.

The intercommunalité (EPCI)

Map of EPCI in France as of Jan. 1, 2014 (source:

Given the failure of the amalgamation schemes and the general impracticality of merging communes, governments have been forced to consider other structures to make local governance viable. The solution has been intercommunal cooperation, which began taking its current form rapid post-war urban/suburban expansion and rural depopulation in the 1960s. Intercommunal cooperation takes two distinct, but overlapping and co-existing, forms: loose “associative” cooperation to provide certain public services or utilities (water, electricity, waste management, school transportation) or more cohesive “federative” cooperation which has more powers, responsibilities and more ambitious aims including economic development.

The structure of intercommunal cooperation is thus complex, but at the same time increasingly important. Intercommunal structures have gained more and more powers and financial resources, at the expense of communes but also from departments, regions and the State. Intercommunal cooperation structures are known as établissements publics de coopération intercommunale (EPCI) or intercommunalité.

Communes or EPCI are responsible for: elementary schools (buildings, equipment), culture (shared power with the State and departments/regions), youth (nurseries, recreation centres), sports (equipment and subsidies), tourism, local urban policy/planning, advice and approval for territorial planning, environment (shared power over water, protected zones; waste management, water sanitation and distribution), local marinas, communal roads, urban transportation/public transit, school transportation, management of local public/social housing, municipal police forces (except Paris), traffic and parking.

The oldest form of intercommunal cooperation is the very loose “associative” form whereby communes – but also other territorial collectivities (departments, regions) – join together to provide one or more public services or utilities. The first such form of intercommunal cooperation was created in 1890, expanded in 1935 and 1959. These EPCI lacking fiscal autonomy (they rely on financial contributions from members) include 8,979 Syndicat intercommunal à vocation unique (Sivu, providing only one service), 3,187 Syndicats mixtes (associating different territorial collectivities, intended as a forum for different territorial collectivities and actors to cooperate amongst themselves), 1,233 Syndicat intercommunal à vocations multiples (Sivom, providing more than one service) and 9 Pôles métropolitains (a 2010 creation to encourage cooperation between different agglomerations). These types of EPCI are losing their attractiveness; the number of syndicates has declined from about 15,300 in 2010 to 13,400 in 2014.

Of far greater importance are the EPCI with fiscal autonomy, the most common, widespread and important form of intercommunal cooperation in France. In 2014, there are 2,145 such EPCI grouping 36,614 communes in metro France and the four DOMs (excluding Mayotte). 49 communes outside Paris and Mayotte remain ‘isolated’ – that is, not a member of any EPCI, but of those, 41 are in the petite couronne outside Paris (where a major reform of intercommunal government is in the works) and four are islands with no legal obligation to join an EPCI. Straightforward so far? It isn’t supposed to be – there are many different types of EPCI with fiscal autonomy in France.

The first intercommunalité structure was the district, created in 1959 (abolished in 1999 and phased out by 2002), followed by the more ambitious communautés urbaines (urban communities, CU) in 1966. In 1992, a law created the communautés de communes (community of communes, CC). The 1999 Chevènement law beefed up the responsibilities of urban communities and the CC, abolished the failed structures, and created a new kind of structure: communautés d’agglomeration (agglomeration communities, CA). The 2010 Sarkozy reform set out to clean up and rationalize the intercommunal structure – forcing all communes in metro France (with Parisian and insular exceptions) to join an EPCI, created a fifth structure: the metropolis (métropole), for very large urban areas.

The métropole (metropolis) – only one exists thus far (Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur) – is limited to large urban areas; legally, it is reserved for territories with a population of over 500,000 and/or the four original urban communities created in 1966. This meant that seven current urban communities are eligible to gain the metropolis status. The component communes transfer some of their powers to the metropolis. These responsibilities include social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policy; management of local social housing plans; management of public services (sanitation, water, cemeteries, slaughterhouses); environmental policies including recycling and air pollution reduction. The department transfers responsibilities such as departmental roads and school transportation, with the possibility of the metropolis gaining full powers over social action, middle schools and other services from the department. The region and the State may also devolve powers to the metropolis.

A January 2014 law (the loi du 27 janvier 2014 de modernisation de l’action publique territoriale et d’affirmation des métropoles) will significantly expand and transform the metropolis status. On January 1, 2015; all EPCI with a population over 400,000 inhabitants in an urban area of over 650,000 people will be transformed by decree into metropolises (Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Nantes, Nice, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg, Toulouse). That same day, the CU of Lyon will be transformed into the Métropole de Lyon, which will replace the department of the Rhône (and assume all departmental powers) in its territory. In 2016, the Métropole d’Aix-Marseille-Provence will be created (in the face of local opposition), uniting 92 communes representing 93% of the Bouches-du-Rhône’s population. In 2016, the Métropole du Grand Paris, uniting Paris and the three departments of the petite couronne, will be created; its legal responsibilities will be similar to that of a CU (spatial planning, housing, urban policy, economic/social/cultural development, environment, quality of life).

There are 15 Urban Communities (Communauté urbaine, CU). The urban communities were created in 1966, meant to cover the largest urban areas. Four CU were created by the law in 1966 (Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg), today there are 15 CUs in France (Lyon, Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Strasbourg, Nancy, Brest, Dunkerque, Le Mans, Arras, Creusot-Montceau, Cherbourg, Alençon). Although the 1999 Chevènement law reserved the CU status to territories with a population over 500,000; urban communities created before that date have been allowed to retain their status, so 9 of the 15 CUs have a population under 500,000 – the smallest CU, Alençon, has only 48.7k people. The 2010 reform, creating the metropolis, lowered the threshold for the creation of new CUs to 450,000.

Every CU has mandatory powers, transferred from the component communes. These powers are: social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policies; public transit; management of social housing; management of public services (sanitation, water, cemeteries, slaughterhouses); and environmental policies including recycling and air pollution reduction. Communes may devolve further powers to the CUs, while they may gain some power over social action from the department.

The Agglomeration Communities (Communauté d’agglomération, CA) – of which there are 222 in 2014 – were created by the Chevènement law in 1999 for urban areas including medium or large cities. According to the law, CAs must have a population of over 50,000 with at least one commune of at least 15,000 inhabitants (unless the CA includes the capital and/or largest city of a department). However, the law allowed for the transformation of districts, communauté de villes (a failed scheme introduced in 1992, abolished in 1999) or CCs into CAs even if they did not meet the population requirements. Since 2010, the threshold for the creation of a CA, if it includes the department’s capital (chef-lieu) was reduced to 30,000. The CA scheme has proven to be extremely popular, from 50 CAs in 2000 there are now 222.

Every CA has powers, transferred from the communes, over social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policies; social housing; and public transit. Each CA must also choose 3 of 6 additional powers from the following powers: road maintenance, sanitation, water, environmental protection, social action in the community’s interest, and cultural/sports equipment. Communes may decide to devolve other powers to the CA. Furthermore, the CA may decide to define additional powers which it judges to be in the community’s interest.

The Community of Communes (Communautés de communes, CC), created in 1992 for rural areas, are the loosest type of EPCI with fiscal autonomy. The CC has been extremely popular and they have, slowly and incompletely, replaced Sivu or Sivom structures; although since 2010, the number of CC has declined significantly (from 2,409 to 1,903) as a result of the mergers of some smaller CCs by prefectural decree or their transformation into CAs. CCs have two main advantages for small rural communes, which remain very closely attached to the “republican traditions” of communal independence and local democracy. Firstly, they allow them to provide local services in cooperation with neighboring communes. Secondly, the CCs are a form of territorial organization which allows them to maintain their independence vis-à-vis larger urban areas (CAs) which would like to gobble them up. There are 1,903 CCs currently.

The CCs have two mandatory powers transferred from the communes: economic development and spatial planning. They must also choose one power from the following six ‘options’: environmental protection, housing policy, road maintenance, construction and management of preschools, elementary school, cultural and sport equipment, social action in the community’s interest, and sanitation.

There are four Syndicates of New Agglomerations (Syndicat d’agglomération nouvelle, SAN), created in 1983 but being phased out. The SAN were meant to cover specifically new towns (villes nouvelles) such as Cergy-Pontoise, Marne-la-Vallée, Sénart or Ouest Provence (Rives de l’Étang de Berre). The 1999 law gradually phased them out, from a maximum of 9 SAN in 2000 there are now only four left, 3 of them in the Paris region. Many former SAN have become CAs, the remaining 4 SAN are expected to do likewise.

Although the State and prefects in each department have often played a large role in spearheading the EPCI, they cannot usually unilaterally force any commune to join an EPCI. With some exceptions, the final decision for joining an EPCI rests with individual communes. Mayors, especially those from thinly populated rural communes, remain closely attached to the notion of communal independence and many respond unfavourably to decisions and instructions from above. In urban areas, political and parochial disputes have traditionally tended to hamper the development of cohesive and rational EPCI – suburban communes suspicious of domination of the larger urban commune, urban communes not wanting to subsidize suburban communes and political disputes (left-wing mayors not wanting to be in an EPCI with right-wing mayors, and vice-versa).

EPCI financing

Communes and intercommunalities have three main sources of funding: taxes (about the three-fifths of their revenues), unconditional transfers and grants from the State and loans.

The main local direct taxes are the housing tax (taxe d’habitation), the land value taxes (taxe sur le foncier bâtitaxe sur le foncier non bâti) and the cotisation foncière des entreprises (CFE). Communes and the five types of EPCI outlined above are said to be fiscally autonomous. While they are not allowed to create or levy taxes on their own (the taxes are created and collected by the State) they have the power to set the rates for local taxes. Fiscal autonomy, however, is conditioned by the State which has set various guidelines, limits or rules for local taxation.

The 2010 reform introduced a major, and rather controversial, change to local finances. The professional or business tax (taxe professionnelle, TP) was abolished and replaced, partially, by the Territorial Economic Contribution (contribution économique territoriale, CET). The TP was a tax paid by every business/corporation and was the largest single source of revenue for all territorial collectivities, which set the local rate. Arguing that the TP was hindering the country’s economic competitiveness, Sarkozy abolished the TP. It was replaced, but only partially, by the new CET.

The CET is the sum of two taxes paid by businesses/corporations: the cotisation foncière des entreprises (CFE) which is a land value tax (taxe foncière) and the cotisation sur la valeur ajoutée des entreprises (CVAE) which is a value added tax based on a businesses’ annual turnover. The entirety of the CFE is directed by the communes and EPCIs, who have retained the right to set the local rate. The CVAE, whose rate is set by the State, and is distributed between the region (25%), department (48.5%) and communes/EPCI (26.5%). The replacement of the TP by the CET meant that territorial collectivities not only lost a major source of revenue but also a good deal of their fiscal autonomy. Nevertheless, the State promised to fully compensate territorial collectivities for any loses incurred by the transition. Since the CET rakes in less revenue than the TP, new taxes or fiscal transfers (from the State or between territorial collectivities) have been created to make up the difference. One of those new taxes is the imposition forfaitaire sur les entreprises de réseaux (IFER), a tax on energy equipments (wind turbines, electricity generating plants, electrical transformers etc). The IFER is split between all territorial collectivities.

There are two (and a half) kinds of financing/funding for EPCIs with fiscal autonomy. The ‘Additional taxation’ (régime de la fiscalité additionnelle) is the initial and basic system, which applies for 855 CCs and 2 CUs created before 1999 which haven’t switched to the other system. The EPCI here has the power to set intercommunal tax rates (for the four local taxes: housing tax, land value taxes, CFE) but these tax rates are ‘additional’ to the local tax rates set by the component communes. The intercommunal tax rate in effect sets a ‘ceiling’ on the tax rate for each commune, but this system allows for variations in the tax rates (especially the CFE) between communes in the same EPCI. The communal fraction of the CVAE is divided between the intercommunality and the communes. Some CCs may choose a  Fiscalité professionnelle de zone (FPZ) scheme, which creates economic activity zones (ZAE) within the territory of the EPCI which will have a single, uniform intercommunal CFE rate (all transferred to the EPCI). Businesses located within the ZAE will pay the intercommunal CFE, but business located outside a ZAE will pay different tax rates depending on the commune.

The other system is the ‘Unique professional taxation’ (régime de la fiscalité professionnelle unique, FPU), which is mandatory since 1999 for all CAs, SAN and since 2010 for the new metropolises. The FPU is also mandatory for all CUs created after 1999 and is automatically granted to those created before 1999 unless they decide otherwise. 13 of the 15 CUs have chose the FPU system, as have 1,048 CCs. Under the FPU system, only the intercommunality decides on the CFE rate and it receives the entirety of the CFE’s revenues (and all of the communal fraction of the CVAE). Therefore, communes member of an EPCI which has opted for the FPU do not receive any part of the CFE or CVAE. The EPCI still sets ‘additional’ tax rates on the three other taxes.

EPCI governance

Each EPCI with fiscal autonomy (metropolis, CU, CA, CC, SAN) has a deliberative assembly, the Conseil communautaire or community council, which has a similar role to a municipal council. Each member-commune is represented in the community council proportionally to its population, with each commune holding at least one seat. In addition, no single commune may hold over half of the seats in the community council. All community councillors are municipal councillors or mayors.

Each community council elects a president (in addition to vice-presidents) which has a role similar to a mayor, except for the whole EPCI. EPCI executives form a “loophole” in the current regulations concerning the cumul des mandats, which means that most presidents of EPCIs tend to be the mayor of the largest commune in the EPCI (or another large town in the same EPCI), provided that the largest commune and the EPCI are of the same political ‘colour’.

In the past, all community councillors were elected by the respective municipal councils – which meant that the opposition group(s) in any commune were almost always excluded from the community council and whole delegations from a commune represented the governing majority. Given the significant and ever-increasing powers of EPCIs, their management by unelected bodies was often criticized and weakened their democratic legitimacy.

In 2014, community councillors will be elected semi-directly in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants. The full workings will be addressed in the next section.

Municipal elections: Electoral systems

Municipal councils are elected for a six-year term.

All French and EU citizens, aged over 18 with full civic and political rights, may register to vote. Since 2001, EU citizens are allowed to vote granted that they have resided in the commune for the past six months and/or pay local taxes. Although EU citizens are allowed to run for office and serve as municipal councillors, they are constitutionally banned from becoming mayors or assistants to the mayor/deputy mayors (adjoints au maire).

Unlike in some other EU countries (Scandinavia, Ireland, Benelux etc), resident non-EU foreigners are not allowed to vote in local elections in France. The extension of voting rights in local elections to non-EU foreign citizens has been a matter of hot political debate for years, and it returned to the spotlight during and after the 2012 presidential campaign. François Hollande promised to extend voting rights to foreigners in his presidential campaign, but since the left lacks the required majority in both houses of Parliament to affect such constitutional change, it has been dropped from the government’s agenda for constitutional reform.

Each commune is governed by a directly-elected municipal council, whose size varies in proportion to the population of the commune.

Population Seats
1-99 7
100-499 11
500-1,499 15
1,500-2,499 19
2,500-3,499 23
3,500-4,999 27
5,000-9,999 29
10,000-19,999 33
20,000-29,999 35
30,000-39,999 39
40,000-49,999 43
50,000-59,999 45
60,000-79,999 49
80,000-99,999 53
100,000-149,999 55
150,000-199,999 59
200,000-249,999 61
250,000-299,999 65
300,000+ 69
Lyon 73
Marseille 101
Paris 163

The mayor is elected by the municipal council. In the first and second rounds, a mayoral candidate must win an absolute majority of valid votes. In the third round, a plurality is sufficient. In all communes, a mayor also has one or more adjoints (deputies).

Electoral system in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants except Paris, Lyon and Marseille

Municipal councillors are elected by a two-round semi-proportional system with closed lists. The commune forms a single ‘constituency’, it is not further subdivided into any sections. Since 2000, lists must respect gender parity – this means that lists must alternate between men and women. This system, between 1983 and 2013, applied to communes with a population over 3,500; it was extended by the 2013 Valls law to all communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

A list must obtain an absolute majority of valid votes (50%+1) and 25% of registered voters to win by the first round. If no list meets this requirement, a second round is organized one week later. All lists which have won over 10% of valid votes are qualified for the runoff. Lists which have obtained between 5% and 10% of the valid votes are allowed to merge (fusionner) with a qualified list for the runoff, which will change the ordering of candidates on that qualified list. A list which is qualified for the runoff may nevertheless choose to drop out or merge with another list. In the second round, a plurality of the votes is enough to win.

The list winning the most vote automatically wins half of all seats in the municipal council, rounded up to the nearest whole number if necessary. The remaining half of the seats are attributed proportionally to all lists which have won over 5% of valid votes using the highest averages method. Therefore, the winning list not only receives a huge majority bonus, it also receives a good share of the other half of the seats (proportional to its vote share).

Obviously, the result is that whichever list wins the election – even if it is by a single vote and/or with something like 35% of the vote – will have a huge super-majority in the municipal council. For example, in Pau in 2008, the winning list won 39% of the vote and 71% of the seats.

The mayor often tends to be the top candidate of the winning list.

Electoral system in communes with less than 1,000 inhabitants

Municipal councillors are elected by majority at-large voting (also called bloc voting or multiple non-transferable vote, MNTV). Gender parity laws do not apply.

These elections still feature lists of candidates, although lists are not mandatory. However, unlike in larger communes where the lists are closed, in these communes voters will vote for individuals (they have as many votes as there are seats) and panachage is allowed – voters may strike off the name of a candidate on a list, or they may reorder candidates on a list. Until 2013, write-ins for other citizens who were not candidates were valid, and the vote remains valid even if there are more or less names on the ballot than there are seats in the municipal council. Votes are then counted by each individual candidate rather than by lists.

Since 2013, candidates must declare their candidacy to the préfecture two weeks and a half before the election. If the number of candidates declared for the first round is less than the number of seats to be filled, new candidacies may be declared on the Tuesday before the second round.

Candidates are elected in the first round if they have won an absolute majority of valid votes (50%+1) and 25% of registered voters. If not all seats are filled by the first round, the remaining seats are filled in a second round a week later. In the second round, a plurality suffices. Studies have shown that the actual use of ‘panachage’ by voters is extremely limited.

Paris, Lyon and Marseille

Arrondissements of Paris (source: Wikipedia)

The three largest cities in France have a special electoral system, adopted in 1982 with the so-called ‘PLM law’. Unlike other communes with over 1,000 inhabitants, the commune as a whole does not form a single ‘constituency’. Rather, these cities are subdivided into de facto constituencies. Paris has 20 arrondissements, Lyon has 9 arrondissements while Marseille has 8 sectors each made up of two arrondissements.

The election is played in each individual arrondissement/sector, with the same system as in other communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

Each arrondissement or sector has a local council with a variable number of seats. In turn, the municipal council is composed of representatives from each arrondissement/sector, whose number of seats on the municipal council is roughly half the seats in their arrondissement/sector council. The first name(s) elected on each list in each arrondissement/sector will sit in the municipal council.

Each arrondissement or sector also has a mayor (maire d’arrondissement/secteur), and the arrondissements/sectors have limited autonomy and manage a small budget given by the city-wide municipal government.

In Paris, there are a total of 354 conseillers d’arrondissement, with a minimum of 10 seats in each arrondissement’s council. The 2013 Valls law redistributed the number of conseillers de Paris between each arrondissement, with the overrepresented arrondissements with a small population losing seats while the underrepresented arrondissements gained seats. The overall relation between the population and the number of councillors for each arrondissement is now far more equal.

Arrondissements of Lyon (source: Wikipedia)

In Lyon, there are a total of 148 conseillers d’arrondissement, again with a minimum of 10 seats for the least populated arrondissements (arrdt. 1, 2, 4). The municipal council has 73 seats, with the least populated arrondissement (arrdt. 1) holding four seats and the two most populated (arrdt. 3 and 8) with 12 seats.

Marseille has 16 municipal arrondissements, but unlike in Lyon or Paris they serve no administrative role. Elections, instead, are held in eight sectors which are made up of two arrondissements each. Each sector has a local council, for a total of 202 sectoral councillors in the entire city. The city council has 101 seats.

Therefore, to summarize, there are no city-wide municipal elections with a single list in Paris, Lyon or Marseille. There are, instead, elections in each arrondissements/sector which decide the city council. You could compare this system to the electoral college in the United States, with some differences.

Unlike the electoral college, the individual elections in each administrative division does not give a WTA result, although each arrondissement/sector’s delegation to the city council will be heavily dominated by whichever list won the election in that arrondissement/sector. If a list was to win every single arrondissement or sector, it would have a governing majority comparable to governing majorities in other French cities. However, because of the PLM law, there is a small chance that no single list could win an absolute majority. Furthermore, if the election is close and the main rivals each win roughly the same number of arrondissements/sectors, it is quite likely that whoever wins will have only a thin absolute majority on the council (this is currently the case in Marseille, with 51 seats for the mayor’s majority against 49 for the left and one for the FN).

Sectors of Marseille (source: Wikipedia)

Like in the United States, the PLM system means that one party’s lists may win the most votes in the city as a whole but still win less seats than some other list on the city council. This has happened in the past, most famously in Marseille in 1983 when Gaston Defferre lost the popular vote but held a majority on city council because he had, as interior minister, gerrymandered the sectors in such a way to win reelection. The right-wing government under Jacques Chirac changed the sector map in Marseille to what it currently is in 1987.

Electoral system for intercommunal councillors

For the first time this year, some intercommunal councillors who sit in the Conseil communautaire will be elected semi-directly by voters. In communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants, those who will serve on community councils will be elected from party lists based on the result of the party lists in the decisive round (where one list wins) in the commune. Ballots (for each individual list) will include, on the right hand side, a list of candidates for the community council which are drawn from the list of candidates for the municipal council. There are as many candidates are there are seats – with one additional candidate if there are less than five seats, and two additional candidates if there are more than five seats. All candidates in the first quarter of the list for the municipal council must be on the list for the community council, in the same order; all candidates for community council must be included in the first three-fifths of the list for the municipal council. Seats are distributed based on the results of the election, using the electoral system for communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

In communes with less than 1,000 inhabitants, intercommunal councillors will still be elected indirectly with seats being attributed to the mayor, and, if more seats are to be filled to his/her adjoints.

This year, due to legal changes complicating matters in small towns, 64 communes – all but one with less than 1,000 inhabitants – have no declared candidates for the first round.

Local and national dynamics in municipal elections

Municipal elections in France obey both local and national dynamics.

In small towns – certainly all those who will still vote under the majority at-large system this year but many of the towns with over 1,000 inhabitants which used to vote under that system – local politics is local, with little to no national influence. One author, using an American term, used the idea of ‘ambiguous consensus’ to describe the form which local politics take in those communities – indeed, governance there is consensual, pragmatic and non-partisan. Most mayors in those communes do not have a political etiquette, and if they do, it hardly means anything: their governing team may include people with opposite political sympathies. Because governing those small towns does not require full-time politicians, a lot of small town mayors and councillors are ‘regular’ citizens working another job, in addition to their local political responsibilities. In many cases, there is no opposition to the incumbent mayor and his/her list; certainly the electoral system in small towns makes the vote very personal and not remotely political. But even in a lot of the small towns with over 1,000 inhabitants which will vote for party lists this year, there is little to no partisan competition: lists – assuming there is more than one (which is not always the case) – are non-partisan and focus solely on local issues and it’s foolish to assign partisan labels to them. But that hasn’t stopped the Ministry of the Interior, in its infinite wisdom.

Therefore, for the sake of political analysis, when reading municipal elections, attention generally focuses on the 260 or so communes with a population with over 30,000 – with attention given to smaller communes if they have major candidates, symbolic importance to national politics or are of human interest. In those major towns and cities, municipal elections follow local and national dynamics, as research has shown.

Local factors

Firstly, local issues – and local factors, such as the personality and popularity of individual candidates or the local partisan/political climate (if distinct from the national climate) – play a major role in municipal elections, even in these larger communes.

In general, mayors tend to be fairly well regarded by the majority of the population and optimism in the direction of the town/city is generally far higher than optimism (or lack thereof) for the direction of the country. According to an Ipsos poll in late February 2014 in communes with a population over 25,000; 71% of respondents, on average, declared that they were satisfied with their mayor. Another Ipsos poll just out on March 20 shows that 64% of voters say that their municipal government has done a good or excellent job. Unless they’re caught with the hands in the marmalade or are particularly incompetent, it’s harder for a mayor to be widely disliked (like many national politicians are) because they have less powers, their actions generally receive less media attention (outside their town) and mayors often strive to be consensual rather than polarizing. Furthermore, given the tradition of the cumul des mandats in France, a lot of mayors are also parliamentarians, so they have the chance to favour their hometown and shower it with national funding and favours.

It is also quite telling that in polls, this year like in 2008, voters tell pollsters that they will vote firstly based on local issues. According to an Ifop poll recently released, 69% will vote mainly based on local considerations. 20% will vote primarily to punish the government, and only 7% will vote primarily to support the government. A CSA poll reported quasi-identical numbers: 65%, 19% and 5% respectively.

This year, according to polls, the most important issues for voters are local taxes (cited by about 50%), environment/quality of life, criminality/safety, economic development/jobs and transportation. According to CSA’s poll, issues such as criminality, parking, immigration, housing and pollution are far more important in large towns (pop 30,000+) than in small towns; in the smallest towns (pop <1000), those issues hardly figure at all while connectivity/broadband access is rather significant. At the same time, issues such as taxes, transparency and economic development are relevant across the board. There are also clear partisan dimensions in those issues, obviously; criminality, immigration are priorities for right-wing and far-right voters, but are of lesser importance for left-wing voters, who tend to be more concerned with issues such as housing and transportation.

In Les élections municipales en France (2001, published by La documentation française), Pierre Martin showed that, with national and partisan trends controlled, there existed a clear advantage for an incumbent mayor at the end of his/her first term in office. This is similar to the ‘sophomore surge’ for one-term US congressmen seeking reelection for the first time. The advantage after two or more terms in office is progressively eliminated, and after several terms in office, many mayors are threatened by weariness of voters and their own teams. However, while almost all ‘freshmen’ mayors receive a boost at their first reelection, the phenomenon of weariness does not effect them all in the same way: different mayors and administrations may tire far more quickly than others, some mayors – even in large cities – can manage to build very solid bases which resist well to weariness. 

Local factors also explain individual results when the election is analyzed through national lenses. They explain, for example, why a certain town – based on presidential results – which is quantitatively more likely to switch sides didn’t do so, while another town, quantitatively less likely to switch sides, did so. They also explain why some towns went against the national trend in a given year. Finally, they explain why towns generally unfavourable to one political side in national elections may be governed – for quite some time – by that same political side. For example, the city of Bordeaux has leaned to the left in the most recent nationwide elections, but it has been a municipal right-wing stronghold since 1947. Toulouse, governed by the right between 1971 and 2008 despite voting for the left in nationwide elections for most of the time, is also often cited as an example of such a phenomenon.

National factors

Municipal elections in France since 1959: party control of communes of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election, in %)

Municipal elections in France since 1959: party control of communes of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election, in %)

It’s also clear that local factors can’t explain everything. Municipal elections in France, unlike in many other countries, are organized on the same day across the entire territory of the republic, which make them a particularly good occasion for voters less interested by local issues to show their opposition (more often than not, because dissatisfaction is a better mobilizer than satisfaction) to the national government. In a way, municipal elections may be interpreted like midterm elections – generally more difficult for the governing party, even if it is not overly unpopular, and with a potential to be particularly bloody for the governing party if it is clearly unpopular. That being said, regional, European and cantonal elections in France are also similar to midterm elections, and in the case of regional and European elections perhaps even more so than les municipales since a lot of voters in those elections aren’t aware of regional/European issues and vote primarily based on national issues.

The idea of municipal elections being midterms holds true since 1947 when the results are taken only through national lenses (in the detail, looking at individual towns, it is less useful). In 1977, the incumbent right-wing government of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Prime Minister Raymond Barre was unpopular and the economy in bad shape. The left swept municipal elections that year, gaining 57 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants. In 1983, the economy was still in the dump, cards were reversed: the left was now in power, with President François Mitterrand and Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy. The right swept municipal elections in 1983, gaining 35 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants. The most recent municipal elections, in 2008, also saw a significant swing to the left, one year after Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. After 2008, the left controlled 57.7% of communes with over 30,000 inhabitants, up from 44.5% in 2001.

These were the most extreme cases of major nationwide waves against the governing party in municipal elections. In 1959, 1965, 1971, 1989 and 1995, the incumbent government was less unpopular and therefore the results were more mixed; although on the whole, the governing party didn’t do as well as in the last national elections – 1959, for example, saw a strong performance by the Communists (PCF) just one year after the PCF was badly trounced in the first elections of the Fifth Republic.

Historically, turnout also shifted depending on the national mood. Until turnout began declining, seemingly irreversibly, after 1989, turnout in municipal elections varied based on the unpopularity of the government. In 1977 and 1983, the two classic anti-government waves, turnout was very high: 78.9% and 78.4% – compared to 75.2% in 1971 and 72.8% in 1989. In those cases, the unpopularity of the government strongly mobilized the opposition electorate to vote against the government. In 1971 and 1989, when the government parties did fairly well, the opposition’s voters were less motivated to turn out. Since 1989, however, municipal turnout has declined one election after another. Even 2001 and 2008, which saw significant anti-government movements, saw turnout decline from the previous municipal election.

Dynamics of municipal elections

National factors cannot explain everything in French municipal politics. There are particular political and partisan dynamics or phenomenons in municipal elections which are fairly unique to municipal elections themselves. These include: the tradition of municipal communism, the survival of anti-communist socialist-centrist alliances until 1977, the dynamics of first round left-wing unity since 1977 and the weakness of Gaullism in local politics until 1971/1983.

Municipal government in several communes in France, especially Paris’ working-class suburbs in the petite couronne but also many other towns throughout the country, has been marked since 1935 (or 1945) by the tradition of ‘municipal communism’ (le communisme municipal). Indeed, in those solidly left-wing and historically proletarian communes, the PCF established itself as the dominant party in local government in 1935 or 1945 (in isolated cases, such as Bobigny or Saint-Denis, in 1925). From the standpoint of urban politics and social policy, municipal communism is a rather important historical phenomenon. In power, communist municipalities implemented social policies aimed at the general welfare (especially that of the working-class) and the promotion of social, cultural and recreational infrastructure. Communist municipal governments in suburban Paris built social housing, theaters, summer camps, pools, recreation centres or local health dispensaries. Communist mayors were also local administrators faced with numerous contradictions stemming from the PCF’s theoretical positions, notably opposition to a ‘bourgeois state’. On the ground, with their powers constrained at the outset by hostility from the State, they were forced to be pragmatic. For example, in his study of rural communism in the interwar Limousin, Laird Boswell found that nascent PCF administrations in those cash-strapped villages were often quite conservative fiscally, much to the dismay of revolutionaries in their ranks. With limited resources and government hostility, they were forced to govern very pragmatically.

After 1945, 1977 was the high point of municipal communism, as this interactive feature in Le Monde shows. In the petite couronne, the PCF was dominant. In la province, the PCF held the town halls of Reims, Le Havre, Saint-Étienne, Le Mans, Nîmes and Amiens. Today, it retains control of a significant number of communes in the petite couronne, but faces an increasingly hungry Socialist Party (PS), which in 2008 and again in 2014 ran candidates against PCF incumbents. The PCF controls no major city (100,000+ inhabitants) outside the Parisian suburbs; Le Havre was lost in 1995 and Nîmes lost in 2001 (after gaining it back in 1995).

Against the Communist threat, local Socialists in the past responded by forming anti-communist coalitions with centrist and non-Gaullist right-wing parties. The most famous of these socialo-centriste coalition was Gaston Defferre, the Socialist mayor of Marseille (1953-1986) who governed against the PCF until his last term (1983-1986). But while Defferre is the most emblematic of such Socialist-centrist coalitions, it was not unique to Marseille: such coalitions existed at one time or another in Lille, Toulouse, Roubaix, Limoges, Arras and Besançon. These municipal alliances managed to survive after the 1960s, running in contradiction to the national Socialist Party’s strategy of national alliances with the left. In fact, socialist-centrist coalitions, while increasingly less commonplace, remained fairly widespread up until 1977 – even if the PS and PCF had signed a programme commun in 1972. Now, such alliances are a thing of the past; but the tradition may still rear its head: in 1989, the PS mayor of Angers was excluded from the PS for sealing a formal alliance with the opposition centrist CDS while in 2008, a number of PS mayors (notably François Rebsamen in Dijon) were supported by François Bayrou’s MoDem by the first round.

Since 1977, on the left, the tradition has been first round unity – l’union de la gauche (union of the left). Although the electoral system in place since 1983 makes it possible for smaller parties to safely run a list in the first round in the expectation of merging with a larger list for the runoff to obtain seats on council, there is a strong tradition of first round unity – the PS, PCF and small left-wing parties including the Greens and Left Radicals (MRG/PRG). Since 1977, in most towns, the PS and PCF (and smaller parties, oftentimes) have run a common list by the first round. The PRG, which learned a few times (most recently in 1995) that it is worthless without stronger allies, almost always invariably allies with the PS by the first round. Outside of a few cities where relations between the PS and PCF may be poor, the PCF has traditionally allied with the PS by the first round. For example, the PCF ran allied with the PS by the first round in Marseille in every election since 1983. In Paris, the PS and PCF have been united in the first round since 1977. The Greens may sometimes want to show independence from the PS, knowing that they can scare the PS a bit in some towns, but in a lot of cases, again, the Greens join l’union de la gauche in the first round.

On the right, there has been a similar tradition of first round unity, although it is sometimes not as strict and generally more prone to dissidence. Prior to the creation of the single party of the right, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in 2002, the two main parties of the right – the Rally for the Republic (RPR) and Union for French Democracy (UDF) – usually ran common lists by the first round, with a few cases of so-called ‘primaries’ (first round competition between RPR and UDF) – for example, Lyon in 1995.

Another historical factor worth noting is the weakness of Gaullism in local politics after 1958. Although Charles de Gaulle’s parties, the UNR/UDR, became dominant in national politics (and hegemonic on the right) after 1962, the UNR/UDR was quite weak in local government until 1971, if not 1983. For example, in 1959, one year after de Gaulle’s triumphant return, the UNR’s assault on ‘traditional’ parties of the right (moderates, CNI) and centre (MRP) failed badly, with the UNR holding only 15% of communes with a population of over 30,000 inhabitants in 1959. Similarly, a UNR assault in 1965 had little success. Only with Georges Pompidou’s election in 1969 did the UDR begin making its peace with ‘traditional’ parties of the right, running with them instead of against them. In 1971, the UDR’s share of communes with over 30,000 people increased to 18.1%, if only to fall to 7% in the left-wing wave election of 1977. In 1983, the RPR for the first time became more powerful than the UDF in municipal government.

A French political tradition of great importance to local government is the cumul des mandats. A large majority of senators and deputies hold at least one other elected office – often, serving as mayor. For example, the mayors of Lyon and Marseille are both senators. Some of the more extreme examples of this French quirkiness: two Prime Ministers, Pierre Mauroy (1981-1984) and Jacques Chirac (1986-1988) concurrently served as mayors of Lille and Paris respectively; more recently, Alain Juppé served as foreign minister and mayor of Bordeaux at the same time. There has been increased public attention on the issue in recent years. Upon taking office, the current government barred all cabinet ministers from being mayor at the same time. After originally delaying it indefinitely, the government made good on one of its campaign promises in January 2014. According to a new law, deputies and senators will no longer be able to be parliamentarians and mayors (or head of a local executive: EPCI, general council, regional council etc) at the same time. This law will only be applied following the 2017 election. Banning (excessive) cumul des mandats is popular with voters, but it is, as could be expected, a tough issue for legislators themselves. In the Senate, members of both the opposition and government parties sought, unsuccessfully, to oppose the law or create a loophole for themselves. Their main argument was that the cumul des mandats gives them a strong local footing.

In the aftermath of the law’s approval, some interest in this year’s municipal election was paid to the issue of candidates who already held another elective office. Le Monde drew up an interactive map compiling the names of all candidates in municipal elections who are already deputy/senator etc.

2014: Context

These municipal elections are widely watched as the first nationwide test for President François Hollande, the PS president elected in 2012 against UMP incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. After nearly two years in office, Hollande is deeply unpopular. TNS-Sofres’ monthly tracker poll in March had Hollande’s approval rating standing at a puny 17%, nearly an all-time low for a French President. Every pollster has his disapproval rating over 70%, in many cases over 75%. That being said, two recent trackers – from Ifop and Ipsos – have shown a tiny uptick (+1 to 22% for Ipsos, +3 to 23% for Ifop), although at this level it’s almost a dead cat bounce. In summary, the incumbent President is more unpopular than nearly every single one of his predecessors – including Giscard in 1977 and Mitterrand in 1983.

As I noted in my analysis of the runoff in 2012, “the fact that the election was more Sarkozy’s defeat than Hollande’s victory and that Hollande owes his victory to anti-Sarkozysm will certainly come back to haunt the PS and Hollande in the near future, once voters forget Sarkozy and shift their judgement to the new incumbent.”

The causes of Hollande’s unpopularity are plentiful and beyond the scope of this post. At the roots of it all, however, is France’s bad economic situation. While not at ‘Greece’ or ‘Spain’ levels, France is clearly hit very badly by the ongoing European economic crisis. Unemployment stood at 10.2% in the last trimester of 2012, and it has increased from about 9.5% since Hollande took office in May 2012. Economic growth was flat in 2012 and barely positive in 2013. The country’s public debt is over 93% of GDP, and it missed its 2013 budget deficit target (3.9% of GDP, was 4.1%). It is clear that, if we’re honest, Hollande isn’t to blame for the roots of the crisis. Voters will invariably blame their government for their economic woes. However, at the same time, Hollande’s economic policies – rightly – got him a lot of flack, left and right.

At times, the government has been a bit like a deer in the headlights when it comes to dealing with the economic crisis. It has been seen as powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The right has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and denounced high taxes. The outcry against the heavy burden of taxes, part of a government effort to reduce the deficit, has been particularly pronounced. The government increased the top bracket on the income tax (incomes over 150,000 euros) from 41% to 45%, the wealth tax (ISF) was toughened up, family tax benefits were cut, a pension reform increased employees and employers’ contributions (the same reform also increased the contributory period to 43 years, after the right’s 2010 reform, opposed by the PS, had raised it to 41 and increased the legal retirement age to 62). The government also increased the VAT’s standard rate from 19.6% to 20%, the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%.

The VAT increase, voted in 2012 and taking effect in 2014, was to finance a 20 billion euro tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs.

Many on the left, however, also dislike the government’s economic policies. Hollande and the PS won the 2012 election on a fairly anti-austerity platform complete with flowery rhetoric about ‘growth’ and such niceties, but once in power it has largely continued Sarkozy’s austerity policies (disguised as ‘efforts’ because austerity is unpronounceable by governments since the 1980s). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. His government has implemented harsh austerity measures, including tax increases and spending/job cuts in the public sector. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over 1 million euros. With good reason, many on the left feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.

In 2014, Hollande announced a pacte de responsabilité with employers, proposing to reduce payroll taxes paid out by employers if they took on new, especially young, workers. The announcement, which led to significant talk of Hollande shifting to the right, was met with skepticism in France. Regular citizens, who have seen Hollande’s record of failure since 2012, have little optimism in his proposal. The left and unions were skeptic or hostile towards the idea of dropping costs on employers (up to 10 billion euros in cuts in payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minor) job creations. On the left, the rumour that Germany’s Peter Hartz would come to advise Hollande led to fears of a ‘neoliberal’ economic agenda. The government’s latest idea will need to be financed by more painful cuts in the public sector.

There has been a groundswell of popular opposition to the government, fueled by widespread pessimism in the country’s future and disillusion/dissatisfaction with the government’s policy. In Brittany, beginning in October 2013, an heterogeneous popular protest movement (led mostly by farmers or agrifood workers) attacked the government’s so-called écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles (actually decided on by the right in 2009). The movement, styled the bonnets rouges after an 1675 anti-tax revolt in Brittany, brought together an heterogeneous bunch: employers in agri-food, rural communities and leaders, Breton autonomists/nationalists, the far-left and some of the far-right. The heterogeneity of the movement and the self-serving motivations of some (particularly employers, held responsible by some for an outdated and polluting agrifood industry) led some on the left, notably José Bové and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to criticize the movement. Nevertheless, the ‘wind of revolt’ in Brittany, traditionally a politically moderate region, forced the government to back down on the écotaxe and announce several measures to help the Breton economy and please the demands of some autonomists (notably promises to finally ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).

Electoral promises of ‘reindustralization’ and government talk of ‘made in France’, a project spearheaded by Arnaud Montebourg, industry minister and former leader of the PS’ left-wing, have run into the reality of globalization, economic crisis and the workings of the global economy. There has been little to no reindustralization worth speaking off. Montebourg’s grandstanding in late 2012 on the issue of an ArcelorMittal steel plant at Florange (Moselle), when he threatened to nationalize the site, won him a rebuke from the government (which refused to hear of nationalization), personal embarrassment and criticism from unions.

The government and Hollande have continued to run into embarrassing issues, gaffes or crises since taking office. The law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption, promulgated in May 2013, mobilized a large segment of right-wing socially conservative opinion against the government and the law, with thousands taking to the streets in November-December 2012. There were more protests after the adoption of the law in 2013 and 2014. Members of the UMP and the far-right National Front (FN) joined the ranks of the protests, which brought together an heterogeneous coalition of opponents: social conservatives, traditionalist Catholics, integrist Catholics, neo-fascists and far-right politicians from France and other European countries (controversially, the BNP’s Nick Griffin, alongside FN parliamentarians). The UMP claimed that the “socialist power” (they often tend to present the PS government as some kind of East German authoritarian regime) was intervening in the private lives of citizens. The movement brought out fairly repugnant groups: homophobes, neo-fascists, skinheads, anti-Semites and assorted cranks. In April 2013, an homosexual couple was attacked and beaten up. In June 2013, far-left activist Clément Méric was killed by far-right skinheads. In January 2014, a jour de colère protest was organized by far-right groups, including monarchists, traditionalists, neo-fascists and anti-Semites; more moderate supporters of the anti-gay marriage movement (La manif pour tous) condemned the jour de colère protests.

While the government moved forward despite opposition on same-sex marriage, in January 2014, the government backtracked on a proposed bill on the family. The anti-gay marriage movement had raised concerns, many of them invented wholesale or badly twisted, that the government sought to legalize assisted reproductive technologies (the bill would not have legalized it, even if Hollande said he was personally in favour, and many PS deputies supported it) and surrogacy (which the government never supported, let alone intend to legalize it). Backtracking in the face of popular opposition is a specialty of French governments left and right, hoping that it will kill the issue and diffuse tensions. But it is never a good PR strategy for the government: in backtracking, it alienates those who backed the government on the specific issue while those who opposed the issue are no more likely to start liking the government.

The government’s image has been hurt further by public divisions, contradictions or gaffes by individual cabinet ministers. The government, which is rather inexperienced and lacks internal cohesion, has seen several cabinet ministers contradict one another or announce policy which isn’t actually government policy. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is frustrated by the lack of cabinet solidarity and has been forced to put ministers back in their place, but at the same time he’s quickly turning into a non-entity which is nearly forgotten by the media and seemingly plays little role in public government policy and communication. His approval ratings are in the trash, like Hollande.

In March 2013, the government was rocked by a huge scandal: Jérôme Cahuzac, the junior Minister of the Budget, had been revealed to have had a secret offshore account in Switzerland. After vehemently denying the accusations, he was forced to resign from cabinet in March after a court opened a preliminary inquiry and after a court indicted him for tax fraud in April, he admitted that he had a Swiss bank account. There were questions over what Hollande, Ayrault and the government knew of the affair before its media revelation in December 2012.

The Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, whose presidential ambitions are no secret (he ran in the PS primaries in 2011) and who is often seen as a maverick (on the right of the PS, and challenging sacrosanct policies of the left such as the 35 hour workweek), has gained significant popularity (ironically, perhaps more so on the right than on the left) for his tough-on-crime and immigration policies. Valls’ ministry has continued to deport undocumented migrants, dismantle Roma encampments, preached a hardline policy against crime and violence (extremist, criminal or otherwise); at times, it’s hard to spot obvious differences between Valls and his right-wing predecessors, whom the PS had criticized. 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, from Montebourg (it’s no secret that Montebourg dislikes Valls and Ayrault) and the Greens. His comments did not outrage public opinion, because it is favourable to tough anti-immigration policies (a poll showed that most French approved of his comments); several mayors, especially on the right, have been outspoken on difficulties posed by Roma encampments (one mayor, Gilles Bourdouleix, the mayor of Cholet, suggested that Hitler perhaps hadn’t killed enough gypsies…). But they further hurt the government with a small but vocal minority of pro-immigration/multiculturalism activists on the left, who have already been very much at odds with Valls’ policy.

In October 2013, immigration caused another major uproar: Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant 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 the far-right’s Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.

Valls remains one of the most popular ministers, but his widespread support has dropped in recent months. He is the third most popular politician in France according to Ipsos’ March 2014 barometer, but with a polarized 46 positive, 42 negative split. In Ifop’s poll of cabinet ministers in March 2014, he ranked fifth, with a 53% approval.

In July 2013, the environment minister, Delphine Batho, was fired after having publicly deplored the budget cuts which her ministry suffered in the latest round of austerity cuts. Batho later criticized the government’s environmental policies (specifically, its lack of interest in environmental and energy transformations) and the influence of energy and resource companies. Batho’s firing was probably an attempt by Hollande and co. to appear ‘tough’ on cabinet dissonance after the Cahuzac scandal; it happened that a minor figure in a lesser ministry was the scapegoat for that.

Batho’s resignation placed some attention on the government’s environmental policy, and raised new questions on the presence of Green (Europe Écologie-Les Verts, EELV) ministers in government. EELV owes much of its 17-member caucus in the National Assembly to an electoral agreement with the PS in the 2012 legislative elections, and the personal/financial benefits of holding a cabinet portfolio (a ‘strapontin ministériel‘ – a cabinet jump seat) have turned EELV’s ministers (led by Cécile Duflot, former EELV leader and the poorly-regarded housing minister) into leaders of a pro-government branch, which criticizes the government on some issues but when push comes to shove always sides with the government. A significant left-wing minority inside the party, which won nearly 40% support at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, is very critical of Hollande and would like for EELV to leave cabinet. Several EELV parliamentarians have signaled their opposition; Noël Mamère, one of the Greens’ most visible and well-known deputies, left EELV in September 2013, decrying EELV’s complacency, support for the government and its transformation into a party of stale self-interested, self-serving elected officials.

On the left of the PS, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front (FG)’s presidential candidate in 2012, has been extremely critical of the government’s austerity policies. However, despite incessant and violent attacks by Mélenchon and the FG on the government’s policies, they have largely been unable (thus far) to profit from the government’s unpopularity with left-wing voters. Mélenchon is a polarizing figure; his abrasive, in-your-face and often unpleasant public person is off-putting to many voters and the FG generally appears to lack credibility as a credible leftist alternative to the PS. Furthermore, as will be touched upon later, the municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the PCF, the largest party in the FG, which still retains some attachment (mostly for strategic and self-serving electoral reasons) to the old alliances with the PS.

Sarkozy’s defeat in May 2012 traumatized the UMP, which, for the first time since its creation in 2002 was now an opposition party. In November 2012, a UMP congress to elect a permanent president for the party turned into a nearly fatal civil war between the two candidates, the incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon. In an election marred by fraud and vote rigging by both sides, Copé was initially proclaimed the winner by 98 votes by an internal party commission. Two days later, Fillon’s supporters challenged the results, claiming that Fillon won by 26 votes because the party commission ‘forgot’ to include 1,304 votes cast in three overseas federations. This opened a civil war between both men; mediation by party elder and the popular moderate mayor of Bordeaux (and former Prime Minister) Alain Juppé failed, an appeals commission (led by a man who had backed Copé) ruled on a challenge lodged by Copé against filloniste fraud in the Alpes-Maritimes – it proclaimed Copé as the winner nationally, now with 952 votes (they cancelled the results, very selectively, in pro-Fillon Alpes-Maritimes and New Caledonia), and Fillon created a dissident parliamentary group in the National Assembly (R-UMP). Facing the very real threat of a split in the UMP, which would cripple the financially strapped party, the two enemies agreed to a temporary compromise in January 2013: Fillon’s R-UMP would dissolve, Copé would remain president while all other leadership positions in the party would be ‘doubled’ – one filloniste, one copéiste. Originally, a new congress should have been held in the fall of 2013, but fearing another crisis before the 2014 elections, the UMP decided to postpone the congress until 2015.

Copé suffers from a very acute image problem: he’s extremely unpopular with voters; for example, Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating (18% approval). Fillon, in contrast, has a 39% approval (49% disapproval); both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war. Copé is perceived as too right-wing, too economically liberal, too rash and the story of the 2012 congress (and how, if he won, it owes a lot to organized fraud and vote rigging by Copé’s men) further hurt his image. His leadership, by all accounts, has hardly been inspiring. The UMP has been desperate to oppose the government at every turn, in the process latching on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues – for example, Copé recently complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth (or something); the UMP, at the same time, was going insane with faux outrage over ‘gender theory’ education in public schools (the government has a program to promote and teach gender equality in primary school). In the meantime, the UMP is not considered to be a credible alternative to the government – it lacks coherent policy (except being anti-government), its fire is often stolen by the far more popular far-right FN and the division between Copé and Fillon remains very clear (quite tellingly, at a recent electoral rally in Strasbourg attended by both, Fillon and Copé were never side by side!).

Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. Most recently, in late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received 8 million euros in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign. After the revelation of the scandal, Copé’s ratings in the aforecited Ipsos tracker fell 4%.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the defeated President, has never been far behind in all this. It is known that he took his defeat in 2012 pretty badly, and holds a deep grudge against Hollande. The UMP’s rank-and-file remains, by and large, solidly sarkozyste and would love to see him return in 2017. For UMP sympathizers and many on the right in general, Hollande’s disastrous presidency only vindicates Sarkozy and reinforces their burning desire to see Sarkozy return to the presidency in 2017. That Sarkozy himself is very much planning for a return in 2017 is probably the worst keep secret in French politics right now. If he were to do so, polls show that Sarkozy would win the UMP’s 2016 primaries in a landslide. But Sarkozy, since 2012, has been dogged by several scandals.

In December 2012, the campaign finance and public financing commission rejected Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign finance report. The issue plunged the financially troubled party further in debt, but an appeal by Sarkozy to UMP members to contribute to the party allowed the UMP to raise over 11 million euros in just two months, which is equivalent to the sum lost by the party in public financing after Sarkozy’s campaign finances were invalidated. Sarkozy has faced other scandals. In March 2013, Sarkozy was indicted in the Bettencourt affair (illegal payments from L’Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt to UMP members, part of a wider tax fraud case involving Bettencourt and her family) but charges against him were dropped in June 2013. Sarkozy, as explained in this article, is also involved in other scandals.

One of the most important ones is the Sarkozy-Gaddafi scandal: in April 2012, Mediapart published documents which indicated that the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have given 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the Libyan Civil War, officials in Gaddafi’s regime, including his son Saif al-Islam had said that Libya had funded Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. In April 2013, a Parisian court opened a judicial investigation (citing no names) in the Gaddafi case. On March 7, 2014, Le Monde revealed that Sarkozy (and two former interior ministers Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close allies of Sarkozy cited in the Gaddafi case) had their phones bugged as part of the judicial investigation, beginning in September 2013. The transcripts of the wiretaps had found that Sarkozy and his lawyers were benefiting from insider information on the judicial process from judges and law enforcement sources – Sarkozy was appealing to the Court of Cassation the decision a judge in the Bernard Tapie scandal to send Sarkozy’s personal agenda to the judge in charge of the Bettencourt case.

The wiretap case shifted against the government, when the UMP successful changed the angle of media focus in the case to whether or not Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, had been aware of the wiretaps. Taubira claimed that she had not been aware until the media revealed it; the following evening, Ayrault said that the government had indeed been aware. Taubira later showed two documents which she claimed proved that she was not aware, but those documents in fact did state that the minister was kept aware. The UMP claimed that Taubira lied and called on her resignation, but it may now appear that Taubira was not lying – her chief of staff was aware, but had not shared the information with Taubira. Since then, new revelations by Mediapart, on how Sarkozy was suspicious of the wiretaps and bought a phone under a ‘fake name’ to talk with his lawyer

Yesterday, on March 20, Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro. He claims, disingenuously, that he has remained silent and ‘in retreat’ since 2012 and that he has no desire for revenge or ill-feelings against anyone. He continues by saying that ‘sacred principles of our Republic are being trampled unprecedented violence and unscrupulousness’ and even denounced Stasi-like techniques.

One person who has clearly benefited from the political climate is Marine Le Pen, the charismatic and increasingly popular leader of the far-right National Front (FN). Le Pen won a record high 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election, and after Sarkozy nearly killed the FN in 2007, the FN under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has roared back. Marine Le Pen benefits from a better image than that of her father and FN patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If most academics agree that under the veil of dédiabolisation, not much has changed in reality and policy; she does a much better job at appearances and communication than her father, who has a knack for provocative, racist and outrageous statements, lacked. She appears, in the eyes of part of the public, as cleaner, more acceptable, more credible and more moderate. Marine Le Pen has been quite careful at ensuring that the cranks and neo-fascist loons in the FN are kept quiet and has moved quickly, as much as she could without alienating her father and the more radical factions of the FN (who have been suspicious of her), to remove from public spotlight anybody who was inconvenient for the FN’s rebranding efforts. Marine Le Pen has surrounded herself with a new generation of FN leaders who are more polished and presentable to the media than some of the old guard (men like Bruno Gollnisch, who have said crazy things in the past); they include men like Florian Philippot, a technocrat who is now a FN vice-president.

An Ipsos poll in November 2013 showed that a majority of respondents still think the FN is a far-right party, dangerous for democracy and would never vote the FN and most don’t think that the FN is a credible alternative. The FN’s positions, the poll showed, are not endorsed by a plurality (with one exception, on maintaining local services) although very substantial minorities (up to 46%) agree with the FN on immigration and immigration. However, the results did show favourable trends for the FN: a 9% drop since 2003 in those believing the FN is dangerous for democracy, a 13% drop since 2003 in those who say the FN is a far-right party (most notably with FN voters themselves, 57% in 2003 said the party was far-right but only 34% think so nowadays, a confirmation of the shifts in the FN’s electorate) and an overall ‘potential’ support of 35% (combining those who have already voted FN and those who say they may potentially do so). These results should temper some of the mass panic and concern trolling of some who seem to think that Le Pen will win in 2017…

It is useful to close this explanation of the political climate in France with a look at Ipsos’ very informative poll on French society. In 2014, the main issues are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). Even less people have confidence in the PS (18%) than in the FN (22%) or UMP (24%). Pessimism is widespread: 90% say France’s economic power has declined in the past ten years although 65% still think that decline is not irreversible. There remains a strong demand for the notion of ‘authority’, with 87% feeling that authority is too often criticized and 84% saying that France needs a ‘real leader’ to ‘restore order’. A majority (about 60%) expressed protectionist views. A large majority expressed dissatisfaction with politics: 65% feeling that most politicians are corrupt, 78% saying that the democratic system is not working well, 84% who think politicians act primarily for their own interests and 88% decrying that politicians don’t preoccupy themselves with what people like them think. Voters are split on issues of government intervention in the economy. A large majority of voters are skeptical of further European integration, with 70% saying that national powers should be reinforced – but at the same time, returning to the franc is still a minority view (33%, but growing) and there’s no clear consensus in the electorate on whether the EU has been a good or a bad thing. 66% think there are too many foreigners in France.

Before the results start coming out on Sunday (20:00 Paris time), expect another post detailing the main contests to follow.

Serbia 2014

Legislative elections were held in Serbia on March 16, 2014. All 250 seats in the National Assembly (Narodna skupština), Serbia’s unicameral legislature, are elected by closed party-list representation for a four-year term with the entire country as a single constituency. Parties must win 5% of the vote to qualify for seats, but there is no threshold for ethnic minority lists.

Serbia is a parliamentary republic, although the directly-elected President holds significant constitutional and customary powers. The Prime Minister of Serbia is responsible to the National Assembly, but the President proposes the name of the Prime Minister to the National Assembly after consultation with parliamentary groups. The President also has the power to dismiss a government, dissolve the National Assembly and has a suspensive veto over legislation. This early election was called by President Tomislav Nikolić; the last election having been held in 2012, the legislature’s term could have lasted until its legal expiration in 2016.

Context and Parties

The 2012 Serbian elections marked a significant realignment in Serbian politics. Tomislav Nikolić, the candidate of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka, SNS), was elected President in the second round, defeating incumbent President Boris Tadić, who had been President of Serbia since 2004. The significance is that Nikolić’s victory marked the first time since 2000 that former allies of controversial Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević returned to power in Serbia.

After Milošević was deposed following his defeat in the September 2000 Yugoslavian presidential elections, to the opposition candidate Vojislav Koštunica, Serbian politics came to be dominated by parties and politicians who had opposed Milošević, while radical nationalists and Milošević’s former supporters were generally excluded from power.

The opposition to Milošević was spearheaded by an ideologically diverse group of Serbian intellectuals, who came together to challenge the one-party system of socialist Yugoslavia. These intellectuals founded the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka, DS), which was initially held together by little more than opposition to the socialist-cum-Milošević regime. The party’s ranks included liberal intellectuals concerned by human rights and democracy in Serbia, but also nationalists who were dissatisfied with the position of Serbs in the Yugoslav federation. The latter nationalist faction, led by Vojislav Koštunica, split from the DS in 1992 to create the Democratic Party of Serbia (Demokratska stranka Srbije, DSS), which allied with Vuk Drašković’s conservative nationalist (but pro-Western and anti-communist) Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) in the 1992 elections.

Milošević led the Socialist Party of Serbia (Socijalistička partija Srbije, SPS), made up of the bulk of the former ruling party (the League of Communists of Serbia). The SPS under Milošević was a typical ruling party in semi-authoritarian regime: backed by a strong state apparatus (including security forces), holding together a broad range of supporters through patronage, corrupt and populist. The SPS was backed by regime apparatchiks, the bureaucracy, managers and employees in state-owned enterprises, newly enriched oligarchs who did well thanks to the regime and poorer citizens dependent on patronage or tied to the party. It is debatable whether Milošević had profound nationalist convictions of his own or if he opportunistically used nationalism to gain and maintain power.

Milošević maintained an ambivalent relationship with the far-right Serbian Radical Party (Srpska radikalna stranka, SRS), an ultra-nationalist party led by Vojislav Šešelj. At times, the radical nationalism and ethnic chauvinism preached by Milošević was quite similar to that of Šešelj, who enthusiastically supported the idea of a ‘Greater Serbia’. Unlike Milošević, however, Šešelj had been imprisoned by the communist regime and his belligerently nationalist views were certainly genuine. The SRS was founded in 1991 by Šešelj and Tomislav Nikolić, and enjoyed strong popular support under Milošević’s regime, placing second behind the SPS in 1992 and 1997, winning 28% in the 1997 election. The SRS was active in paramilitary units in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, responsible for war crimes. In the early 1990s, until 1993, Milošević allied with the SRS, before breaking with them to promote an image as a peacemaker around the time of the Dayton Accords. In 1997, after the SRS did particularly well in elections, it entered into a coalition government with Milošević’s SPS, during the Kosovo War. In the 1990s, under Šešelj’s leadership, the SRS was radically nationalistic – advocating ethnic cleansing, strongly opposing the Dayton Accords and taking strongly anti-Western stances (speaking in terms of a ‘conspiracy’ against Serbia led by the USA, the Catholic Church and Western Europe).

The DS and DSS, along with numerous small parties, formed the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) to oppose Milošević in the 2000 elections. Vojislav Koštunica was elected President of Yugoslavia, defeating Milošević in a contentious elections. A few months later, in December 2000, the DOS won parliamentary elections in Serbia, taking 176 out of 250 seats. Zoran Đinđić, the leader of the DS, became Prime Minister, until his assassination in 2003. However, with Milošević removed from the picture, the opposition movement fractured again. Koštunica opposed Milošević’s extradition to face trial at the ICTY, while Đinđić ultimately gave the green light for the former leader’s extradition. By 2001, the DSS left the government and new elections were held in 2003.

SRS leader Vojislav Šešelj turned himself in to the ICTY in 2003; he remains in The Hague, awaiting verdict for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although Šešelj remained the SRS’ official leader, Tomislav Nikolić became the SRS’ de facto leader in Serbia. Under Nikolić’s leadership, the more radical aspects of the SRS’ rhetoric were silently dropped in favour of economic issues and a new approach favouring international cooperation. Nevertheless, the SRS retained its pariah status and remained excluded from power. In the eyes of foreign observers, despite rhetorical moderation, the SRS remained an ultra-nationalist party connected with suspected war criminals and strongly opposed to European integration. Electorally, after being trounced in 2000, the SRS soon regained substantial popular support – in parliamentary elections between 2003 and 2008, the SRS consistently won 27-29% while Nikolić won up to 48% in presidential elections (runoff ballots) in 2003, 2004 and 2008.

The SPS, now without Milošević and having lost access to the spoils of power, was severely weakened and took a major drubbing in 2000 (13.8%), 2003 (7.6%) and 2007 (5.6%). The SPS was now led by Ivica Dačić, who was a low-level apparatchik under Milošević; under Dačić, the SPS tried to improve its image, presenting itself as a moderate social democratic party. Nonetheless, few accepted the SPS’ ostensible moderation at face value, given that it continued to express nationalist sentiments and was still, in the eyes of foreigners, ‘the party of Milošević’. In Serbia, the SPS was less ostracized than the SPS, and after the 2003 election it offered minority support to Koštunica (now Prime Minister of Serbia)’s cabinet.

Although the DS did poorly in the 2003 elections (12.6%, against 17.7% for the DSS), the DS’ new leader, Boris Tadić, elected after the assassination of Zoran Đinđić in 2003, was elected President of Serbia in 2004, defeating Nikolić with 54% in the second round. In 2007, the DS made major gains in parliamentary elections, becoming the second largest party (behind the SRS) with 22.7%, while Koštunica’s DSS won 16.6%. Nevertheless, Koštunica remained Prime Minister (forming a coalition with the DS), in an uneasy ‘cohabitation’ with Tadić. As President, Tadić strongly promoted reconciliation and cooperation with Serbia’s former enemies – he apologized for those who suffered crimes committed by Serbian forces, visited Srebrenica on the 10th anniversary of the massacre and apologized to Croatia for war crimes committed during the war in Croatia. Tadić strongly supported EU membership – Serbia began negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2005 and Serbia initialed a SAA in November 2007. Prime Minister Koštunica strongly opposed the SAA, leading the coalition to collapse and new elections called for May 2008.

In February 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia. The issue, too complex to be explained at length, is an extremely contentious issue in Serbia and poisons Serbia’s relationship with the EU and the US. The US, Canada and most EU member-states (with the notable exception of Spain) recognized Kosovo’s independence; Serbia, whose 2006 constitution defines Kosovo as an integral part of its sovereign territory, viewed Kosovo’s declaration of independence as illegal and has refused to recognize its independence. The issue of Kosovo has been one which transcends the traditional pro-Western/anti-Western divide in Serbian politics: Tadić and the DS strongly opposed Kosovo’s independence. Only the small Liberal Democratic Party (Liberalno-demokratska partija, LDP), a centre-left opposition party led by former student leader and DS defector Čedomir Jovanović, has come out in favour of Kosovo’s independence.

Tadić was reelected to a second term in office in 2008, defeating Tomislav Nikolić in the second round with 50.3% of the vote. In May 2008, Tadić’s DS-led coalition (which included G17+, a small pro-European centre-right party led by economist Mlađan Dinkić) won a major victory in parliamentary elections, winning 38% of the vote against 29.5% for the SRS. The DSS suffered renewed loses, winning only 11.6% and 30 seats. The SPS and LDP also made gains. After tortuous negotiations, the DS formed a pro-European government with Ivica Dačić’ SPS, excluding the DSS and SRS. Mirko Cvetković, an independent backed by the DS, became Prime Minister.

Following the 2008 elections, the SRS finally exploded, split between de facto leader Tomislav Nikolić and his deputy Aleksandar Vučić and a more radical wing, staunchly nationalist and anti-European, led by the ‘exiled’ Vojislav Šešelj. Nikolić and Vučić founded the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in October 2008. The SNS represented a moderate and polished right, untied (at least in theory) to the ultra-nationalism of the war years and claiming to support, in the long run, European integration. Although on the right, the SNS was fundamentally populist – with promises to increase taxes on the rich, reevaluate privatizations and helping the ‘losers’ of the transition to a market economy. Nevertheless, the SNS still faced trouble at getting its new face accepted, given Nikolić and Vučić’s pasts and continued statements by SNS leaders indicating sympathy for the SRS’ old nationalist rhetoric – Nikolić once said that he’d rather see Serbia become a Russian province than join the EU. The SNS rapidly replaced the SRS as the main opposition party; the SRS collapsed into oblivion, forming a tiny far-right rump.

Serbia ratified the SAA shortly after the 2008 elections, officially applied for EU membership in December 2009 and received candidate status from the EU on March 1, 2012. Tadić, facing recession, high unemployment (nearly 25%) and a frozen IMF loan, focused his third reelection campaign (in 2012) on the issue of European integration – strongly emphasizing the benefits of EU membership for Serbia, and presenting himself as the only candidate who could guarantee European integration. Tadić effectively presented the presidential (and concurrent legislative) elections as a referendum on his policy of European integration, which he claimed would allow Serbia to attract foreign investment and create jobs; he warned against an ‘uncertain’ path with former radical nationalists like Nikolić. In contrast, Nikolić emphasized daily life issues (the economy, jobs, poverty), which he claimed had been ignored by Tadić’s government. Nikolić promised lower taxes and fighting corruption and the tycoon’s monopolies. While claiming to support EU membership, Nikolić stressed that other issues mattered more and tempered Tadić’s optimistic promises of EU-backed growth and prosperity by saying that candidate status meant little and that EU membership would not come before, at least, 2020. He also refused joining the EU at the expense of relinquishing Serbian claims to Kosovo.

In the first round, Tadić won 25.3% against 25.1% for Nikolić. In the legislative elections, the SNS won 24.1% against 22.1% for the DS. The kingmaker was Ivica Dačić, who won 14.2% in the presidential election, placing third ahead of Koštunica (7.4%); the SPS won 14.5% in the legislative elections, gaining 24 seats to win 44 seats against 73 for the SNS and 67 for the DS. The DSS won 7% and 21 seats; Jovanović won 5% in the presidential election and his coalition took 6.5% and 19 seats in the legislative elections.

On May 20, Nikolić, in a major surprise, was elected President with 49.5% against 47.3% for the incumbent, Tadić. Nikolić’s victory, according to Serbian observers, owed more to a rejection of the incumbent and the country’s struggling economy. Although Tadić had presented the election as a ‘referendum on the EU’, upon his victory, Nikolić was quick to stress that his victory didn’t mean a repudiation of Serbia’s ‘European engagement’. Nevertheless, because of Nikolić’s biography and controversial statements he had made, his victory did not fail to worry Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and the EU. Nikolić, as noted above, was a leading SRS member until 2008. Between March 1998 and October 2000, during the SPS-SRS coalition, Nikolić served as Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia (and later the FR Yugoslavia). His deputy, Aleksandar Vučić, served as Minister of Information in the same government, muzzling journalists and media which criticized Milošević. Nikolić supported the idea of a Greater Serbia until 2007 or so, before changing his opinions ahead of the 2012 election. In 2012, Nikolić stated that Vukovar (an ethnically mixed Croat-Serb town in Croatia, the site of a bloody battle and massacre in the Croatian war) was a ‘Serb city’ and that Croatians have nothing to go back to there. In June 2012, Nikolić said that there had been no genocide in Srebrenica. As a result of his comments on Vukovar and Srebrenica, the leaders of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.

Ivica Dačić successfully used his kingmaker position to his own advantage. Using the SPS’ equidistant position between the DS and SNS and his alliance with the DS, he managed to become Prime Minister at the helm of a SPS-SNS-G17+ coalition. Vučić became Deputy Prime Minister, nearly as influential in the government as Dačić himself. The government declared that it would continue to press on with EU integration, fight organized crime and address economic concerns (living standards, jobs, poverty). The alliance between two former supporters of Milošević, including one man (Dačić) seen as his protege, worried the EU and some felt that the EU-sponsored dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, which had begun in March 2011, was in danger.

As he stepped into office, relations with Croatia were at all-time low. In November 2012, the ICTY’s acquittal on appeal of two suspected Croatian war criminals (Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač) enraged Serbia and its government, with Nikolić saying that Croatians were celebrating their crimes while Serbian views that the ICTY was a kangaroo court designed to persecute the Serbs were reinforced.

However, the government proved surprisingly pragmatic on the issue of Kosovo. In December 2012, Dačić met Hashim Thaçi, the Prime Minister of Kosovo – the two men previously loathed one another, with Dačić having previously stated that he’d kill Thaçi if he ever met him. With EU pressure and mutual desire for EU ‘rewards’, the two countries made significant progress. Pragmatic, Dačić told Serbs that Kosovo is lost and that the focus should be on finding an acceptable solution for both sides – for Serbia, this largely means security and rights for the Serbian minority in Kosovo, which numbers about 120-130,000. In April 2013, talks ended in deadlock, but a deal was ultimately salvaged between Serbia and Kosovo. Under the agreement, Serbia does not officially recognize Kosovo’s independence, but it concedes authority over the entirety of the territory to Kosovo’s government; Kosovo, in returns, allows for the creation of a community of Serbian majority municipalities in Kosovo which have devolved powers over education, healthcare, the nomination of the Kosovo police chief for the north and other matters. Serbs in Kosovo were rather unhappy with the deal, but under Belgrade’s pressure – political and financial – to comply, they will do so (Belgrade has been funding northern Kosovo municipalities since 1999). In November 2013, local elections throughout Kosovo – including the intransigent north – were fairly successful, despite disturbances and calls to boycott in northern municipalities; Serbia strongly encouraged Serbs in Kosovo to participate.

In return for the deal over Kosovo, the European Commission recommended to open accession negotiations with Serbia. Screening of the acquis began in September 2013. Meanwhile, negotiations over a SAA with Kosovo began in October 2013. Accession negotiations with Serbia began in January 2014.

Domestically, Aleksandar Vučić, the Deputy Prime Minister, became very popular thanks to an anti-corruption drive. In the biggest coup for him, Miroslav Mišković, a powerful Serbian tycoon, was arrested in December 2012 for gaining illegal profit in a 2005 privatization deal; Mišković had taken advantage of lucrative privatizations during Đinđić’s government. Vučić, frustrated by the 2012 deal which saw Dačić become Prime Minister despite the SNS having the larger caucus, had been conspiring to bring down the government and have fresh elections since early 2013. The talks over Kosovo pressured Vučić to keep his cool. Within the SNS, Vučić has been in a bitter row with Nikolić and at a 2013 convention, Vučić purged many Nikolić supporters.

In January 2014, Vučić finally got what he wanted – snap elections. The SNS said that it wanted a clear mandate and solid majority to implement major economic reforms. The real reason is likely that the SNS wanted to take advantage of their wide lead in polls, and the sad state of the opposition. The economy is in bad shape; Serbia experienced a double-dip recession with negative growth in 2009 and 2012, growth resumed in 2013, with 2% growth (likely the same this year). Unemployment is 25%. The budget deficit, despite austerity policies, is projected to be 7.1% in 2014; the debt is over 60% of GDP; and foreign investment has been lower than expected. The SNS supports major, and painful, reforms which are conditions for an IMF loan. These austerity policies will include structural reforms in labour laws, pensions and bankruptcy regulations; cuts in the bloated public sector (which employs 10% of the population); privatization of many state-owned debt-crippled enterprises (major employers and dispensers of political patronage); cutting subsidies and raising taxes. The SNS promised to create jobs, thanks to billions in investment from the United Arab Emirates (which provided a soft loan to Serbia, and whose leaders, Vučić said, want to invest in Serbia). The SNS is flanked by Lazar Krstić, the young American-educated technocratic finance minister since September 2013. As finance minister, Krstić implemented painful public sector wage cuts, subsidy cuts for public enterprises and tax increases. Last summer, Vučić hired the disgraced former IMF director-general, Dominique Strauss-Kahn as an economic adviser.

Saša Radulović, the economy minister since September 2013, resigned in January 2014. He accused Vučić and the parties of impeding his reforms (labour laws, bankruptcy, privatizations), blasted opaque deals with foreign investors (Arabs, Chinese, Russians) and pointed at corruption in cabinet. The government, influenced by unions and the SPS, but also the SNS, has been blamed by foreign investors and credit agencies for lacking commitment to reforms. In January, Fitch downgraded Serbia’s credit rating.

The SNS allied with four smaller parties: its 2012 allies New Serbia (NS, led by Velimir Ilić) and the leftist Movement of Socialists (led by cabinet minister Alexsandar Vulin); now joined by the Social Democratic Party (SDPS) and Vuk Drašković’s SPO (allied with the LDP in 2012). The SPS ran with its two traditional partners: a pensioners party (PUPS) and Dragan Marković’s United Serbia.

Vučić moved quickly to exploit the sad state of the opposition, reeling from its surprise 2012 defeat. The DS has been very divided since Tadić lost reelection in 2012. In November 2012, Tadić was replaced a DS leader by Dragan Đilas, the mayor of Belgrade (often seen as the third most powerful office in Serbia). Under his administration in Belgrade, the city got a new bridge and upgraded public transit but the municipal opposition charged that he racked up debts. In November 2013, a coalition of the SNS, DSS and the SPS (which had until then governed in coalition with Đilas’s DS in Belgrade, despite its national coalition with the SNS) voted him out of office – sparking local elections alongside this election. The local coalition between the DS and SPS put the national DS in a funny spot: its last remaining nationally-prominent position was dependent on a governing party’s support, and could hardly afford to go too hard against the SPS.

Đilas’ campaign attacked the SNS’ populism and warned of the ‘autocratic threat’ presented by Vučić. Indeed, some observers and Serbians have raised concerns of authoritarianism if the SNS won full power – similar to Hungary’s Orban, or Vladimir Putin.

The DS was further hampered by public infighting between Đilas and Tadić, the latter attempting to regain control over the party. In January 2014, Tadić failed in a comeback attempt to remove Đilas from the DS’ leadership. In February 2014, Tadić closed speculation by announcing the creation of his new party, the New Democratic Party (Nova demokratska stranka, NDS) – in alliance with the tiny Greens. The NDS ran in coalition with the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV), Dušan Petrović’s Together for Serbia (ZZS) and two small Vojvodina parties. Tadić failed to build a broad opposition coalition uniting everybody outside the DS and DSS; talks with the LDP failed and the United Regions of Serbia (URS), a centre-right (but anti-austerity) party led by Mlađan Dinkić (a former leader of G17+, which merged into the URS) decided to run alone because of differences between Dinkić and Tadić.

The infighting came at a bad time for the opposition. Since losing power in 2012, 57 DS members have been arrested for corruption while in office. The government reopened an old judicial investigation against Đilas. The SNS’ full conversion to European integration has reduced policy differences between the two major parties; the DS had little new policies or major differences from the SNS. 

Vojislav Koštunica, who in a funny twist is probably further to the right of the SNS, ran a strongly Eurosceptic campaign for his weakened DSS. The DSS accused the SNS of being “bound hand and foot with the EU”, which he blames for Serbia’s economic crisis. Koštunica declined an offer from the far-right Dveri movement to run in a nationalist coalition with the SRS. Dveri finally ran alone, while the SRS allied with extremists from a clericofascist party and a far-right movement.


Turnout was 53.12%, down from 58.7% in 2012 and 60.7% in the 2008 legislative elections.

SNS and allies 48.34% (+24.29%) winning 158 seats (+85)
SPS and allies 13.51% (-1%) winning 44 seats (nc)
DS 6.04% (-16.03%) winning 19 seats (-48)
NDS and allies 5.71% (+5.71%) winning 18 seats (+18)
DSS 4.24% (-2.76%) winning 0 seats (-21)
Dveri 3.57% (-0.77%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LDP and allies 3.35% (-3.18%) winning 0 seats (-13)
URS 3.04% (-2.47%) winning 0 seats (-16)
Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians 2.11% (+0.36%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Enough of That 2.08% (+2.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SRS 2% (-2.62%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak 0.95% (+0.26%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Party for Democratic Action 0.68% (+0.68%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Others 1.15% (-3.31%) winning 0 seats (-2)

The SNS won a huge landslide, winning 48% of the vote and a large absolute majority in the National Assembly – the first time a single list has an absolute majority since the opposition’s victory in 2000, and the SNS’ victory is more impressive than that of the DOS in 2000 because, unlike the DOS which was made up of two parties (DS and DSS) of equal strength, the SNS is the only relevant party in its coalition. With such numbers, it’s clear that Vučić has the ‘mandate for reforms’ that he asked from voters when moving for snap elections. It is also clear that the SNS has no alibi to delay the reforms it promises.

Vučić’s success is largely the result of his anti-corruption campaign which made him famous and very popular while he was Deputy Prime Minister. In a country used to but fed up with sleazy politicians, oligarchs (and the mix of the two), Vučić’s populist anti-corruption campaign capitalized on this sentiment and aptly exploited it to partisan gain for his party. The anti-corruption drive was also a strategy by the government to direct popular anger in tough times towards other people – in this case, corrupt tycoons.

Anti-corruption crusades, promises for jobs and investment and support for EU membership have replaced Vučić’s past nationalist talks of Greater Serbia. The success, thus far, of EU negotiations have also boosted the SNS’ standing, while there appears to be little nationalist backlash against it from the Kosovo dealIn contrast to the weak, tired and divided opposition, Vučić came across as the only ready and able leader who would take the ‘tough measures’ needed. Vučić also exhibited strength, resolve and determination – popular traits.

His campaign also was quite populist, which is one thing which hasn’t changed in the SNS. During the campaign, Vučić rescued an 11-year old boy from a car stranded due to a blizzard, and his stunt was broadcast on national television.

The SNS also won the municipal election in Belgrade, winning 42.5% against 16.1% for the DS and 11.6% for the SPS. The SNS will have 62 seats in Belgrade, an absolute majority, against 23 for the DS, 16 for the SPS and 9 for the DSS. Zorana Mihajlović, a SNS cabinet minister, will become mayor of Belgrade. The DS, obliterated electorally, now lacks any major office of nationwide prominence.

The opposition was decimated. The results for the DS and DSS were particularly bad, while outgoing PM Dačić performed quite well – in his own words, he survived a political tsunami. On the far-right, the SRS fell even further.

Vučić is now in an extraordinarily powerful position, with a huge majority and a clear mandate. He promises ‘tough’ reforms and to continue the fight against corruption. Serbia’s struggling economy will be the government’s priority, and it will be forced to implement austerity measures if it wants to receive an IMF loan, which was frozen in February 2012. In order to diffuse potential popular uproar against the austerity measures, many feel that Vučić will, his majority notwithstanding, form a coalition government. The SNS has said that it will need other parties at its sides to implement reforms which it recognizes will be tough for the population. Dačić’s SPS has declined to join a coalition, seemingly, and says it will oppose reforms aimed ‘against’ workers and retirees. Relations between Dačić and Vučić have been bad over the past two years, and the SPS is angry at the SNS for snap elections which means that it loses access to state patronage. It also remains to be seen whether or not Vučić succumbs to the temptations of authoritarianism. His party is more powerful than any Serbian party has ever been since Milošević fell from power in 2000.

Colombia 2014

Legislative elections were held in Colombia on March 9, 2014. All 167 seats in the Chamber of Representative (Cámara de Representantes) and all 102 seats in the Senate of the Republic (Senado de la República), the two houses which make up the National Congress (Congreso Nacional) were up for reelection. The five Colombian members of the Andean Parliament (Parlamento Andino) were also up for reelection.

The Chamber of Representatives, the lower house, is made up of 162 seats elected in 33 multi-member circunscripciones territoriales – that is, Colombia’s 32 departments and the capital district of Bogotá. Each department has at least two seats, with an additional seat for every 365,000 inhabitants or fraction greater than 182,500 inhabitants in excess of the first 365,000 inhabitants. The capital district of Bogotá has the most seats, 18, followed by the departments of Antioquia (17) and Valle del Cauca (13). The distribution of seats between the departments is detailed in this presidential decree from 2013 setting the number of seats. The remaining five seats in the Chamber are split between two seats elected by Afro-Colombians, one seat elected by native indigenous Colombians and two seats elected by Colombian citizens living outside the country.

The Senate, the upper house, is made up of 102 seats. 100 of these seats are elected at-large, in a nationwide constituency (circunscripción nacional), while the remaining two seats are elected in a nationwide constituency for indigenous native Colombians.

Congress is elected by party-list proportional representation, with seats distributed according to the largest remainders method. The two houses of Congress and the Andean Parliament are elected on separate ballots. When voting for the Senate and Chamber, voters must choose whether they will vote in the national/territorial constituencies or if they will vote in one of the special constituencies (for the Senate, the indigenous seats; for the Chamber, the Afro-Colombian seats or the indigenous seats) – they may only vote in one constituency. The vote may be preferential or non-preferential – the choice is up to the political parties, who either decide to present a closed list of ranked candidates or an open list. If the party run a closed list, voters only mark the logo of the party. If the party runs an open list, voters must vote for a single candidate (marking the box with their chosen candidate’s number, or marking both the party logo box and the candidate number box). On all ballots for all constituencies, there is also an option to officially cast a blank/white vote (voto en blanco).


I posted a very lengthy election preview, detailing all the historical background to Colombian politics and recent happenings. These congressional elections serve as a sort of dress rehearsal for the presidential elections, the first round of which will be held on May 25.

President Juan Manuel Santos, first elected in 2010, will be running for reelection on May 25. Santos was elected to the presidency with the support of Álvaro Uribe, and by presenting himself as Uribe’s somewhat natural successor. Elected in 2002, Álvaro Uribe, a former Liberal who had been governor of Antioquia department (centered around Medellín) in the 1990s, was widely known in Colombia and abroad for his tough, uncompromsing stance (‘democratic security’) against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the leftist guerrillas-cum-narcoterrorists who have been the most active and violent anti-governmental guerrilla group in Colombia since the mid-1960s.

When Uribe took office in 2002, Colombia was in a chaotic state: guerrilla violence had increased significantly since the late 1990s, in the forms of murders, kidnappings, extortion; at the other extreme, far-right paramilitaries, financed by drug trafficking and assisted by many in government and the military, had grown in size, power and influence and were behind the massacres of hundreds of civilians in the countryside. Between 1998 and 2002, an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with the FARC in exchange for the concession of a large demilitarized zone to the FARC had ended in disaster; the FARC using that DMZ to rearm, train and continue their campaign of terror. Just months before the 2002 election, Bogotá, exasperated, ordered the army to retake the DMZ. Uribe promised a hard line against the FARC – there would be no peace until armed groups agreed to demobilize on the state’s terms. Uribe was elected in a landslide. In 2006, having managed to amend the constitution to allow consecutive reelection, he was reelected in a landslide again.

In office, Uribe successfully managed to significantly reduce the toll of political violence on the country – under his two terms in office, the homicide rate fell significantly. The largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), were demobilized gradually between 2003 and 2006. Uribe’s government claimed success and argued it had balanced the considerations of peace and justice. However, the demobilization was rife with controversy: the government was found to be lenient on the paramilitaries and a 2005 ‘justice and peace law’ passed by Congress offered shortened jail sentences to paramilitary leaders if they confessed (even if only partially) some of their crimes. Since the demobilization, many demobilized paramilitaries have recycled themselves in new criminal gangs, which may have as many as 6,000-10,000 members. Beginning in 2006, the parapolítica (parapolitics) scandal revealed to the general public the extent of ties between the murderous paramilitaries and high-ranking politicians (ministers, governors, congressmen, military officers). Most of those politicians implicated in the parapolitics scandal were supporters of President Uribe.

The government’s military strategy against the FARC began paying off, especially in 2008: in March, a cross-border raid in Ecuador killed the FARC’s second-in-command, Raúl Reyes (sparking a diplomatic row with Ecuador and Venezuela); in July, the military successfully rescued several FARC hostages, including the most well known of them, Ingrid Betancourt, a 2002 presidential candidate who had been held captive by the FARC since 2002. However, by the time Uribe left office, the FARC was still nowhere close to total defeat: they remained a real and potent threat, with a strong offensive capacity and robust bases in remote regions. However, Uribe’s security policies were also criticized – there were (are) strong concerns regarding human rights violations by the military, tragically exemplified by the ‘false positives’ scandal – a long-standing practice (revealed in 2008) of extrajudicial assassinations of civilians by the army to present them as guerrillas killed in action, to embellish the army’s record. Human rights concerns were often cited by American lawmakers seeking to reduce the hefty multi-million dollar US military aid to Colombia (officially in the name of the war on drugs, and, post-9/11, in the ‘war on terror’ against the guerrillas). Latin American left-wingers, notably Hugo Chávez, strongly criticized Uribe’s strongly pro-American stance and Bogotá’s military alliance with the US – a 2009 Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US led to a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela, which charged that Bogotá was preparing for an invasion of Venezuela with US assistance.

Santos, who had served as Minister of Defense under Uribe’s second term, was seen as somebody who would continue in Uribe’s footsteps. That being said, it’s worth noting that Santos wasn’t Uribe’s first choice in 2010 – his preferred successor (besides himself – an attempt to allow him to run for a third term was struck down by the court) was agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who was defeated in the Conservative primary. As it turned out, however, Santos has been very much his own man. Santos’ policies and political style has been rather different from Uribe. Santos is more diplomatic, quickly normalizing and improving relations with Venezuela (on the brink of war when Santos took office in August 2010), in contrast to Uribe, more bellicose and confrontational. Some of Santos’ domestic policies went against Uribe’s own policies or aroused Uribe’s opposition – most significantly, a much-debated 2011 ‘victims and land restitution law’ which allows compensation to the victims of the armed conflict (including victims of government forces) and for those whose land was illegally stolen or purchased during the conflict (often by the paramilitaries) to reclaim their land. Finally, Uribe was particularly irked by the promotion of anti-Uribe politicians to cabinet, while the courts were bringing charges against several of Uribe’s close allies.

While he continued the successful military targeting of senior FARC leaders – managing to kill FARC military mastermind ‘Mono Jojoy’ and later FARC leader Alfonso Cano – Santos also signaled early on that he felt that peace was not possible solely through a military strategy – if the FARC were to surrender, they would need concessions and incentives to negotiate. In September 2012, Santos confirmed that the government had been engaged in secret negotiations with the FARC in Cuba and Norway. The talks have not been accompanied by any FARC cease-fire (besides for a two-month ceasefire in late 2012) or the concession of a DMZ to the FARC inside Colombia. The two parties are set to discuss five contentious issues: land reform (agreement reached in May 2013), political participation for the FARC (agreement reached in November 2013), ending the conflict, drugs and drug trafficking (most FARC revenue comes from drug trafficking) and justice for victims (of both parties).

Uribe has been strongly against the negotiations with the FARC, refusing to talk with a group who he considers (along with the US, EU and Canada) to be terrorists. He has become an implacable foe of Santos’ government. There are also concerns about displeasure with the talks in the military forces, following a February 2014 spy scandal in which the military was found to be spying on the government’s negotiating team in Havana and Oslo. Public opinion has generally been supportive, but there is little optimism for the talks’ success – deep pessimism resulting from the total failure of previous attempts at negotiation in the 1980s, mid-1990s and 1998-2002.

Santos is less popular than his predecessor, who left office with very high approval ratings. Santos suffered from major protests from farmers, truckers, miners, students and civil servants in August 2013.

Parties and Candidates

Traditional Colombian parties, except for small parties on the left of the spectrum, have been quite unencumbered by ideology or any political consistency. The politicians who make up these parties are much the same: their political loyalties are often rather variable, their ideology hard to discern and, of course, many are quite corrupt or have very iffy ties to less than charming groups and people. At best, many parties are coalitions of regional caciques; at worst, a few are quasi-criminal organizations with ties to drug trafficking and paramilitary groups.

Especially since the collapse of the two-party system in 2002, many politicians have switched parties several times. Voting patterns, as a result, often owe more to individual politicians or, more so in the past, to the influence of non-state actors (guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug cartels, criminal organizations) in certain areas.

Santos will run for reelection at the helm of the National Unity (Unidad Nacional) coalition, a three-party alliance made up of the Social Party of National Unity (Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional, PSUN; commonly known as the Partido de la U or ‘Party of the U’), the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Colombiano, PLC) and the Radical Change party (Cambio Radical, CR).

The Party of the U was founded in 2005 by Liberal dissidents such as Santos to support Uribe. The party became the most prominent of the uribista parties, but unlike some other ambitious politicians (notably his leftist rivals, Chávez, Correa and Morales), Uribe never really tried to consolidate his broad coalition in a single party. Instead, Uribe was backed by a broad coalition including the Party of the U but also the Conservative Party and, at the outset, CR. Santos was the Party of the U’s candidate in the 2010 presidential election and the party became the largest party in both houses of Congress in March 2010. Under Santos’ presidency, the Party of the U (no cookies for guessing what the U referred to at the outset) shifted from being the leading party in the uribista coalition to being the leading force in a santista coalition. As such, the party has shifted ideologically from a conservative and strongly hawkish position to a more moderate and pragmatic positions. Santos is, if such terms can be used, on the centre-right and declares himself to be an admirer of Tony Blair’s Third Way.

The U’s top candidate for Senate was Jimmy Chamorro, a pastor and former Senator. Chamorro is a recent member of the party, and appears to have little ties to it: he flirted with both uribismo and The U before the election. He was followed on the party’s preferential list by retired General Fredy Padilla de León, the commander of the Colombian Military Forces between 2006 and 2010 and, subsequently, Ambassador to Austria until 2012. Under his military command, the Colombian army struck the hardest blows against the FARC with the assassination of Raúl Reyes and the successful liberation of Ingrid Betancourt. However, suspicions over his role in the false positives scandal have followed him since leaving the command, and it was those accussations, leveled against him by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, that forced him to resign his ambassadorship in Vienna. The third man on the list, Jorge Géchem Turbay, is a senior politician from Huila who spent 6 years in captivity as a FARC hostage.

The Liberal Party is one of Colombia’s two historically dominant parties, alongside the Conservatives. The Liberals, who were founded in the 1840s, originally stood for federalism, anti-clericalism, more democratic government, civil liberties and – in the 1930s – some left-wing Liberals supported social reforms. Until 1957, with some exceptions, the Liberals and Conservatives alternated in power not through elections but rather through bloody civil wars. The last such civil war between the two parties, La Violencia, was so violent and destructive – lasting from 1948 until 1957 and killing 200,000-300,000 – that the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power and alternate in the presidency. This arrangement, the National Front, which lasted until 1974 (but power-sharing of government jobs lasted until 1990), signaled the end of sharp distinctions between the two parties who were no longer separated by any one issue (the old question of anti-clericalism no longer being a political issue) and agreeing on most issues of the day. The two parties, nevertheless, remained by far the two most important parties until 2002. After 1974, the Liberals held the presidency more often than the Conservatives. The Liberals were hit particularly hard by the defection of several of their members, first and foremost Uribe himself, to uribismo after 2002. The Liberal leadership joined the ranks of the opposition to Uribe; although they retained a fairly significant (if much reduced) bench in Congress, the Liberals have performed terribly in presidential elections since 2002: 11.8% in 2006 and 4.4% in 2010. Since 2011, the Liberals have joined the government. Rafael Pardo, the Liberals’ 2010 candidate, joined Santos’ cabinet as labour minister in October 2011.

The Liberal top candidate for Senate was Horacio Serpa, a political veteran who served as Minister of the Interior (1994-1997), OAS ambassador (2002-2004), governor of Santander (2008-2011) and three time unsuccessful Liberal presidential candidate (1998, 2002, 2006). Serpa, one of the main caciques of the department of Santander, gained notoriety as interior minister under embattled Liberal President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), whose entire presidency was marred by serious allegations that his campaign had been funded by the Cali drug cartel. Serpa, a loyal ally of Samper, steadfastly denied all allegations and defended Samper. He ran, unsuccessfully, for President three times – in 1998, he lost in the second round to a Conservative candidate backed by some of Serpa’s Liberal enemies; in 2002, he placed a distant second behind Uribe and in 2006 he placed a paltry third. Most Liberal candidates on the Senate list are acustomed politicians who have run for office in the past.

The Radical Change party is a small party founded in 1998 by Liberal galanista dissidents – supporters of assassinated Liberal political Luis Carlos Galán (killed by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel in 1989), who notably opposed Serpa’s 1998 candidacy. In 2002, Germán Vargas Lleras, the grandson of a former President and Senator (1998-2008), joined the party along with his personalist outfit, ‘Colombia Siempre‘ (Colombia Always). In the Senate, Vargas Lleras was a noted opponent of the government’s peace talks with the FARC in 1998-2002 and, as such, he grew closer to another opponent, Álvaro Uribe. The CR came to become an uribista party, but it was also very much implicated in the parapolitics scandal – 8 of its 33 congressmen in the 2006-2010 term were arrested, investigated or ordered to be arrested by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. Vargas Lleras opposed Uribe’s reelection for a third term and ran for president in 2010, placing third with 10.1% of the vote. He has since become a senior cabinet minister in Santos’ government, serving as Minister of the Interior (2010-2012) and Minister of Housing (2012-2013); he is currently Santos’ vice-presidential running mate in the May 2014 presidential election. There are rumours that Vargas Lleras might be eyeing the vice presidency as a springboard to run for President, with Santos’ support, in 2018.

CR’s top candidate was Carlos Fernando Galán, the son of Luis Carlos Galán and a former municipal councillor in Bogotá. Arturo Char, former senator and the heir to a powerful political dynasty headed by Senator Fuad Char, was second on the party’s list. Char’s family are an economic and political powerhouse in the Atlántico department in the Caribbean region. Germán Varón, a representative, CR president and Vargas Lleras’ right-hand man, was also on the party’s list.

Álvaro Uribe has created his own party to oppose Santos’ government, the Democratic Centre (Centro Democrático, CD), founded in January 2013. The CD is very much a personalist party built around and entirely dominated by Uribe: it was actually first known as the ‘Uribe Democratic Centre’ and the party’s original logo was Uribe’s face (the current logo is a man’s silhouette, which looks similar to Uribe). The party’s slogan, which is part of its official electoral name, is Uribe’s emblematic 2002 slogan – mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart). The CD include uribistas from other parties, notably The U and the Conservatives. Prominent members of the CD include Uribe’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit Óscar Iván Zuluaga (the CD’s 2014 presidential candidate), Uribe’s Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and the former governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos. All three men have been linked to the parapolitics scandal: Santos Calderón is under investigation for a meeting with AUC leaders in which he allegedly suggested that the AUC creates a front in Bogotá; in August 2013, Ramos was arrested on orders of the Attorney General for his presumed ties to paramilitaries; Zuluaga was investigated by the Attorney General in 2007 for a 2003 picture of him at an event for a former paramilitary running for mayor.

The party ran a closed list for Senate, with Álvaro Uribe as its top candidate. Most of the party’s other congressional candidates have relatively little political or legislative experience, which makes it likely that the CD’s caucus will vote as a bloc and continue to be Uribe’s electoral vehicle. María del Rosario Guerra de la Espriella, the CD’s second candidate on the list, is an economist who served as Minister of Information Technologies and Communications in Uribe’s second government. Although she has never held elected office, her family is a powerful political clan in the Caribbean department of Sucre – her father served in both houses of Congress and as governor, and her uncle is the incumbent governor. Her brother, Antonio Guerra de la Espriella, ran for Senate on the CR list. Paloma Valencia Laserna, an anti-peace talks journalist, was third on the list. José Obdulio Gaviria, one of the most controversial men in Uribe’s camarilla, is considered to be Uribe’s ideological strategist and mastermind. Pablo Escobar’s first cousin, he is particularly controversial, even toxic to some, because of family members’ ties to drug trafficking and his own controversial statements (denying the existence of an armed conflict and forced displacements).

La Silla Vacía, an excellent resource on Colombian politics, had an interesting feature detailing Uribe’s senatorial list and allowing you to sort candidates by different relevant filters.

The Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano, PCC) is Colombia’s other historically dominant party, which emerged around the same time as the Liberals (in direct opposition to them) in the 1840s. Back then, the Conservatives stood for a strong central government, strong ties to and privileges for the Catholic Church and support for traditional social hierarchies (landowners, the clergy etc). The Conservatives dominated much of the early twentieth century (until 1930) in Colombia, following the collapse of federalism and the adoption of a highly centralist and strongly conservative constitution in 1886. Like the Liberals, the Conservatives have always been a complex web of competing clans and factions – often led by mutually antagonistic caciques. The Conservatives last held the Colombian presidency between 1998 and 2002, with Andrés Pastrana, most famous for the failed peace negotiations with the FARC which very much weakened the Conservatives in the 2002 elections – so much that they ran no candidates and backed Uribe, while taking a major hit in Congress. Joining the uribista coalition, the Conservatives enjoyed a brief resurgence in congressional elections in 2006 and 2010 – they’re currently the second largest party in the Senate. However, the Conservatives’ presidential candidate in 2010, former ambassador and two-time (1998, 2002) independent presidential candidate Noemi Sanín, won only 6.1% and fifth place. The party has been very much divided over the current government and its strategy for 2014: most of its congressional candidates were santista, but the party has a strong pro-Uribe group and the party’s presidential candidate, Marta Lucía Ramírez, is seen as pro-Uribe. Alejando Ordóñez, the somewhat controversial Inspector General, is a Conservative and close ally of Uribe, known for conservative and Catholic positions on social issues. It is unclear if the Conservatives will back Uribe, Santos or run a candidate of their own in May.

The Conservatives’ senatorial list was largely made up of old caciques and incumbents – the list’s top 12 candidates were all incumbent Senators. Atop the list was Roberto Gerlein, one of the most powerful congressmen in Colombia who has served in the Senate since 1974. Gerlein, because of his stature and his powerful electoral machine in the Atlántico department, has tended to be fairly independent of his party in the past – for example, in the 1990s, he supported Liberal President Ernesto Samper against the will of his party. Nowadays, he is considered pro-Santos. Jorge Hernando Pedraza, a Conservative boss from Boyacá, was second; Efraín Cepeda, another Senator from Atlántico, was third. José Darío Salazar, a pro-Uribe and pro-Ordóñez senator, ranked fourth on the list.

Civic Option (Opción Ciudadana) is the latest incarnation of the National Integration Party (PIN), a ‘party’ founded and led by politicians tied to paramilitaries or relatives of such politicians. In the 2006-2009 congress, 5 of 15 congressmen were arrested or ordered to be arrested in the parapolitics scandal. Located on the right, these politicians have tended to support uribismo, although their unsavouriness has meant that the more ‘respectable’ parties have hesitated to openly associate with them. Because of their ties to political machines, business empires or criminal organizations, the PIN/whatever it’s called has managed strong results in congressional elections – in 2006, it won 7 senators and 8 representatives and in 2010 the PIN won 9 and 11 seats respectively.

Most of the party’s senatorial candidates were incumbent congressmen and all but one of the top 10 candidates are classified by La Silla Vacía as ‘heirs of persons sentenced or on trial’. For example, the party’s second candidate, Doris Vega de Gil, is the wife of former senator and party founder Luis Alberto Gil, who spent six years in prison for the parapolitics scandal. Teresita García Romero, incumbent Senator, is the sister of Álvaro ‘El Gordo’ García (and considered to be his puppet), a Sucre cacique spending 40 years in jail for masterminding the massacre of 15 people in 2000.

The Independent Movement of Absolute Renovation (Movimiento Independiente de Renovación Absoluta, MIRA) is one of the weirdest political parties. The party’s ideology is miraísmo, a ‘transversal’ ideology which claims to focus on the common good, peace and transcending the left and right. MIRA is the political arm of the Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International, a neo-Pentecostal Colombian church with a presence in 45 countries. The party’s most famous figure, retiring Senator Alexandra Moreno Piraquive, is the daughter of the church’s founders. She was elected to the Senate in 2002, and reelected in 2006 and 2010. The party’s president is Carlos Baena, a pastor-politician, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 on a closed list led by Alexandra Moreno.

The retirement of the party’s most popular politician, Alexandra Moreno, promised to weaken MIRA this year. Its senatorial list was led by Bogotá representative Gloria Stella Díaz. Senator Manuel Antonio Virgüez, a veteran party leader, was the second candidate; Carlos Baena was third.

On the left of the spectrum, the Democratic Alternative Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo, PDA), is the largest left-wing party in Colombia. But the country stands out from its neighbors because the left has always been weak: the ties (real or imagined) of many left-wingers to the FARC have brought the leftist brand into disrepute while paramilitaries and drug cartels have often assassinated left-wing politicians – in the 1980s, for example, politicians in the pro-FARC Patriotic Union (UP), was largely purged of its leadership by assassinations and forced to stop participating in elections. The Polo was founded in 2005, by the merger of two parties. Since then, it has been one of the few parties unambiguously in opposition to both Uribe and Santos. Many of its politicians were members or sympathized with armed guerrilla movements in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the demobilized (in 1990) M-19 group.

In 2006, the Polo benefited from a polarization of public opinion and its candidate, Carlos Gaviria (called a communist by Uribe), won 22% and placed a distant second to Uribe. However, it won only a few seats in Congress (10 in the Senate, 8 in the Chamber). In Congress, however, many Polo leaders over time have gained notoriety for leading charges against the government – under Uribe, then-senator Gustavo Petro blew the whistle in the parapolitics case and the Polo opposed the FTA with the US and backed same-sex marriage bills. In 2010, the party was weakened by rising internal dissent between moderates (clearly anti-FARC) and leftists (some with lingering sympathies for the FARC); the Polo lost seats in the congressional elections (8 and 5 seats in the two respective houses) and the party’s candidate, moderate senator Gustavo Petro, won 9%. After the election, a major internal crisis led to moderates around Petro quitting the party, which is now led by Clara López, a former UP member and the party’s 2014 candidate.

The Polo had some strength in Bogotá, where it held the city hall with two successive mayors between 2004 and 2011; but the Polo has been crippled by the corruption scandals (construction kickbacks) which led to the dismissal of mayor Samuel Moreno in 2011. López was a close ally of Moreno when he was mayor, and served as appointed mayor between June and December 2011 following his removal from office by the Inspector General.

The Polo’s 2014 strategy, a desperate attempt to save seats and perform honorably in May, revolves around harnessing the 2013 social protest movements. As a result, many of its senatorial candidates have been recruited from social movements (miners, truckers, healthcare, academia, agriculture) or trade unionism. The Polo’s lead candidate was popular incumbent senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a former coffee worker union leader from Tolima and Senator since 2002. Robledo has gained notoriety and popularity for being an active, competent legislator and as a vocal congressional opponent to Uribe and Santos (FTA, DCA, agricultural policy). He was investigated by the Attorney General for presumed ties to the FARC, but it is widely believed that the investigation, now dropped, was politically-motivated.

The Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) is the result of the September 2013 alliance of the Green Party with the Progressives Movement (Movimiento Progresistas). Located in the centre of the spectrum, the Greens adopted their name in 2009 (although they were founded in 2005) and did, all things considered, remarkably well in the 2010 presidential election with the candidacy of the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus. Mockus placed a very distant second with 21.5% in the first round, but lost heavily in the second round (27.5%). In Congress, however, the Greens won few seats in 2010 – 5 senators and 3 representatives. The Greens are something of a big-tent party, with little ideological cohesion – some in the movement are fairly pro-government (the Greens were considered part of the governing coalition until recently), others (former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa) are also favourable to Uribe while other (such as Mockus, who left the Greens in 2011) are more left-leaning (and, as such, anti-government and anti-Uribe). In the 2011 Bogotá mayoral election, Green candidate Enrique Peñalosa supported the government and was endorsed by Álvaro Uribe, something which divided the Greens and led Mockus to leave the party.

The Progressives Movement was founded in 2011 by the Polo’s 2010 presidential candidate and former Senator Gustavo Petro, who represented a moderate (social democratic, notably pro-FTA with the US) and more resolutely anti-FARC wing of the fractious left-wing party. Petro left the Polo shortly after the 2010 election, after having lost the leadership of the party to his former running mate, Clara López, and strongly criticizing the corrupt municipal administration of Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno. Petro was elected mayor of Bogotá in 2011; he has been unpopular with some voters and was criticized for a trash removal crisis in 2012. In early December 2013, the Inspector General’s office removed him from office and banned him from holding public office for a period of 15 years. The decision, which has since been temporarily suspended by a court awaiting judgement from a higher court, reeked of political persecution (as Petro claims): the decision was unexpectedly severe (especially the long ban from holding office; Moreno faced only a year-long ban from office), the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, is a conservative supporter of Uribe and opponent of the peace talks. Petro will face a recall referendum on April 6.

The alliance between the Greens and the Progressives has already run into problems. The Green Alliance held a primary election to nominate its presidential candidate alongside the congressional elections, and the favourite in the race was Enrique Peñalosa, a former Liberal who served as mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2000 and ran for mayor in 2007 and 2011 (both times with Uribe’s backing). The Progressives consider Peñalosa to be an uribista. His two other primary opponents were John Sudarsky, a ‘Mockusian’ Green senator; and Camilo Romero, a Progressive senator.

The Green Alliance’s senatorial list was topped by Antonio Navarro Wolff, one of the Colombian left’s most well-known figures. Navarro Wolff was a member of the M-19 guerrilla group between 1974 and its demobilization in 1990, rising through the ranks as a military commander but also a leading peace negotiator in the 1989-1990 talks with the government which led to M-19’s demobilization and its transformation into a major political party, AD M-19. Navarro Wolff replaced the AD M-19’s assassinated 1990 presidential candidate, winning 12.7%. Since then, Navarro Wolff has served in both houses of Congress, Minister of Health, mayor of Pasto and governor of Nariño. As governor, he governed pragmatically, combining participative decision-making with economic alliances with the private sector; also supporting Uribe’s democratic security and coca eradication policies, although combined with direct economic aid to peasants to develop an alternative economy to coca. Incumbent senator Jorge Londoño, a former Liberal governor of Boyacá (2004-2007), was second on the list. The Green Alliance’s senatorial list was largely made up of left-leaning candidates, with a mix of politicians and outsiders from social movements or NGOs.


Turnout was 43.58% (43.57% for the Chamber), down from 44.2% in the 2010 congressional elections and 45.7% in 2006. Turnout in Colombia has generally been very low – in fact, 43% is by no means a record low or even particularly unusual – turnout was about 33% in 1994. Turnout in presidential elections has been no higher: it has not been over 50% since 1998, and prior to that it had been quite low since the 1960s. The armed conflict, in which the Colombian government often lacked total sovereignty over its own territory and which saw armed groups bar voters from voting, has played a major role in Colombia’s very low turnout. Areas controlled by the FARC have historically had very low turnout, although on the other hand, in some regions controlled by paramilitaries, turnout was often quite high as a result of some paramilitaries supporting candidates and marshaling voters to the polls. In addition, since the 1960s-1970s, discontent with the political system – seen as corrupt and with few differences between the parties – has likely played a major role in reducing turnout further. All in all, Colombia’s history has meant that there is no strong civic culture promoting electoral participation.

It is also worth noting that there is a huge number of invalid votes. This year, out of 14.3 million votes cast (for Senate), only 11.1 million were for parties. 5.88% of ballots were returned unmarked, 10.38% were invalid and 6.17% were white/blank votes (voto en blanco). Recall that, in Colombia, each ballot paper provides an option for the voter to cast a blank vote which is recognized as a ‘valid vote’ (similar, for example, to the valid ‘NOTA’ option in Nevada).

Results below are unofficial preliminary results (preconteo), with about 98% reporting. The Colombian Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil, which administers elections, calculates each party’s percentage on the total of votes cast.


Party of the U 15.58% (-11.87%) winning 21 seats (-7)
CD 14.29% (+14.29%) winning 19 seats (+19)
Conservative 13.58% (-7.99%) winning 19 seats (-3)
Liberal 12.22% (-4.45%) winning 17 seats (nc)
Radical Change 6.96% (-0.88%) winning 9 seats (+1)
Green Alliance 3.94% (-0.96%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Polo 3.78% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-3)
Civic Option 3.68% (-5.14%) winning 5 seats (-4)
MIRA 2.28% (-0.66%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Indigenous parties 2.16% winning 2 seats (nc) – 1 ASI, 1 MAIS
Blank vote 6.17%

Chamber of Representatives

Party of the U 16.05% (-13.04%) winning 37 seats (-10)
Liberal 14.13% (-8.9%) winning 39 seats (+2)
Conservative 13.17% (-8.65%) winning 27 seats (-11)
CD 9.47% (+9.47%) winning 18 seats (+18)
Radical Change 7.74% (-1.96%) winning 16 seats (+1)
Green Alliance 3.35% (+1.53%) winning 6 seats (+3)
Civic Option 3.26% (-3.41%) winning 6 seats (-6)
Polo 2.89% (-0.14%) winning 3 seats (-2)
MIRA 2.87% (+2.27%) winning 3 seats (nc)
100% Colombia 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 3 seats (+3)
UP 0.69% (+0.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Por un Huila Mejor 0.51% (+0.51%) winning 1 seat (+1)
AICO 0.46% (+0.46%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ASI 0.32% (+0.32%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Others 0.03% winning 1 seat (nc)
Afro-Colombian parties 1.11% winning 2 seats (nc) – 2 Fundación Ébano
Indigenous parties 0.55% winning 1 seats (nc) – 1 AICO
Blank vote 6.56%

Andean Parliament

The Andean Parliament is a deliberative body with five members from each of the four member states of the Andean Community of Nations (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). With no law-making powers, almost all political leaders in the four countries agree that the body is outdated, pointless, a waste of time and a waste of money. President Santos wants to abolish the body and cast a blank vote himself. Most parties did not run lists. Turnout was only 30.97% – and that’s not all – 28% of ballots were unmarked, 5.01% were invalid and 35.61% were blank. In all, only 31.35% of the ballots were cast for parties (3.189 million votes only). Because more of the valid votes were ‘blank’ (NOTA) rather than for parties, it is likely that the election will be cancelled and repeated (wasting more money).

Blank vote 35.61%
Conservative 9.31% winning 2 seats
Green Alliance 8.01% winning 2 seats
Polo 7.09% winning 1 seat
Civic Option 3.04% winning 0 seats
UP 2.52% winning 0 seats
100% Colombia winning 0 seats

The results are a relative victory for both Santos and Uribe, a mix of both good and bad results. The three parties of the National Unity coalition lost their majority in the Senate (47/102 seats) but held it in the Chamber (92/167); with the support of many Conservative congressmen, given that, according La Silla Vacía, all Conservative senators are considered santistas; the government does retain a comfortable majority in both houses and its law-making powers should not be impeded too much. However, Santos will no longer have the comfort of dispensing with the Conservatives; the Conservatives could theoretically form a coalition with the uribistas and the Civic Option. He will therefore need to deal with some blackmail and bargaining with the Conservatives, lest he turns left to the small Green caucus. On matters such as the peace talks, Santos will probably need to work with his left, despite bad relations between Vargas Lleras and the Polo/Progressives.

The Party of the U, the leading oficialista party, remained the largest party in the Senate (by a hair) and nearly did so in the Chamber. It remains the largest force in the National Unity coalition. Despite substantial loses to the uribistas and apathy, the party – contrary to most predictions – remained on the top, ahead of the CD. It did so thanks to the continued electoral power of the U’s regional caciques – mostly incumbents with machines, pork and money (sounds even better in Spanish: con plata, mermelada y maquinaria). A geographical analysis and a look at the preferential votes, later in this article, confirms this.

The major winner in the governing coalition was Vargas Lleras’ Radical Change, the only coalition party to increase its seat count. Thanks to strong candidates and Vargas Lleras’ place on Santos’ reelection ticket, the CR was the other major winner in the election besides the CD. The party’s strong results reinforces Vargas Lleras’ position both in the short-term and in the long-term (president in 2018); it is also significant that he will be backed by loyal senators – Galán and Varón.

The Liberals appear pleased with their result, but they failed in their attempt to become the largest political party in Colombia; the Liberal Party’s result and the U’s relative success means that the Liberals don’t have enough power to argue for a renegotiation of the coalition dynamics or to make their weight felt (especially as it concerns Santos’ succession in 2018). The Liberal leadership placed high hopes in Horacio Serpa, their veteran political topping the party’s open list for the Senate. However, as explained below, Serpa’s performance – both nationally and his home turf of Santander – was quite underwhelming and failed in its mission to help the Liberals.

Uribe can be considered as the other main winner of the night, although Uribe’s closed list narrowly missed out on first place in the Senate (it had led the vote count for most of the night). Uribe brings with him 18 other senators to the Senate, forming the largest opposition bloc in the Senate. Also significant is that, as touched on in the intro, the new CD caucus consists of persons with little/no prior political or legislative experience and closely connected to Uribe. According to La Silla Vacía, Uribe is the only CD senator who has served in Congress before – compared with all but two of the U’s senators, all but 3 Liberals and 3 Conservatives. However, not all CD senators are foreign to politics: 7 (besides Uribe) have held public office, and 7 have other family members involved in politics. For example, journalist Paloma Valencia is from a powerful political family although she has no prior political experience. Alfredo Ramos is the son of the former governor of Antioquia investigated for parapolitics, but he too has no prior political experience. These people, along with Paola Holguín (an adviser to Uribe during his presidency) or María del Rosario Guerra de la Espriella, can be counted upon to be loyal uribistas. This means that the CD caucus will likely vote as a bloc, being a constant thorn in the side to the government and inconveniencing Santos.

The CD will not, on its own, have the weight to prove more than an inconvenience and hassle to the government, unless they are able to reach an agreement with the Conservatives (hard given the attractiveness of government patronage to them) and the Civic Option (most of its senators are considered uribistas, and the government likely has more resources to bribe them). Nevertheless, Uribe will have a platform from which to lead the opposition to the government.

The other matter is whether Uribe’s 2 million votes for the Senate can be considered an accurate reflection of uribismo‘s true weight. While Uribe has very high approval ratings, only about a third of those who approve of him (60%) actually voted for him. Furthermore, there was a marked difference between the CD’s results in the Uribe-led Senate race and the Chamber race, where Uribe was not a candidate and where the CD cared less. The CD only won 9.5% or 1.35 million votes in the Chamber of Representatives. That being, Uribe’s result is still a net success, given that he controlled little existing political machines in the departments and went up against powerful government caciques backed by patronage and pork.

The result of the left was quite terrible. The Polo was one of the main losers of the election. Although the Polo’s lead candidate, popular senator Jorge Robledo won the most personal preferential votes in Colombia – 191,910 votes or 1.3% of the total votes cast, the party still lost many votes and five congressmen. Although the Green Alliance retained its seats and strength, the Progressives around embattled Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro did poorly in Bogotá, where right-wing parties supporting the mayor’s recall outpolled his supporters by a mile. Within the Green Alliance, Antonio Navarro Wolff was not the most popular individual candidate, winning only 55.4 thousand votes against 81 thousand votes for Claudia López, a political analyst who has worked on election observation and investigating corruption and parapolitics.

Nevertheless, the major silver lining for the Greens was the huge success of their presidential primary. With 92% reporting, the Green primary drew 4.1 million votes (or 2.9 million valid votes), against only 564,663 votes for the Greens in the senatorial election. Enrique Peñalosa handily won the Green primary, with 47.4% against 16.5% for Romero (Progressives) and 8.4% for Sudarsky (Mockusian Green). It is a remarkable victory for Peñalosa, who was not really wanted by most of his own party and had to face relatively low media attention and much antagonism within the Green Alliance.

Therefore, looking the presidential race, the one coming out with momentum is Peñalosa rather than Uribe’s candidate Zuluaga. Peñalosa himself won 1.96 million (with more votes to come), coming close (perhaps beating, when all is done) with Uribe’s vote in the Senate, and easily surpassing the core Uribe vote for the Chamber. It’s clear that not everybody who voted in the primary is a supporter of the Green Alliance, and it is not clear if everybody who backed Peñalosa in the primary will vote for him in the actual election. John Sudarsky, who will not support Peñalosa, claims that Peñalosa’s victory is not legitimate because he won with Uribe’s votes; although a cursory analysis shows no correlation between Peñalosa and Uribe’s support.

Regardless, Peñalosa’s big win places him as the favourite to become the main anti-Santos candidate. Zuluaga’s candidacy is weak and petering out; if he wins only the 1.3 million voters who backed the CD in the Chamber election, he will barely win 10% of the vote. Some on the left, particularly the left-wing of the Greens, think that Uribe is looking to dump Zuluaga and fear that Uribe will ally with Peñalosa. Even in the absence of such an unlikely alliance (Peñalosa supports the peace talks with the FARC), Peñalosa could attract some of Uribe’s voters, if he consolidates himself as the main opponent to Santos in the polls.

MIRA fell below the 3% threshold for seats in the Senate, thereby losing all their seats in the upper house, but paradoxically, MIRA won its best result in the lower house, winning 2.9% of the vote and taking 3 seats. Given the loss of the party’s most popular and emblematic legislator, MIRA’s results were still pretty decent.

Geographical analysis

Senate results by department (leading party; source:

It is clear that what mattered for the U was the support of regional machines and their caciques, controlling patronage and pork. It becomes quite clear once you look at the distribution of preference votes on the U’s senatorial slate: the ‘media’ star candidates, led by General Fredy Padilla de León, did poorly – the retired military commander won only 16.3 thousand votes (0.1%), failing to be elected to the Senate because he placed so low on the vote count of all candidates. Of the U’s star candidates, the only one who enjoyed more success was Jimmy Chamorro, who counted on the backing of a Christian machine. Instead, the U candidates who did well are the caciques, who brought with them their departments and allowed the U to narrowly win nationally. The U candidates who won the most votes nationally were Musa Besaile (145.4k votes), Bernardo ‘Noño’ Elías (140.1k votes) – two political bosses from the Caribbean department of Córdoba; José David Name (103.2k votes), the head of a powerful political family in Atlántico; Roosevelt Rodríguez (100.2k votes), a representative from the Valle del Cauca linked to Dilian Francisca Toro, a U Senator investigated by the Supreme Court for money laundering for the Cali cartel; and José Alfredo Gnecco (97.7k votes), the corrupt cousin of the corrupt governor of César and allegedly supported by the former governor of La Guajira, Francisco ‘Kiko’ Gómez, arrested in 2013 for murder.

With machine support, the U swept the Caribbean departments. In César, the U won 29% of the vote – and Gnecco won 20% of the total votes just for himself; in neighboring La Guajira, the U won 27%, with 7.6% for ‘Noño’ Elías and 6.6% for Gnecco. In Córdoba, with three incumbent U caciques, the U won 41%, most of that coming in the form of preferential votes for the department’s three U caciques: ‘Noño’ Elías (12.7%), Musa Besaile (12.4%) and Martín Morales (9.7%). In Bolívar, the U obtained 21.2% thanks to Sandra Villadiego, a representative and wife of Miguel Ángel Rangel (former congressman, sentenced for parapolitics) and Andrés García Zuccardi, a political novice who is the heir to the García-Zuccardi clan (both of his parents are in jail or have been detained for corruption or parapolitics). In Magdalena, the U won 25.8% of the vote, with 6.4% of the vote for Miguel Amin Escaf, a representative from neighboring Atlántico.

In the Caribbean department of Atlántico, the victory went to the Conservatives, led by the septuagenarian Conservative cacique, Senator Roberto Gerlein. The party won 28.9% of the votes, with 10% of the total votes for Gerlein and 8.1% for representative Laureano Acuña, a rival of Gerlein who has built his own smaller machine with his wife and other politicians. The U won 22% in Atlántico, pushed by José David Name (6%). The CR placed third with 14%, with 8.3% for Arturo Char, the heir to Senator Fuad Char’s powerful local dynasty.

The only Caribbean department to escape the National Unity parties was Sucre, where the Civic Option won 23.9% against 20.5% for the U, 12.7% for the Conservatives and 10.9% for the Liberals. The Civic Option’s victory is the result of its two local machines: Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, the son of the Liberal governor Julio César Guerra (Guerra Sotto was denied the Liberal nomination because of a corrupt business deal with a corrupt local businesswoman [Enilse López, “La Gata”] in his father’s administration), who won 9.6% of the preferential votes thanks to his father’s machine; incumbent Teresita García Romero, introduced above, the sister of a jailed Sucre cacique involved in a paramilitary massacre in 2000, won 6.3%. Incumbent Senator Antonio José Correa (who admitted that his 2010 campaign was funded by a convicted murderer), the candidate of Enilse López’s clan, won 5.5%. In Sucre, the U trailed closely, with support coming from neighboring regional caciques Musa Besaile and ‘Noño’ Elías.

The CD was very weak in the Caribbean region, except for César, where it placed second with 11.4%; it won single digits in all other departments.

In the Andean region, home to large cities (Medellín and Bogotá) and territories less ‘tied down’ by powerful machines and caciques, Uribe (and the left) was more successful. The CD won the senatorial vote in Antioquia, Bogotá DC, Risaralda, Quindio, Tolima, Huila and Cundinamarca; the Andean region provided the CD with 60% of its national vote, and all but one or two of the CD’s representatives are from Andean departments. The Liberals won Santander while the Conservatives won Boyacá and Norte de Santander.

Uribe is from Antioquia and many of his candidates, both for Senate and the Chamber, came from Antioquia: seven senators and five of the CD representatives are antioqueño. In Antioquia, which includes Medellín, the CD won 25.8%, a ten point advantage over the Conservatives; a lot of the CD’s victory comes from Medellín, where Uribe’s party won 34.9%. The Conservatives were led by Nidia Marcela Osorio, candidate of a political machine in the Medellín suburb of Itagüí; and Senator Olga Lucía Suárez, former mayor of the northern Medellín suburb of Bello and inheritor of her husband’s Senate seat (when he was convicted for parapolitics).

In Bogotá, the CD won 20.3%, a margin of about nine points over the Liberals, in second with 11.1%. The Polo and the Greens each won only 7.9%, bad news for Gustavo Petro. Bogotá, along with Antioquia (for the Polo) and Boyacá (for the Greens), remains these two centre-left parties’ main strongholds in Colombia. Although CR won only 7.3% in Bogotá, its star candidate Carlos Fernando Galán got a comparatively hefty personal vote (2.68%), the second most voted single candidate in the city behind the Polo’s Jorge Robledo (2.7%).

The U won Caldas, thanks to Óscar Mauricio Lizcano, the heir of Conservative cacique Óscar Tulio Lizcano. The Conservatives won Boyacá, with two incumbents leading the pack (Jorge Hernando Pedraza, Juan de Jesús Córdoba – only the former was reelected). The main surprise in Boyacá was the Greens’ poor performance; the party won only 7.4% and the incumbent senator/former governor Jorge Londoño only won 4.2%, losing reelection. Although the CD fell short in both departments, they placed strong seconds.

In Norte de Santander, more closely controlled by caciques, the CD placed fourth behind the Conservatives, Liberals and the U. All the three parties were led by local senators-caciques: Conservative three-term senator Juan Manuel Corzo (6.7%), Liberal newcomer Andrés Cristo, the brother of the retiring President of the Senate Juan Fernando Cristo (12.4%) and the U two-term Senator Manuel Guillermo Mora (6.6%). The Polo won a number of small municipalities, certainly due to local campesino leader Jesús Alberto Castilla, who was elected to the Senate.

In Santander, Liberal boss Horacio Serpa, a long-time fixture of national and local politics, allowed his party to top the poll with 20.5% of the vote. But, overall, the results in Santander a considered a defeat for Serpa. The Liberals had placed high hopes in Serpa’s ability to attract significant votes both nationally and in Santander, but he failed to do so. In terms of preferential votes in Santander, Serpa won 40.4k (5.5%), far less than the candidate of Serpa’s sworn enemies – Senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, from Civic Option, won 82.5k (11.3%). Aguilar, first elected to the Senate in 2010 with 51k votes, is the son of former governor Hugo Aguilar (2004-2007), Serpa’s main rival who was arrested for parapolitics in 2011 (given that Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar lacked any political experience in 2010, he was only elected thanks to his father’s machinery) and his brother, Richard Aguilar, is the incumbent governor of Santander (elected in 2011, defeating the candidate backed by outgoing governor Serpa). It is true that Serpa had to deal with serious Liberal challenges: Senate Jaime Enrique Durán won 5.3% of the vote, just a bit less than Serpa. Yet, it’s a major defeat both for Serpa and the Liberals. In the Chamber election, Civic Option won Santander and two seats.

National Unity held the upper hand in the four Pacific departments, notably the most important of them – Valle del Cauca (Cali), won by the U. In that department, the U’s Roosevelt Rodríguez, an incumbent representative who was the candidate of embattled Senator Dilian Francisca Toro, under investigation for money laundering of drug trafficking proceeds for the Cali cartel. Toro was behind Rodríguez’ campaign operation and had her machine behind him; with a great result: he won 77.2k votes in the department (that’s over three-quarters of all the votes he won nationally), or 6.3%. Overall, the U won 14.9% in the department, followed by the Conservatives (12.5%), the Liberals (12.1%) and Uribe (10.5%). The Conservatives elected Javier Mauricio Delgado (5.5%), the political heir of his uncle Senator César Tulio Delgado and the candidate backed by governor Ubeimar Delgado (his other uncle); the Liberals reelected Édinson Delgado (2.9%). The other interesting aspect of the race in the Valle is the end of the Civic Option, which used to be a powerful party in the department when it was backed by the Abadía clan (Juan Carlos Abadía, now-deposed governor of the Valle from 2008 to 2010) and Senator Juan Carlos Martínez (senator from 2002 to 2009, convicted in the parapolitics scandal and under investigation for drug trafficking); with its main backers politically dead, it won only 5.3% and its incumbent senator, Carlos Arturo Quintero (controversial because of a link to a drug cartel assassin) was soundly defeated.

In Cauca, the Liberals won handily with 22.3% of the vote; two-term senator Luis Fernando Velasco, who comes from a family of politicians, won 7.8%. In Nariño, the Conservatives, with two influential senators, topped the poll with 25.2% – senators Myriam Alicia Paredes (9.7%) and Carlos Eduardo Enríquez (8.7%) are both close allies of the government, especially Enríquez. The Liberals (21.3%) won a strong second, thanks to incumbent senator Guillermo García Realpe (8.9%, but lost reelection) and representative Javier Tato Álvarez (7.4%, elected). Puzzling was the Greens’ weak result (6.7%), particularly Antonio Navarro Wolff’s very poor performance (2.6%, only the second most popular Green candidate), given that he has served both as mayor and governor.

The sparsely populated departments of the Amazon, the llanos and the Orinoquía split between the government and the CD – with governing parties winning Putumayo, Meta, Guaviare and Vaupés and the CD winning Arauca, Casanare, Vichada, Guianía, Caquetá and Amazonas. In Meta, the U won a resounding victory (34.4%), with 16.4% for Senator Maritza Martínez, the political boss of the Orinoquía (the only senator representing the region’s four departments); but the U nevertheless lost the other three departments there (Arauca, Casanare, Vichada), though her appeal likely extended into the Amazon (Guaviare and Vaupés). Martínez is the heiress of her husband, sentenced for parapolitics. In Casanare, the CD (26.4%) was followed by the Greens (23.6%), led by former governor Jorge Prieto Riveros, who won 19.2% on his name. In thinly populated Caquetá, the governing parties were badly trounced – the top winners were the CD (22%), MIRA (10.5%), the Polo (10%, including 7.5% around local candidate Alonso Orozco Gómez) and the Conservatives (9.5%). In Amazonas, the Greens were second behind the CD (16.8% vs 14.9%), seemingly because the governor is Green and his wife was a Green candidate (10.9% on her name). The Liberals swept Putumayo (28.9%), with 18.4% preferential votes for the department’s representative, Guillermo Rivera.

Chamber results by department (leading party; source:

A detailed analysis of the Chamber results is less important; the games are still defined by regional caciques, who tend to run their tools and pawns as candidate for the Chamber. The CD did, as noted above, far more poorly in the race for the Chamber – the only departments the CD won are Antioquia and Bogotá DC, the two most populous departments which can be expected to be the least ‘tied down’ by caciques. Additionally, several regional parties which did not run for Senate did well in the Chamber race. Worth mentioning is the ‘100% Colombia’ movement, which won 3 seats – 2 from Sucre and one from Casanare. The party won 31% of the vote in Sucre, against 25.6% for the U and 13.3% for Civic Option (which won the senate race in the department). The party is the outfit of Yahir Acuña, an Afro-Colombian representative  under investigation for parapolitics who has alliances with senators (notably Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto) and has gubernatorial ambitions. His Afro-Colombian party, Fundación Ébano, won the two seats reserved for Afro-Colombians in the Chamber. In Casanare, the party’s rep-elect, José Rodolfo Pérez, the candidate of a clan led by his father, a former two-time governor (sentenced to 15 years in jail for parapolitics) and backed by two other governors (one who was deposed for being a crook, and the incumbent).

What comes out of all this is the weight of governors in ‘deciding’ elections. Some notable cases were mentioned above: Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, the brother of the governor of Santander, elected in a landslide; José Alfredo Gnecco, the cousin of the governor of César; Javier Mauricio Delgado, the nephew of the governor of the Valle whose only previous political experience was being a local councillor in Cali; and Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, soundly defeated in 2010 but easily elected in 2014 because his father became governor of Sucre in 2011. Another remarkable example is that of Sara Piedrahíta Lyons (The U), a 25-year old beauty queen with zero political experience whose cousin just appears to be the governor of Córdoba. With her cousin’s support, she won 105k votes in Córdoba, or 15.8% of the votes cast in the department. The opposite is true: when nobody in your clan happens to be governor, you lose reelection. In 2010, the Liberal Party’s Arleth Casado was elected senator with the backing of her husband, sentenced for parapolitics. This year, with only 48k votes in Córdoba, she lost reelection – her clan’s candidate lost the governorship in 2011. In Tolima, Conservative Senator Juan Mario Laserna, elected in 2010 with the muscle of then-governor Óscar Barreto, was badly defeated (15k votes in Tolima, only 3.4%) – it so happens that the Barreto clan lost the governorship in 2011 to Liberals and rival Conservatives. In Santander, Liberal Senator Honorio Galvis also lost reelection, having been unable to play his cards correctly with the candidacy of Horacio Serpa – who, as governor, had supported him in 2010. Finally, in Boyacá, Green Senator Jorge Londoño was defeated, his candidate having lost the governorship in 2011.

It is interesting, finally, to look at the national distribution of votes between individual senatorial candidates. For the Conservatives, naturally, the top vote winner nationally was Roberto Gerlein (with 127k votes on his name), followed by his Atlántico colleague Efraín Cepeda (98k), Córdoba Senator Nora María García (86k), Gerlein’s Atlántico rival Laureano Acuña (85.6k) and Yamina Pestana (85k), a political novice controlled by her imprisoned brother (a political boss from Córdoba and Sucre). For the Liberals, Serpa obviously topped the vote count, with 129,974 votes on his name – mostly from Santander but also from other departments – but that was far less than hoped for by the Liberals. Andrés Cristo, the heir to the political boss of Norte de Santander, ranked second nationally with some 85.4k votes; Juan Manuel Galán, a senator from Bogotá, won 75.3k votes.

For the CR, it was Arturo Char, the heir of a clan in Atlántico, who topped the poll with 108,454 preference votes. Carlos Fernando Galán, the CR’s star candidate, won 87.4k votes while Germán Varón, the ally of CR leader/VP candidate Germán Vargas Lleras, won 79.7k votes.

As noted previously, the Green top candidate, Antonio Navarro Wolff, only ranked second (55.4k votes), far behind Claudia López (81k). The Polo’s Jorge Robledo was the top candidate in Colombia, with 191.9k votes – or 1.3% of the total votes cast nationally. Iván Cepeda, an incumbent representative from Bogotá working on human rights and crimes against humanity, won 84,126 votes.

For Civic Option, Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar won 100,159 votes (0.7%). Senator Antonio José Correa, from Bolívar, took 81.9k votes. The Civic Option’s five senators are all classified as ‘cuestionado’ by La Silla Vacía, meaning that they have been cited in alleged (or proven) corruption cases.

The elections left many questions unanswered. Uribe did well, but not well enough to jeopardize Santos’ chances at reelection. Indeed, as noted above, if anyone comes out strengthened from the elections, it is the Green Alliance’s Enrique Peñalosa, not Uribe’s candidate, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who is struggling to take off in polls. For the time being, although Santos’ approvals and polling numbers are not particularly impressive and the likelihood of a strong voto en blanco on May 25 means that he won’t win by the first round; Santos nevertheless remains the runaway favourite to win reelection. His opposition is divided and no opposition candidate has so far managed to emerge as a credible opponent with the ability to unite the very heterogeneous opposition to Santos on his name.

El Salvador 2014

The second round of presidential elections were held in El Salvador on March 10, 2014. The President, who is head of state and government, is elected to a four-year term with no possibility for consecutive reelection.

The first round was held on February 2, which I covered in a thorough post which also looked at Salvadoran history. In the first round, Salvador Sánchez Céren, the candidate of the governing left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN), took a very wide lead in the first round – 48.9% – nearly enough to win by the first round. Sánchez Céren, a Vice President and former education minister in President Mauricio Funes’ outgoing government, is a former guerrilla leader during El Salvador’s 13-year long civil war (1979-1982) and is traditionally identified as a member of the FMLN’s traditional dogmatic hardline left-wing; in contrast to Funes, an independent journalist prior to his election in 2009 and very much a moderate, pragmatic social democrat during his term. His second round opponent was Norman Quijano, the conservative mayor of San Salvador who stood for the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, ARENA), the anti-communist, pro-American and conservative party which ruled El Salvador between 1989 and 2009. Quijano placed a distant second with 39% of the vote.

The FMLN’s first round success owes to the party’s strong campaign, its fairly popular record in government since 2009 and the weakness of ARENA’s campaign. Although Sánchez Céren is from the FMLN’s left-wing, he did not suffer a fate similar to the FMLN’s 2004 presidential candidate, former communist leader Schafik Handal. Instead, Sánchez Céren ran a moderate campaign which focused on the FMLN’s record and promised social investments, poverty reduction rather than dogmatic chavismo and anti-Americanism. Sánchez Céren compensated his own left-wing roots by choosing a popular moderate running mate, Óscar Órtiz, the popular four-term mayor of the conservative city of Santa Tecla. The FMLN’s campaign was smooth, calm, consensual and disciplined. It also received thinly veiled support from the incumbent President, Mauricio Funes, who devoted most of his time during the campaign to attack ARENA and lead the charge in publicizing corruption cases against ARENA; many noted that Funes was doing the FMLN’s ‘dirty work’, allowing the FMLN’s actual candidate to be more consensual.

In contrast, ARENA’s first round campaign was widely described as disastrous. Since losing power in 2009, the former governing party suffered a major split, when former President Antonio Saca (2004-2009) was expelled from ARENA and founded his own party, the Grand Alliance for National Unity (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional, GANA), alongside 12 lawmakers. ARENA did, nevertheless, win the 2012 legislative elections; although subsequent defections have since cost it its plurality in the unicameral legislature. Saca, in coalition with two old centre-right parties, won 11.4% in the first round. The former President remains widely perceived as a ‘traitor’ by many in ARENA ranks and there was public divisions in ARENA between the two rounds on whether or not Quijano should approach Saca to form an alliance. Ultimately Saca did not endorse anybody.

What really sunk ARENA, however, was a major corruption case involving former President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) – who, to make matters worse, was Quijano’s campaign manager. Revealed by Funes and GANA, Flores is alleged to have embezzled $10 million in earthquake relief funds from Taiwan in 2001. Flores was forced to appear in front of a legislative committee in January, and stunningly revealed that it was ‘maybe’ $15-20 million which he had bagged from Taiwan. Flores attempted to leave the country illegally in late January; an arrest warrant was later issued, but Flores is now MIA. For unclear reasons, Quijano stuck by Flores until two days before the election.

Despite the FMLN’s efforts, since 2009, to present itself as a moderate social democratic party, it hasn’t convinced anybody. Prior to the first round, two US Congressmen wrote to John Kerry to allege that Sánchez Céren had ‘dubious democratic credentials’; American conservatives also charged that the FMLN had ties with Venezuela, drug traffickers and criminal gangs (a very controversial truce between El Salvador’s two main gangs was one of the main issues dividing left and right in this election). During the runoff campaign, there were hit pieces against the FMLN in the US media, notably an op-ed by Roger Noriega in the Miami Herald asking if El Salvador is ‘the next Venezuela’. Quijano’s campaign in both rounds also seized heavily on lingering fears of the FMLN’s ties to radical left-wing regimes (notably Venezuela). For example, Quijano repeatedly warned of chavismo, ’21st century socialism’ and authoritarianism; after the first round, he also played up March 9 as a crucial day which would decide the future of democracy.

Given Sánchez Céren’s comfortable lead in the first round, the popularity of the FMLN and the greater divisiveness of ARENA, he was widely seen as the favourite to win – easily – on March 9. Runoff polls, compiled here, showed the FMLN’s candidate leading by at least 10 points in every poll (which, however, could not be released in the last two weeks of campaigning).


Turnout was up from the first round; the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) doesn’t give turnout results, but La Prensa Grafica estimated turnout was 61% based on the TSE’s register, up from 55.5% a month ago. The results shown below are unofficial election night preliminary count results, which have yet to be scrutinized and confirmed as final results:

Salvador Sánchez Céren (FMLN) 50.11% (+6,634)
Norman Quijano (ARENA) 49.89%

Source: Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE)

El Salvador 2014 [R2]

After a blowout in the first round and expectations of an easy victory for Sánchez Céren, the election turned out to be shockingly close. The TSE has not officially proclaimed a winner and asked both candidates to refrain from claiming victory; of course, that fell on deaf ears, because both Sánchez Céren and Quijano claimed victory on election night.

However, just as everybody (myself included) had already written their analysis to explain the FMLN’s decisive victory in the runoff, what explains the sudden shift? Firstly, it should be pointed out that there haven’t been any public polls released since February 21; while I don’t think that any major events happened in the campaign in the last two weeks, I admittedly haven’t followed the campaign’s every development so I can’t comment on any minor events which may have shifted voter preferences.

Two of the common themes which seem to be coming up in analyses of the close runoff results are ARENA’s superior GOTV operation, which managed to mobilize the party’s traditional middle-class bases in urban areas; and the anti-government protests in Venezuela, playing to ARENA’s rhetoric about El Salvador risking becoming ‘the next Venezuela’ if the FMLN won. On the whole, ARENA’s negative campaign linking the FMLN to the unpopular gang truce (unofficially backed by the FMLN; the ARENA also had the outlandish and false claim after the first round that gangs intimidated people at the polls into voting FMLN), a sluggish economy and the unrest in Venezuela likely played a role. The fear factor may have played a significant role in re-mobilizing a conservative electorate which partly stayed at home (or voted for Saca) in the first round. That may explain the fairly substantial increase in turnout, for example; it may also be due to Saca’s voters ultimately breaking heavily (more than expected) in Quijano’s favour. While ARENA is undeniably a divisive party – with about 45% of voters claiming in polls that they would never vote for it – it does nevertheless retain a strong base of voters. In very favourable circumstances for the FMLN in 2009, for example, ARENA’s presidential candidate still took 48.7%.

ARENA itself seems to have explained its surprisingly good result by saying that there was a rebuke against Funes’ intervention in the campaign (by publicizing ARENA corruption). I have no clue how accurate this is; ARENA seems to love harping on about how Funes’ intervention is unconstitutional and illegal.

The situation is very tense, as Salvadorans await the final count by the TSE – which may or may not change the name of the winning candidate – and the politicians outbid themselves. Sánchez Céren, while claiming victory and saying that those who don’t accept the results are ‘violating the will of the people’, did strike a conciliatory tone in his ‘victory’ speech – he told Quijano and ARENA that his administration would welcome them with ‘open arms’ to build ‘a new country’ together. The FMLN insists that the TSE’s final count cannot change the identity of the winner. On the other hand, Quijano has been extremely aggressive and dogmatic. Quijano has denounced cases of fraud and in his own ‘victory’ speech, he said that “they will not rob us of this victory; we will fight, if necessary, with our lives”. He continued by saying that they will not allow fraud ‘in the style of Chávez and Maduro in Venezuela’, he also denounced the TSE, whose judge is allegedly biased against ARENA, of being sold to the ‘chavista dictatorship’. He has demanded an impartial recount from the TSE, which would be televised. Very unsettling, Quijano said that the army is awaiting the results of the election and that “the armed forces are ready to make democracy” (está lista para hacer democracia). ARENA claims that it had its own parallel count (reiterating twice, just to make sure, that it was ‘serious’ and of the ‘highest level of accuracy’ – sounds legit!), which obviously showed that Quijano had won.

The results paint the picture of a very divided country: indeed, the FMLN and ARENA candidates each won seven departments. In general, the FMLN dominated the eastern half of the country (which is slightly more rural), although ARENA won La Unión. Interestingly, the FMLN’s vote share actually declined from the first round in the eastern departments of La Unión, Usulután, Morazán and San Miguel. The FMLN won the western departments of Sonsonate (with 56%) and Ahuachapán (with 50.15%), while ARENA won the other departments, including San Salvador, the most populated department, with 50.7%. As in the first round, Quijano won the capital, San Salvador, this time with a substantial 55.6%; he also won Santa Tecla, with 55.8%, although it is the hometown of Sánchez Céren’s popular running mate. The FMLN candidate still won most of San Salvador’s poorer suburban municipalities (except, again, wealthy Antiguo Cuscatlan), including Soyapango with 52%.

The very close result of the election, and the politicians – especially ARENA’s – apparent unwillingness to be gracious in defeat – doesn’t bode well for El Salvador. The next president – probably Sánchez Céren but maybe Quijano – will have a very weak mandate and neither would be able to work with an absolute majority in the legislature (the courts are also increasingly powerful, independent and activist). He will also face major problems, which were not addressed seriously by either candidate in the election; namely, El Salvador’s major violence problem but also reducing poverty and promoting economic growth.

A word on Costa Rica, which also voted on February 2 and is due to hold a second round ballot on April 6: the runner up, Johnny Araya, from the governing National Liberation Party (PLN), has dropped out of a hopeless runoff against Luis Guillermo Solís, the candidate of the opposition centre-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC). Although the margin separating both men was tight – 31% against 29.6% – Araya, the candidate of an unpopular governing party, had no chance to win the second round. Although none of the major defeated first round candidates – left-winger José María Villalta (17.1%), right-winger Otto Guevara (11.2%) or Christian democrat Rodolfo Piza (6%) – endorsed any candidates, polls confirmed what I had predicted – that those candidates’ voters would flock to Solís to defeat the PLN. Polls showed Solís leading by 40-50 points; bowing to the inevitable, Araya dropped out of the race on March 5. There will still be a vote on April 6, because the constitution doesn’t allow for candidates to withdraw from the second round, but Solís will be the next President of Costa Rica – ending 8 years of liberacionista rule. Solís will need to work with a very divided legislature, in which his party doesn’t even hold the most seats – it holds 14 out of 57 seats.

Take a break from serious politics by reading what the official state media had to say about the elections in North Korea, on March 9: we are assured that ‘all electors registered on the lists of voters went to the polls’, and that the country was ‘seething with election atmosphere‘. North Koreans ‘residing overseas’ shared their appreciation of the glorious victory of socialism: “They said that election in capitalist countries is a competition between a tiny handful of wealthy and powerful persons, but in the DPRK it is a synonym for happiness of electing representatives among ordinary people and becomes an important occasion to demonstrate the single-minded unity. Such election is beyond imagination in capitalist countries, they said.” I especially enjoyed the very Soviet way of presenting a ‘voter’: Ri Kwang Chol, a worker of the Pyongyang Timber Mill who voted for candidate Pak Pong Nam, commander of the Phyongchon Train Inspection Company of the Service Brigade of Passenger and Freight Trains at the Pyongyang Switch Yard under the Pyongyang Railway Bureau…

Election Preview: Colombia 2014

Map of Colombia (source: ezilon)

Legislative elections will be held in Colombia on March 9, 2014. All 167 seats in the Chamber of Representative (Cámara de Representantes) and all 102 seats in the Senate of the Republic (Senado de la República), the two houses which make up the National Congress (Congreso Nacional) were up for reelection. The five Colombian members of the Andean Parliament (Parlamento Andino) were also up for reelection. Member of Congress and of the Andean Parliament are elected for four-year terms.

These congressional elections will be followed by presidential elections on May 25, 2014. The President, who is the head of state and government, is elected to a four-year term, renewable once, using a two round system.

Electoral and political system

The Chamber of Representatives, the lower house, is made up of 162 seats elected in 33 multi-member circunscripciones territoriales – that is, Colombia’s 32 departments and the capital district of Bogotá. Each department has at least two seats, with an additional seat for every 365,000 inhabitants or fraction greater than 182,500 inhabitants in excess of the first 365,000 inhabitants. The capital district of Bogotá has the most seats, 18, followed by the departments of Antioquia (17) and Valle del Cauca (13). The distribution of seats between the departments is detailed in this presidential decree from 2013 setting the number of seats. The remaining five seats in the Chamber are split between two seats elected by Afro-Colombians, one seat elected by native indigenous Colombians and two seats elected by Colombian citizens living outside the country.

The Senate, the upper house, is made up of 102 seats. 100 of these seats are elected at-large, in a nationwide constituency (circunscripción nacional), while the remaining two seats are elected in a nationwide constituency for indigenous native Colombians.

Congress is elected by party-list proportional representation, with seats distributed according to the largest remainders method. The two houses of Congress and the Andean Parliament are elected on separate ballots. When voting for the Senate and Chamber, voters must choose whether they will vote in the national/territorial constituencies or if they will vote in one of the special constituencies (for the Senate, the indigenous seats; for the Chamber, the Afro-Colombian seats or the indigenous seats) – they may only vote in one constituency. The vote may be preferential or non-preferential – the choice is up to the political parties, who either decide to present a closed list of ranked candidates or an open list. If the party run a closed list, voters only mark the logo of the party. If the party runs an open list, voters must vote for a single candidate (marking the box with their chosen candidate’s number, or marking both the party logo box and the candidate number box). On all ballots for all constituencies, there is also an option to officially cast a blank/white vote (voto en blanco).

Colombia is an electoral democracy, although the presence of guerrilla and neo-paramilitary criminal groups in more isolated areas have an incidence on the electoral process and there are publicized cases of vote buying and intimidation. Freedom House considers Colombia a ‘partly free’ country, notably because of threats to journalists by criminal groups (guerrilla, neo-paramilitary, drug cartels etc), restrictions of constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and association (because of violence), judicial corruption, limited civilian oversight of the military, human rights abuses by the military and impunity for crime. Land rights associations, social movements, labour unions and NGOs are often killed by criminal groups.

Political history

Colombia’s history is sometimes described as ‘paradoxical’ because it mixes a long tradition of democratic rule with free and fair elections and respect for political and civil rights with a long history as a fractured and polarized society where democratic competition exists alongside political violence. Colombia is also peculiar on several counts, most notably as being the only South American country in which the Liberal and Conservative parties have survived into the twentieth country and by the continued existence of guerrilla groups which challenge the Colombian state’s authority within its own territory. Colombia, finally, is the third most populous country in Latin America with a population of over 47 million, but it often seems as if its history isn’t as well known or popularized as that of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and even Venezuela.

The roots of modern Colombia’s political history were sown during Gran Colombia (1819-1832), the state which included modern-day Colombia (then known as New Granada, present-day Colombia’s name under Spanish colonial rule), Venezuela and Ecuador. Early conflicts in the fractious and weak country related to the territorial organization of the state, with the familiar debates between federalists and centralists. Gran Colombia’s 1821 Cúcuta constitution adopted a highly centralized form of government, with powerless provincial assemblies and local governors appointed by Bogotá. The 1821 constitution otherwise revealed the US influence, with a traditional presidential system of government and separation of powers. The legendary libertador, Simón Bolívar was Gran Colombia’s first President, with his fellow liberator general Francisco de Paula Santander as Vice President (and de facto ruler during Bolívar’s campaigns against the Spanish crown in Peru). When Bolívar returned from Peru in 1826, he came to favour a more autocratic form of rule, with a president serving for life and appointing his successor. In August 1828, Bolívar took power as dictator, with the backing of military officers and the Catholic Church. While clearly elitist, Bolívar, a free-mason and opponent of slavery, was probably not a true conservative. Yet, he felt that some of the early anticlerical reforms were going too fast, and favoured a more gradual pace in the adoption of various reforms. Bolívar’s autocratic rule was backed by the military and aristocratic families. He ran into the opposition of his Vice President, Santander, who was forced into exile in the US. Santander’s liberals were mostly from the emerging upper-classes of hitherto peripheral provinces in New Granada. Venezuela and Ecuador seceded from Gran Colombia in 1829-1830, and a sickly Bolívar resigned in May 1830, a few months before he died.

Gran Colombia’s short-lived conflict between Bolívar and Santander’s supporters informed the formation of the Liberal and Conservative parties in nineteenth century Colombia. Santanderismo supported federalism, separation of Church and State, equal rights and responsibilities, public education, civilian government and free trade; bolivarianismo – in Colombia – came to be associated with centralized government, support for the Catholic Church’s privileges and a more elitist and autocratic conception of government. However, Bolívar, because of his stature as the libertador and the contradictions in his political career, has been used across Latin America by both the left and right to legitimize their own political agenda. It is fairly telling that, in Colombia, bolivarianismo has tended to be associated with Conservatives, while in neighboring Venezuela, bolivarianismo has been widely used by Chávez’s socialist government as some kind of ‘ideological foundation’.

Gran Colombia, a rump state by 1830, adopted a new constitution in 1830 similar to the 1821 Cúcuta constitution. In 1832, the country reconstituted itself as the Republic of New Granada, with a new constitution which expanded provincial autonomy somewhat and abolished military (but not ecclesiastical) legal privileges. The military had suffered from its association to Bolívar’s dictatorship and most of its officers were lost to Venezuela following the collapse of Gran Colombia. The new state was weakened by the country’s broken topography and primitive infrastructure, which made asserting control over the entire territory rather difficult. The economy was equally as weak: most of the population were farmers or raised livestock for domestic consumption, foreign trade was very low, gold mining employed few people and was disconnected from the rest of the economy. Santander became the country’s president in 1832, ruling as a moderate liberal (promoting education, holding down military spending) until 1837. Uncharacteristically for the era, Santander accepted the defeat of his favourite candidate, general José María Obando, by a more conservative man, José Ignacio de Márquez.

The very Catholic region of Pasto rose in rebellion in 1839, after Congress closed small convents. They were backed, in an unholy alliance, by federalist liberals and the Ecuadorian president. José María Obando became the leader of the opposition after Santander’s death in 1840 and began a civil war. While Obando’s liberal federalist rebels had early successes, by the end of the year 1840, they were soundly defeated by the government forces. Márquez completed his term and he was succeeded by the two distinguished government commanders during the War of the Supremes: Pedro Alcántara Herrán (1841-1845) and Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera (1845-1849). The dominant conservatives adopted a new constitution in 1843, which centralized powers in the central government and allowed the Jesuits, expelled by the Spanish, to return to play a key role in education. However, President Mosquera’s policies alienated some conservatives and the conservatives’ divisions allowed a liberal, José Hilario López, to win the presidency in 1849. The 1849 election marked the formation of Colombia’s two major political parties, which exist to this day, the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Colombiano) and the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano). The Liberals came from the santanderista tradition, while the Conservatives took their ideological influences from Bolivarianism. Both parties differed on some important issues (notably the Church), but both were elitist and opportunist. For example, the Liberal victory in 1849 owed partly to the backing of protectionist artisans, who opposed Mosquera’s low tariff policies – even if the Liberals, like many Conservatives, were no protectionists.

The new Liberal administration began to challenge the Church’s predominant position and favour federalism. The Jesuits, who returned in 1843, were again expelled in 1850. The Liberals abolished the last vestiges of slavery, Amerindian communal land, reduced the size of the army and proclaimed the freedom of the press. Conservative landowners and slaveholders were defeated by the Liberals in a brief civil war in 1851. In 1853, the Liberals adopted a new constitution, which introduced unqualified freedom of religion, universal male suffrage, devolved powers to the provinces and made provincial governors directly elected. The new constitution did not settle matter, and the fairly rapid pace of reforms worried some moderate Liberals. In 1854, one of them, General José María Melo, overthrew President Obando’s government in a coup in April 1854. The Liberal and Conservative elites united against Melo, backed by artisans, both to restore constitutional legality and thwart social change from below. Melo was run out of town in December 1854; the 1854 civil war allowed the Conservatives to reenter government, increasingly gaining the upper hand. Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, a Conservative, was elected President in the first direct election in 1857, defeating a radical Liberal candidate and former President Mosquera. The election demonstrated to what extent the population had become aligned with the two parties: local priests (for the Conservatives) or potentates (for both parties) recruited their people to vote for one party, local and individual partisan affiliation was handed down over generations and inherited party affiliations became important.

The 1853 constitution was not a federalist document per se, but it led various parts of the country to demand autonomy. In 1855, Panamá, which never had much affinity with the rest of New Granada, obtained self-government. Other states (Antioquia, Santander) followed suit in 1856 and 1857, before Congress granted self-government to five states in June 1857. Ironically, it was a Conservative administration which adopted the first federalist constitution, in 1858. The country was renamed as the Granadine Confederation.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives, as far as the Liberals were concerned, still leaned towards centralism and Ospina’s government was accused of not faithfully observing the intent of the federal constitution. Another civil war between Liberals – federalists – and Conservatives – centralists – broke out in 1860. In 1861, Liberal leader Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera declared the independence of the state of Cauca, the largest federated state, and his Liberal forces attacked the government (Conservative) forces. In July 1861, Bogotá fell and Mosquera proclaimed himself as President of the United States of New Granada, renamed later that year as the United States of Colombia.

Map of Colombia in 1863 (source: wikipedia)

With the federalist Liberals back in power, a new constitution – even more federalist in orientation – was adopted for the new country in 1863. Under the new constitution, the federal states could exercise power over all matters not explicitly reserved to the central government; they could raise their own militias and determine voting rights (some states used this to retreat from universal male suffrage). The constitution could only be amended by unanimous consent from all states. Finally, the President was no longer directly elected – to weaken the office, the President would be elected by the states (one state, one vote) for a single two-year term. The constitution granted wide individual rights, with the right to bear arms, no limits on the spoken word and freedom of religion. Nevertheless, the Liberals remained very much anticlerical. Mosquera expelled the Jesuits (again), who had been allowed to return under Opsina’s Conservative government. He also seized most Church property and legally abolished the religious orders of monks and nuns. The Liberals’ harsh anti-clericalism drove a further wedge of bitterness between the two parties.

Mosquera lost reelection in 1864, when the Liberals preferred the less megalomaniac Manuel Murillo Toro, a radical Liberal. In 1864, Murillo signed a law banning ecclesiastical orders who had not sworn loyalty to the constitution, further increasing tensions with the clerical Conservatives. The central government’s authority was weakened by power struggles between caciques in the various federal states. When Mosquera, reelected in 1866, moved to bar states from raising their own militias, he faced armed opposition from Panamá, Antioquia and Santander. Congress allowed states to raise their own militias again in 1867. However, that same year, facing a civil war in Magdalena, Mosquera sought to amend the constitution to grant the President discretionary powers in times of crisis. He arrested Murillo, tried to strongarm Congress into approving his measures and finally resorted to a coup d’état in April 1867 and dissolved Congress. States coalesced against him and Mosquera was overthrown a month after his coup by the president of the state of Boyacá.

Stability returned and prevailed until 1876. Railroads, mostly short and foreign-built, were developed in present-day Colombia. The Liberals paid significant attention to the neglected field of education, promoting public secular education through foreign assistance. However, unlike in Argentina, the push for public education was less successful because cooperation from state governments was not always forthcoming and ecclesiastical backlash. Conflict over religion and Church-State relations (especially in education) led to the outbreak of another civil war between Liberals and Conservatives in 1876. In a short but bloody conflict, the Liberals defeated the Conservatives and the leading Liberal general, Julián Trujillo, was elected President in 1878. The 1876-1877 civil war was a rare nationwide conflict, but there were several civil wars within the states between competing Liberal and Conservative (or even only Liberal) factions.

The pitiful state of public order in Colombia led some Liberal dissidents, led by distinguished intellectual and diplomat Rafael Núñez, to argue that anarchic federalism was hindering Colombian development. Instead, they sought a more centralized form of government, which would be able to lead Colombia’s regeneración (as Rafael Núñez’s movement came to be known). This position brought them closer to the Conservatives, who allied with Núñez to elect him to the presidency in 1880. During his first term in office, Núñez, constrained by the 1863 constitution, moved to increase central powers by creating a central bank and overseeing the opening of works on the Panamá Canal by France’s Ferdinand de Lesseps. A proxy candidate for Núñez was elected in 1882 (but died in office). In 1884, Rafael Núñez returned to the presidency, defeating the radical Liberals. In his second term, Núñez put his program of regeneración into action, but he first had to defeat opposition from the radical, federalist Liberals – especially in the radical Liberal stronghold of Santander. In yet another civil war, the central government defeated various radical Liberal caudillos in November 1885.

Federalism had not changed social relations in Colombia, which remained a very class-stratified society – a legacy of Spanish colonial rule. Penetrating the upper strata was made even harder by the weakness of the military as an institution – the generals of civil wars were part-time fighters, full-time politicians, landowners or lawyers. Living conditions were harsh for most Colombians, who were illiterate, poorly housed and victims of early mortality. Even rural upper and middle-classes did not live lavish or impressive lifestyles, even if they were of lighter skin tone and better educated. The poor state of infrastructure and the country’s terrain made trade, transportation and internal commerce very difficult.

Opposition having been defeated, a new constitution was adopted in 1886. The country became the Republic of Colombia, a centralized state with a strong central government. The President was indirectly elected by an electoral college, serving a six-year term with possibility for immediate reelection. The President named the governors of each department (as the states became known), and the governors named all mayors in their departments. The directly-elected departmental and local councils were powerless. The broad array of individual rights and the secular, humanist orientation of the 1863 constitution was dropped: the death penalty, abolished in 1863, returned; Catholicism became the official religion; and literacy was required to vote in national elections. A more autocratic, conservative, clerical and ultra-centralist state replaced Colombia’s last experiment with federalism.

Rafael Núñez was a religious freethinker, but was convinced that the Catholic Church – as a powerful institution controlling much of the population – needed to play a key role to support law and order in Colombia. In 1887, Bogotá signed a Concordat with the Vatican, under which the Church was compensated for seized property, religious orders allowed to return and the Church’s legal privileges were restored. Public education was entrusted to the Church, divorce (legalized by the Liberals) was forbidden and remarriages of divorced persons were retroactively annulled.

Núñez’s positivist regeneración saw the state take a more active role in the economy with the adoption of protectionist measures. In an effort to break the bitter partisan rivalries, Rafael Núñez created his own party, the National Party (Partido Nacional), made up of like-minded Conservatives and moderate Liberals. But the National Party quickly became more of a Conservative faction, as Liberals became displeased with the government’s clericalism, conservatism and authoritarianism. Some Conservatives, the so-called ‘históricos‘, opposed Núñez’s government and decried its economic policies (issuing paper money, new export tax on coffee).

Rafael Núñez, President of Colombia and leader of the regeneración (source: Wikipedia)

Rafael Núñez was reelected in 1892, but he was in poor health and he died in September 1894. In 1895, the Liberals, excluded from political representation and persecuted by an autocratic government, took up arms in a brief civil war, which was crushed by the government within a few months. Although the National Party, with Manuel Antonio Sanclemente, held the presidency in 1898, the government was weakened by rebellious Liberals and disgruntled Conservatives.

In October 1899, the Liberals launched another, stronger and more coordinated, uprising against the government. The Liberals were most successful in Santander and Panamá – and Cauca to a lesser extent – but their forces remained in a consistent position of inferiority to government/Conservative troops. Nevertheless, the Liberals could count on the assistance of foreign Liberal governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The Thousand Days’ War, as the bloody conflict came to be known, lasted longer and was far bloodier than any of the previous civil wars in Colombia. In July 1900, politicians and military officers overthrew Sanclemente’s government in favour of his Conservative Vice President, José Manuel Marroquín. The war ended with a Liberal defeat in 1902, with the signature of a treaty (the Treaty of Wisconsin) mediated by the US, which was taking an active interest in Colombian politics to defend American interests in the Panama Canal zone. The war is estimated to have killed 100,000 people (3.5% of the population), devastated the economy and bankrupted the country.

As a result, Bogotá was powerless to face the Panama situation. The Americans, who already controlled the railway line crossing the isthmus, had acquired the rest of the bankrupted French canal company and in 1903 signed a treat with Marroquín’s government in which Colombia ceded a Canal Zone in exchange for monetary indemnity. However, the Colombian Senate rejected the treaty. The Americans gave their support to the existing Panamanian revolutionary movement, and in November 1903 the Americans orchestrated Panama’s secession from Colombia (and made clear to Bogotá that it would oppose Colombian moves to regain the territory).

Rafael Reyes, a Conservative, won the presidency in 1904. His goals were reconstruction and reconciliation; in the spirit of the latter, Reyes welcomed Liberals in his cabinets and allowed them to gain some degree of political representation, to the dismay of intransigent Conservatives. But he was also rather autocratic: he dissolved Congress and convened a new constituent assembly in its stead, extended his term of office from 6 to 10 years and took heavy-handed measures against opponents. At the same time, Reyes successfully professionalized the military, reached an agreement with foreign creditors, promoted public works and offered tariff protection to industries. But Colombia still lagged behind in terms of railroad infrastructure and corruption was rampant. In 1909, Reyes’ one-man rule displeased the elites and a treaty he signed with Washington recognizing Panamanian independence (in return for monetary compensation) incensed public opinion. Reyes was forced out of office in July 1909.

A constituent assembly was convened in 1910, with the goal of reforming the 1886 constitution. Carlos Eugenio Restrepo, a Conservative backed by Liberals and Conservatives who had overthrown Reyes in 1909, was elected President by the assembly. Under the 1910 reforms, immediate presidential reelection was banned, the term of office reduced to 4 years and the President would henceforth be elected directly (but literacy and income requirements still conditioned the franchise, obviously limited to males).

Until 1930, an era of stability and growth prevailed under Conservative presidents. Coffee took off as the country’s main export crop, especially in the 1920s when Colombia accounted for 11% of the world market, making it the second largest producer after Brazil. Fruits (bananas, grown by the United Fruit), petroleum (in the Magdalena valley, with Standard Oil’s Barrancabermeja refinery) and textiles for domestic markets (in Medellín). Unlike other Latin American countries, foreign investment remained low – although governments were favourably disposed towards foreign investors – and coffee, Colombia’s main crop, remained in Colombian hands.

Relations with the US were normalized in 1921, largely thanks to president Marco Fidel Suárez, although the issue did not come without problems – the president was compelled to resign the presidency in order to facilitate passage of the treaty, under which Colombia recognized Panamanian independence in return for a $25 million indemnity from the US. The US indemnity was huge for Colombian standards, and led to a huge of influx of foreign loans for Colombia and government splurges on public works projects. The economy and infrastructures grew rapidly, but at the cost of rising indebtedness and suspicions of government corruption.

The Conservative hegemony, as the era is commonly called, was generally peaceful – in the sense that there were no civil wars and violence was limited to election time or isolated regional uprisings. Elections were not wholly free and fair, but they had some legitimacy. Furthermore, unlike in the early years of the centralized republic, the Liberals were represented in legislative bodies and sometimes ran candidates in presidential elections (notably in 1922, officially taking 38.3%). However, social unrest mounted during the later years of Conservative rule and ultimately undid the Conservative hegemony. The first strikes erupted in 1918-1919, famously with a tailor’s demonstration in Bogotá which led to the death of several workers. In rural areas, some tenants and sharecroppers rebelled against landowners. Tropical Oil, a local subsidiary of Standard Oil, faced major strikes at Barrancabermeja in 1924 and 1927. The worst conflict was the ‘banana massacre’ in December 1928, when the military opened fire on striking workers at a United Fruit banana plantation in the northern Magdalena department. A young Liberal politician, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, investigated the massacre and claimed that over 100 people were killed.

The banana massacre and the Liberals’ handling the issue, combined with the Great Depression which hit in 1929, led to the collapse of Conservative rule. The Conservatives were unable to resolve their divisions and the party had two candidates in the 1930 election, one moderate and one radical. The Conservative division allowed the Liberal candidate, Enrique Olaya Herrera to win the presidency with 44.6%. It was the first peaceful transfer of power between the old rivals.

The new Liberal government needed to deal with the Great Depression, which took a heavy toll on Colombia as the price of vital exports – coffee, oil and bananas – collapsed. The government, a coalition cabinet led by a moderate, took little bold measures but industrial production and internal demand nevertheless increased. By 1932, Colombia’s economy was out of recession. Colombia briefly went to war with Peru over the disputed Amazonian town of Leticia, in the Colombian Amazonian ‘trapezoid’. In May 1934, the League of Nations confirmed the border between the two countries, which was set in 1922 (and remains unchanged today, following the Putumayo river except for the Amazonian trapezoid, which allows Colombia an opening on the Amazon river).

Olaya’s successor, Alfonso López Pumarejo (1934-1938), a Liberal, was more progressive and took bold moves. Unlike previous administrations, he proved friendlier to labour and even received sympathy from the Communist Party, founded in 1930. Under the name revolución en marcha (revolution on the march), the Liberal government amended the constitution to restore universal male suffrage (women were still not allowed to vote, but under Olaya they had gained equal rights to men to dispose of property), condition property rights to social rights and obligations, guarantee the freedom of religion and eliminate the previous requirement that public education be in accord with Catholic doctrine. The educational reform reopened the old clerical issue, which had generally been put to the sleep by the Conservatives. The government also passed an agrarian reform law, largely symbolic in the end, for sharecroppers. A fiscal reform made the income tax, adopted in 1918, more progressive.

In 1935, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a left-wing populist, abandoned the Unión Nacional Izquierdista Revolucionaria (UNIR) which he had founded in 1933 to rejoin the Liberal Party. As a Liberal, Gaitán became mayor of Bogotá in 1936. As mayor, Gaitán beautified the city, improved public amenities, sent homeless children to shelters, promoted public health and sought to help poorer residents. But Gaitán’s policies, and the reformist policies in general, unnerved Conservatives and many Liberals. In 1937, the president compelled Gaitán to resign and the administration became less friendly with workers. His Liberal successor, Eduardo Santos (1938-1942), was a moderate and ‘paused’ the revolución en marcha. 

López regained the presidency in 1942, winning with some 58.7% against Carlos Arango Vélez, a moderate Liberal dissident backed by the outgoing president and the Conservatives. López took office in a time of crisis: after Pearl Harbor, Colombia became a close ally of the US and declared war on the Axis in November 1943; at home, the war badly hurt the economy, with foreign trade dropping, the United Fruit ending banana production after a disease ravaged crop and stagnating oil production. López tried to make further reforms, for example with a labour law to protect workers, but he faced the unrelenting opposition of the Conservatives, led by the vitriolic Laureano Gómez, a fascist sympathizer who admired Hitler and Franco. López was shaken by a failed coup attempt in the summer of 1944 and the combination of wartime economic woes, family issues and the strength of opposition demotivated him. He resigned the presidency in August 1945.

The Liberals were divided in the 1946 presidential election. The Liberal Party nominated Gabriel Turbay, a moderate. But Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, leader of the Liberal Party’s left-wing faction, had been focusing on a 1946 candidacy since 1944. Gaitán, who had since served as education minister (1940-1941, falling due to Liberal and Conservative opposition to centralize public education) and labour minister (1943-1944), led a populist campaign which appealed to the disgruntled urban middle-classes, the working-class, rural radicals and a progressive bourgeoisie. Gaitán attacked both parties, but some Conservatives, including Gómez, openly sympathized with Gaitán’s criticism of capitalism and the ‘political and economic oligarchy’. The Conservatives, who briefly tried to woo Gaitán to their side, ultimately nominated Mariano Ospina Pérez, a more moderate leader from Antioquia. With the Liberal vote divided, Ospina won the presidency with 40.5%, against 32.3% for Turbay and 27.2% for Gaitán, who won most urban areas.

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, assassinated Liberal politician (source: Wikipedia)

Like Olaya in 1930, Ospina tried to bridge opposites in a politically polarized country, forming a coalition government (albeit one dominated by his own Conservatives). However, re-empowered Conservatives took matters into their own hands and violently attacked Liberals to seek revenge. In the 1947 congressional elections, the Liberals held a majority in both houses; within the Liberal Party, the gaitanistas now held the upper hand over the moderate leadership (22 senators and 44 representatives, against 13 and 30). The Liberals were now reunited, if only in appearance, behind Gaitán, who was proclaimed at the party’s new leader and already openly campaigning for the 1950 presidential election. On April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated by a young man who was lynched to death by an angry mob within hours. It is therefore unclear what the assassin’s motivations were, and whether Gaitán was the victim of a Conservative conspiracy (or perhaps even the CIA) as his devoted followers claimed.

Gaitán’s assassination unleashed bloody and destructive riots in Bogotá and around Colombia, riots which are known as the Bogotazo. Gaitán’s followers did not heed their fallen leader’s opposition to armed struggle, and crowds attacked major government buildings and looted stores in Bogotá. Ospina’s government did not fall, and quickly regained control of Bogotá. Liberal leaders s reluctantly rejoined the government. However, violence continued – opening a chaotic and very violent period known as La Violencia (the violence). The Liberals did not contest the 1950 election, citing the climate of extreme violence which existed, so the more extremist Conservative leader, Laureano Gómez won the presidency unopposed. Under Gómez’s presidency, La Violencia became a disorderly civil war opposing the conservative and Catholic right to a more progressive and populist left. He suspended Congress and cracked down on Liberals and Communists. Gómez wanted to replace democracy with a corporatist system inspired by Franco’s Spain. After suffering a health attack, Gómez resigned the presidency in November 1951, but ensured that his successor was a sycophant.

La Violencia was predominantly rural: in the countryside, both Conservative government troops and police and Liberal/Communist guerrillas were violent and thuggish. Some of the elements of that conflict in the 1950s influenced later forms of violence in Colombia: in lawless rural areas, vicious pro-government conservative paramilitaries – Los Chulavitas and the pájaros – attacked bandoleros, groups of poor peasants (unaffiliated with either party) who attacked landowners.

In June 1953, the government was overthrown in a military coup led by General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, a distinguished military officer backed by former Conservative president Ospina. Rojas’ coup was welcomed by most politicians in Colombia, and some Liberals joined the government and accepted Rojas’ offers of amnesty. Violence declined somewhat in 1953, but picked up again because Rojas, who quickly became a repressive dictator, showed little interest in actually ending the conflict. However, La Violencia degenerated into economic competition and banditry (rather than partisan wars). By 1958, about 200,000-300,000 people had died in the violence and La Violencia directly affected about 20% of the country’s population in one way or another.

Despite chaos, however, the economy grew steadily in the early 1950s, buoyed by high coffee prices on the world market. Economically, the Conservatives were pro-business but also intervened in the economy and industry: in 1951, they created a Colombian-owned oil company, Ecopetrol, to take over production at Tropical Oil’s wells when Tropical Oil’s lease expired. Tariffs increased, benefiting the Medellín textile industry and industry in general. Under the Conservatives and Rojas, there was some innovation in social policies to help the working-classes. It was also under Rojas that women finally gained the right to vote.

Rojas, originally elected with Conservative and Liberal backing, quickly broke with the two parties and created his own movement, a corporatist-type movement which initially could count on the support of the Church and industrialists. Rojas’ movement threatened both Liberal and Conservative elites, who feared that Rojas would become akin to Argentina’s Juan Perón or Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas. Therefore, the threat to their power prompted to the old enemies to put aside old conflicts to protect their political hegemony: Liberal leader Alberto Lleras Camargo and Conservative leaders Laureano Gómez and Mariano Ospina Pérez signed two agreements in 1956 and 1957, creating the National Front (Frente Nacional), an agreement to share power for 16 years and alternate the presidency between the two parties every four years. In May 1957, Rojas was overthrown in a coup backed by the two parties and an interim junta prepared the transition to civilian National Front rule.

The National Front agreement was ratified by 95% of voters in a 1957 referendum, followed by a presidential election in which Alberto Lleras Camargo, backed by the Liberals and Conservatives, handily defeated a Conservative dissident. In an odd congressional election held in 1958, both parties were guaranteed equal representation in both houses of Congress. The more radical laureanista Conservatives won more seats than the ospinista Conservatives. Under the National Front agreement, both parties were guaranteed equal representation in law-making bodies (Congress, departmental assemblies etc), cabinet and appointed offices. Although the National Front could be seen as restricting political participation by other parties, those parties – weak to begin with – got around the deal by running as Liberals or Conservatives. The National Front’s biggest success was ending the violence between the two old enemies – political violence therefore diminished sharply, with the elimination of old antagonisms but also military action and social assistance in rural areas.

Under the National Front agreement, the presidents were the Liberal Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962), the Conservative Guillermo León Valencia (1962-1966), the Liberal Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1966-1970) and the Conservative Misael Pastrana Borrero (1970-1974). Political opposition existed within the two parties. The Liberal Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Liberal, MRL), led by Alfonso López Michelsen (the son of former President Alfredo López Pumarejo), united left-wing Liberals and socialists/Communists opposed to the National Front. More importantly, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla returned to Colombia to create the Popular National Alliance (Alianza Nacional Popular, ANAPO), which ran both Liberal and Conservative candidates. Alfonso López Michelsen won 23.8% as an (illegal) candidate in the 1962 elections, while ANAPO’s popular support increased over the 1960s. In 1970, ANAPO won 38 senators and 71 deputies, becoming the second largest bloc in Congress behind the Liberal Party leadership (oficialistas). That same year, Rojas ran for president against the official Conservative-Liberal candidate (Misael Pastrana) and two other Conservative dissidents. Rojas narrowly lost, according to official results, winning 39.6% against 41.2% for the official candidate. Rojas denounced fraud and vote rigging, and there is indeed pretty serious evidence to indicate that Rojas probably won but the government tampered with the results to give the victory to the National Front candidate.

The National Front governments intervened in the economy, making important investments in healthcare, education and infrastructure. President Lleras Camargo’s government passed an agrarian reform law in 1961, which aimed to resettle landless workers and very small landowners (subsistence farmers) on public land. On the whole, while the government followed the ISI economic model, it was a fairly ‘responsible’ government (controlling inflation) and did not neglect exports. The result of substantial government investments in education was a spectacular fall in illiteracy from 40% to 15% in the space of two decades. Socially, the National Front era was marked by rapid urbanization, very high annual population growth in the 1960s (later checked by government family planning policies) and the declining influence of the Catholic Church. The declining power of the Church allowed for the legalization of divorce (but only for those married in a civil ceremony) and an end to rabid anti-Protestantism from the Catholic clergy (during La Violencia, the clergy urged Catholics to attack Protestants). Yet, change did not meet expectations and there remained several problems: poor education, inadequate infrastructure, high income inequality and far too many Colombians still living in poverty.

The National Front ended La Violencia, but it did not end armed conflict in Colombia. Fed by social inequalities and the radicalization of old guerrilla leaders who had refused to surrender their arms after the end of La Violencia, guerrilla activity – influenced by agrarian struggles, the Cuban Revolution, Marxism and Maoism – continued in rural, isolated areas of the country where the Colombian state had long struggled to impose its authority. The Communists organized ‘self-defense communities’ in which mobilized peasants united to resist the military and landowners, the most famous of which was the ‘Republic of Marquetalia’ in a remote mountainous region in the departments of Huila and Tolima. Bogotá could not tolerate the existence of ‘autonomous republics’ within its territory where the state had no authority; even if the Communist leaders of the ‘republics’ sought pacific coexistence. In 1964, with American logistical and material assistance, the Colombian military launched a vast counterinsurgency operation against the guerrilla hotspots and Marquetalia fell in June 1964.

Several men escaped from Marquetalia, including the community’s leader, Manuel Marulanda. In 1966, these men formed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the armed wing of the Communist Party. Two years earlier, leftist radicals influenced by the Cuban Revolution and Liberation Theology founded the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN). The ELN was influenced early on by Camilo Torres Restrepo, a radical ‘revolutionary-priest’ who was killed in 1966. In 1967, a Maoist splinter from the Communist Party founded the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación, EPL). Finally, the allegedly rigged 1970 election led several left-wing ANAPO members to take up arms and create the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril, M-19).

Initially, the FARC, which was crushed by a military offensive on their bases in Quindío and Caldas in 1967, retreated to their traditional bases (Huila and Tolima) to regroup. The ELN, influenced by Castro’s ‘foco’ strategy of revolution through guerrilla warfare, won attention for several spectacular attacks and bombings. The FARC, controlled by the Communists, grew silently but the Communists felt that the conditions for an armed revolution were not there and privileged urban struggles. The ELN was nearly crushed by a Colombian military operation, Operación Anorí, in 1973, but again a small group of fighters managed to escape, allowing the ELN to regroup. By the end of the National Front, therefore, all had been contained in large but remote areas where the state had never had much footing and where the guerrillas were out of sight and out of mind.

The 1974 elections were the first elections free from the legal constraints of the National Front, allowing a clear contest between Liberals and Conservatives. In the event, the Liberal candidate, Alfonso López Michelsen, the former leader of the anti-National Front MRL, was elected with 56.3% against 31.4% for Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, the son of former President Laureano Gómez (who died in 1965). María Eugenia Rojas, the daughter of former President Gustavo Rojas, won 9.5% as ANAPO’s candidate. The Liberals won a majority in both houses of Congress, with ANAPO suffering major loses. However, the National Front’s agreement on the equal distribution of government positions lasted one more term, until 1978. López Michelsen’s presidency was generally calm, but it was during his presidency that the infamous Medellín and Cali drug cartels grew, something which the government turned a blind eye to. Despite good returns on coffee (and cocaine) exports, the rest of the economy was sluggish and dragged down by high inflation. The government brutally suppressed a general strike in 1977, killing 22, and thereby strengthening the appeal of guerrilla groups, especially M-19. The guerrilla groups could continue to claim that the Liberals and Conservatives were two sides of the same coin, a claim reinforced by the little ideological differences between both now that clericalism was off the table and that both parties supported relatively orthodox economic policies.

Areas of coca cultivation, 2000-2004 (source: UNODC, UNEP)

The Liberals, with Julio César Turbay, held the presidency in 1978, winning 49.3% against 46.6% for Belisario Betancur, the Conservative candidate backed by the majority of ANAPO and some Liberal dissidents. But in a sign of growing public dissatisfaction with politics, turnout was only 45%. Turbay’s government, despite being under no legal obligation to do so, continued power sharing with the opposition – under a slightly modified form which represented the opposition Conservatives in public sector jobs in proportion to their share of the vote in the election. Under Turbay’s presidency, a controversial state security statute was adopted, which is often cited as laying the groundwork for the later proliferation of right-wing paramilitary groups and covering up gross human rights abuses by the military. While the government tolerated and supported paramilitary groups, it continued to tolerate the rapid growth of drug trafficking and the drug cartels.

As a geographical crossroads, diverse geography and landscape, strong entrepreneurial culture and networks allowed Colombia to become the key location in drug trafficking in the Americas. The Medellín and Cali cartels grew in the mid-1970s and, by the early 1980s, cocaine had surpassed coffee as Colombia’s top export, creating a new class of wealthy and powerful drug lords – owning large tracts of land, laundering money, eliminating rivals and those peeking their noses into their business, and gaining social status to join the ranks of the elite. Pablo Escobar, the famous boss of the Medellín cartel, was not only an international drug smuggler and drug lord, he was also a businessman, local philanthropist, employer of death squads to kill rivals and even a second-string Liberal politician (elected to Congress in 1982). Drug lords, led by the Medellín cartel, teamed up with the military, Texaco, politicians, local industrialists and cattle ranchers to form a paramilitary organization in the 1980s, Muerte a Secuestradores (MAS), supported by an active legal front. MAS killed opponents, protected local elites from extortion and kidnappings by the guerrillas and employed counterinsurgency tactics against the guerrillas. MAS also terrorized community organizers and brutally murdered innocent civilians. In the mid-1980s, the MAS had amassed a weapons arsenal equal to that of a military.

At the same time, the leftist guerrillas increased their activities. In 1980, the M-19, the most moderate and middle-class of the groups, seized the embassy of the Dominican Republic in Bogotá and took a number of foreign ambassadors hostage. The standoff ended when the M-19 guerrillas were paid a ransom and offered safe-passage to Cuba. The FARC picked up steam, with an attack on an army column in 1980. In 1982, at the FARC conference, the movement decided to expand its armed ‘fronts’ and adopted the name FARC-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). The ELN regrouped under a Spanish-born priest and focused on kidnappings and extortion. In 1980-1981, the M-19 launched a number of offensives against the government, but all failed in the face of the military’s superiority. However, there was growing demand for peace and negotiations, so that in the 1982 elections, both the Liberal and Conservative candidates supported peace.

The Liberal Party entered the 1982 elections divided between former President Alfonso López Michelsen and Santander department senator (and former President Carlos Lleras Restrepo’s protégé) Luis Carlos Galán, who founded the New Liberalism movement. Galán attacked corruption, drug trafficking and politicking. The divisions of the Liberals allowed Belisario Betancur, the Conservative, to win with 46.6% against 41% for López Michelsen and 10.9% for Galán. In power, Betancur continued to honour the unofficial power sharing agreement, splitting jobs equally between both parties.

Betancur opened negotiations with guerrilla movements, beginning with a cease-fire by the FARC and two other groups in February 1984. In March 1984, the Colombian governments and the FARC signed the La Uribe agreements, which included a bilateral cease-fire and the creation of the Unión Patriótica (UP), a leftist party backed by the FARC. In August 1984, a similar deal was signed with M-19 and the EPL. But the M-19 broke the deal in November 1985, when a M-19 guerrilla commando seized the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, holding over 300 people – including Supreme Court judges – hostage. The army stormed the building, killing over 100 people, including almost all the M-19 guerrillas. At the same time, the government was unable to check the power of the paramilitaries, dedicated to exterminating the guerrillas. Paramilitaries, drug lords and law enforcement were responsible for the assassinations of thousands of UP members between 1985 and 1994. The FARC also used the peace deal as a cover to regroup. By 1987, the truce with the FARC had collapsed, with the army and FARC rebels engaged in isolated battles. There was little willpower and interest in peace from either politicians and the guerrillas, while powerful radical forces on both sides continued fighting.

On the other side of the crisis, the drug cartels began turning against the government, after the signature of an extradition treaty with the US in 1979 – the drug lords feared being extradited to the US. In April 1984, the pro-extradition justice minister (a member of Galán’s New Liberalism) was assassinated by drug cartels; the assassination marked the end of the pacific relations between drug lords and politicians. Escobar briefly allied with the M-19, leading to some questions over the drug cartel’s role in the 1985 attack on the Palace of Justice. Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and other cities became the terrain of urban warfare between cartels and authorities, with the cartels effectively controlling major neighborhoods in each city – especially Escobar’s base of Medellín.

Liberal candidate Virgilio Barco, a unity candidate backed by the Liberal establishment and Galán’s New Liberalism, easily defeated Álvaro Gómez Hurtado in the 1986 presidential election. The Liberals won 58.3% of the vote, against 35.8% for the Conservatives and 4.5% for the FARC-backed UP. Barco inaugurated a Liberal government, finally breaking the National Front tradition of power sharing with the opposition. But that was his only ‘achievement’ – violence continued, with little hope for the President’s peace initiatives or constitutional reforms (decentralization, direct election of mayors, human rights watchdogs). The situation worsened beginning in 1987, as the M-19, ELN, EPL and FARC increased their armed struggle with offensives, counter-offensives, assassinations and kidnappings. The military responded in kind, and the size and resources of the Colombian military expanded under Barco’s administration, with US assistance. At the same time, Barco’s government was able to negotiate a lasting settlement with M-19, crushed militarily, in which the M-19 agreed to lay down arms and compete electorally, with the Democratic Alliance M-19 (AD-M19). The FARC and ELN continued their obstinate armed struggle.

The paramilitary and drug wars expanded simultaneously. The Castaño family, wealthy ranchers in Antioquia, organized deadly paramilitary groups which savagely murdered civilians and attacked leftist politicians and guerrillas. The government tried to limit the paramilitaries’ power by a number of anti-paramilitary decrees, finally outlawing them in 1989 (a 1968 law had actually made the existence of ‘autodefensas‘ legal); but its efforts were constantly undercut by close links between politicians/law enforcement and the paramilitaries and widespread corruption in the police and military.

Closely tied to the paramilitaries, the drug lords, led by the Medellín cartel, organized powerful and well-armed private armies, which targeted UP politicians and the government in general. Prominent cabinet ministers, left-wing politicians, presidential candidates and journalists were all assassinated by the paramilitaries or the cartels. The cartels also begun fighting amongst themselves, as Escobar tried to dominate the whole drug trafficking operation in Colombia.

In August 1989, Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, the favourite to win the 1990 election, was assassinated – most likely by Escobar and his military lieutenant José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, with the involvement of a rival Liberal politician. President Barco declared an all-out war against the cartels – to which the Medellín cartel responded by a savage terrorist bombing campaign in the fall of 1989, killing about 300 people in nearly 300 attacks. In November 1989, a Avianca domestic flight from Bogotá to Cali exploded in mid-air, killing 110 people. Escobar was behind the bombing, hoping to kill César Gaviria, the new Liberal presidential candidate. In December 1989, a truck bomb destroyed the HQs of the Administrative Department of Security. José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha was killed in mid-December 1989, but the war continued unabated.

It was in this dramatic context that the 1990 presidential elections took place. César Gaviria, a young former cabinet minister, took the Liberal nod with the backing of Galán’s supporters after Galán’s death in August 1989. The Conservatives split between a right-wing faction led by Álvaro Gómez Hurtado (the leader of the Movimiento de Salvación Nacional) and a moderate faction supported by former President Misael Pastrana which put forward a little known contender, Rodrigo Lloreda Caicedo. The M-19’s presidential candidate was assassinated in April 1990 and replaced by Antonio Navarro Wolff, while the pro-FARC UP’s two candidates were both assassinated, pushing the UP out of the race entirely. Gaviria easily won, with 47.8% against 23.7% for Gómez, 12.5% for the M-19 candidate and 12.2% for Rodrigo Lloreda Caicedo.

On the political and constitutional front, an increase in demands for social change (expressed peacefully, by demobilized guerrillas from M-19 or by students). A grassroots movement during the 1990 elections, asking voters to drop an additional blank ballot paper to express support for a constituent assembly, was ultimately successful and led to the election of a constituent assembly in 1991. The Liberals remained the largest party, in good part due to the Conservatives’ divisions, but the AD-M19 became the second largest party with 26.7% of the vote and 19 seats, against 31.2% and 25 seats for the Liberals. The new 1991 constitution, promulgated in June 1991, included strong guarantees for fundamental human rights, declared Colombia to be a ‘social state of law’, recognized ethnic and religious diversity (full legalization of divorce, removing references to Catholicism as the official religion), replaced the state of siege with a more restrictive state of emergency and decentralized powers to departments (and governors, along with mayors, were now directly elected).

The reality was significantly harsher: if the new constitution, social reforms and reinsertion programs pushed more guerrillas from the EPL and other groups to demobilize, the FARC and ELN remained locked in their obstinate views and continued their bloody terrorist campaigns. The ELN successfully regained a presence by extorting a German firm building a pipeline, and other oil industry suppliers, contractors or private citizens.

In 1990, Jacobo Arenas, the ideological and theoretical brain of the FARC, died, leaving Manuel Marulanda, a hardened guerrilla fighter since Marquetalia in the 1960s, as the only man in charge. That same year, Gaviria ordered a military offensive on a FARC base (Casa Verde), completely breaking off the intermittent negotiations between the two parties which had continued since 1987. In 1991, the FARC under Marulanda broke with the Communists and UP, and decided on a total war strategy. The FARC remained the largest guerrilla organization and gained a foothold in the drug underworld, selling protection to coca farmers or entering drug trafficking on its own account. Drug trafficking has allowed the FARC to maintain a hefty war chest and large arsenal. According to the UNDP in the early 2000s, $204 million of the FARC’s $342 million average annual income derived from drug business. In 1991 and 1992, negotiations between the government and the guerrillas (FARC, ELN) in Caracas and Tlaxcala both failed.

In an attempt to reduce tensions with the cartels, the government promised domestic trials and lesser sentences for narcos who turned themselves in and confessed to crimes, and the 1991 constitution banned extradition. Escobar ultimately turned himself in, but he continued operating his drug empire and extortion business from behind bars, and escaped from prison in July 1992 before the government could transfer him to another location. The US JSOC joined a Colombian military manhunt for Escobar; at the same time, rivals of the drug lord – the Cali cartel, Medellín cartel dissidents and the Castaño family’s paramilitaries – formed a vigilante group, Los Pepes, to hunt him down. The official US-Colombian manhunt often colluded or directly associated with the Los Pepes death squads to track him down. Escobar was killed in Medellín in December 1993. Escobar’s death signaled the demise of the Medellín cartel, to be supplanted by the Cali and Norte del Valle cartels. The Cali cartel, no less violent, gained the upper hand in Colombian drug trafficking. Gaviria’s presidency also saw the US take an active role in the drug war, collaborating with Colombian authorities and eradicating coca crops. The narcotics problem did not go away, and the situation was complicated by an increase of coca cultivation in Colombia itself, and by the growing involvement of the paramilitaries and guerrillas in the drug trafficking business.

Economically, the Gaviria administration followed neoliberal policies – loosening restrictions on foreign trade and investment, increasing the flow of foreign goods and capital, reducing tariffs although privatization was rather limited. While these reforms had some beneficial effects, like elsewhere it increased inequalities and favoured capital at the expense of labour, especially unskilled workers. Indigenous and Afro-Colombians were particularly hurt and protested the economic reforms. The social changes and protests also provided a favourable terrain for the FARC, although during the 1990s, the FARC’s violence meant that popular support for the guerrillas became extremely low.

Liberal candidate Ernesto Samper, a candidate from the party’s left who had defeated a candidate backed by President Gaviria in Liberal primaries, won the 1994 presidential elections against Conservative candidate Andrés Pastrana, a former mayor of Bogotá. Samper and Pastrana took the vast majority of the vote in a first round in which only 34% of voters participated; Samper defeated Pastrana with 50.6% in the runoff. The M-19, which had done so well in 1990 and 1991, lost most of its seats in Congress and won only 3.8% of the presidential vote.

Samper’s presidency saw little change in the conflict. Once again, the government initially sought dialogue with the FARC and ELN, and the guerrillas invariably refused and continued their ever-grower offensives. Indeed, by the mid-1990s, the FARC was able to mobilize between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters across Colombia and the rebels demonstrated their military might with a series of major offensives between 1996 and 1998. In August 1996, the FARC overran a Colombian army base at Las Delicias (Caquetá). Much of southeastern Colombia had turned into a lawless zone (outside departmental capitals) controlled by the FARC or constantly threatened by FARC/ELN violence (kidnappings, assassinations etc). The state had little choice but to abandon large swathes of its own territory to the guerrillas, leading to strong criticism from the US and hawks.

The Castaño brothers expanding their paramilitary operations, forming the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (ACCU). The government fed the paramilitary phenomenon by authorizing the creation of legal paramilitary groups, or CONVIVIR groups, as private militias in recently pacified areas. Far-right paramilitaries took advantage of the CONVIVIR laws to gain legality; in the field, FARC/ELN attacks were met with retaliations from the paramilitaries, violence feeding off violence. Álvaro Uribe, the governor of Antioquia, gained notoriety as a strong supporter of the CONVIVIR scheme in his department.

In April 1997, the ACCU and other paramilitaries united to form the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a nationwide counterinsurgency/paramilitary organization. In November, the Constitutional Court ruled the CONVIVIR plans unconstitutional, but it changed little to nothing: the AUC now united the paramilitaries, and the AUC counted on the covert support of members of the military and politicians. The AUC was largely financed through drug trafficking, in which the paramilitaries were directly involved in themselves. According to the UNDP, some $190 million of the AUC’s average annual income of $286 million came from drugs. In many cases, the AUC and FARC, both active in zones of coca cultivation, fought for control of drug-growing regions. The AUC was responsible for a large number of massacres (oftentimes civilians not tied to the FARC), horrible acts of savagery (dismembering living persons with chainsaws and machetes) and the displacement thousands of Colombians from their homes by the mid-2000s. The paramilitaries, rather than the FARC/ELN, are generally agreed to be responsible for the majority of political assassinations and human rights violations in Colombia – with figures ranging from 60% to 85% of crimes being committed by the paramilitaries.

Ernesto Samper’s presidency rapidly ran into a huge scandal: shortly after taking office, Samper was accused of having accepted over $6 million in campaign donations from the Cali cartel. Samper denied any involvement or knowledge of dirty money in his campaign. An investigation was opened after incriminating tapes were leaked, and the investigation revealed the existence of a network of narcotics-linked corruption involving high-level politicians, judges, law enforcement and so forth. However, only scapegoats were convicted and Congress rejected the indictment of Samper, with the Liberal bench siding with their President. The case led to diplomatic crisis with the US, which limited its cooperation with Colombia in drug war operations and revoked Samper’s visa.

Samper tried to regain Washington’s favours by legalizing extradition (in 1996) and focusing his security policy on the drug war (ignoring paramilitarism and the guerrillas). Bogotá moved to eradicate coca crops, provoking a peasant protest movement – organized by the FARC, which forced peasants to join in – against the coca spraying policy. In 1995, the government managed to capture major leaders from the Cali cartel, gradually signaling the demise of the Cali cartel and its replacement by smaller, less hierarchic regional cartels which have been harder to counter. By the time Samper left office, the US had normalized relations with Colombia and its involvement in the drug war increased significantly.

The Liberals continued to be haunted by internal divisions bred by the Samper corruption case (the Proceso 8000) in the 1998 election. The Liberals chose Horacio Serpa, Samper’s loyal interior minister who had defended the President during the corruption case. However, Liberals hostile to the President, led by former Attorney General Alfonso Valdivieso, who had led the investigation in the Proceso 8000, joined forces with Andrés Pastrana, the Conservative candidate. Noemí Sanín, a former communications minister under Betancur, ran as an independent. In the first round, Serpa won 34.6% against 34.3% for Pastrana and 26.9% for Sanín. In the second round, Pastrana was elected with 50.4%.

Pastrana’s strategy against the conflict had two parts: a peace process with the FARC/ELN through negotiations and détente, and enlisting American support in the drug wars (although not necessarily using a militarist strategy). Prior to taking office, Pastrana met with Marulanda, the FARC leader. Just as he took office, however, the ELN and FARC launched offensives against Colombian military targets; in November 1998, in one of their most memorable actions, the FARC successfully seized the departmental capital of Mitú (Vaupés). At the same time, however, as part of the first step in the peace process, Bogotá ordered the military to withdraw from a 42,000km² zone (La Caguán), creating a DMZ to facilitate talks with the FARC (and, separately, the ELN). In January 1999, talks between the government the FARC began at La Caguán, although with the noted absence of Marulanda. But there was no truce: while the talks dragged on with no perceptible results, the FARC/ELN, who lacked commitment to actual peace, continued attacks, kidnappings, killings and extortion.

On the drug front, the Colombian government sought American assistance in the drug war, originally by focusing on aid and substitution of coca crops. However, under US influence, the Plan Colombia which was released focused heavily on a military solution to the drug crisis (but also the guerrilla war), with military aid to Colombia and the aerial spraying of coca crops. The Plan Colombia has been controversial in the US and in South America, criticized on a number of fronts: the excessive drug-focused analysis, ignoring serious human rights issues, ignoring the real causes of the conflict, the limited attention paid to humanitarian assistance and social development, supporting Colombia’s military and law enforcement forces despite records of human rights abuses and ties to illegal paramilitaries and the social/environmental impacts of aerial spraying.

Under Pastrana’s presidency, military spending increased significantly, expanding the size of the military. Applying the Plan Colombia policy, Colombia and the US extensively sprayed coca crops in southeastern Colombia, especially the department of Putumayo, destroying hundreds of thouands of hectares of coca crops.

Negotiations with the FARC dragged on with little result. The two parties failed to reach agreement on major issues; the FARC and ELN strongly opposed the government’s anti-narcotics policy, and they also accused Bogotá of not doing enough to fight the AUC, which strongly opposed the talks with the FARC and committed themselves to disturbing the negotiations with attacks and assassinations. Some progress was made on prisoner exchange, with the FARC releasing over 300 hostages in exchange for a handful of guerrillas.

The smaller ELN eventually withdrew from negotiations in 2001. In their DMZ, the FARC were setting up training camps, expelling government officials (judges, public servants) from the territory, abducting people (including foreigners), assassinating hostages and using it as a safe haven from which to launch attacks and continue drug trafficking operations. Hawkish public opinion felt that the government was conceding too much to terrorists, and the government itself grew impatient with the FARC. In 2000, military pressures forced the FARC to limit large-scale attacks to focus on kidnappings (mostly politicians) and urban bombings. An exasperated Pastrana suspended talks with the FARC in January 2002, and in February 2002, the President ordered the military to retake control of the DMZ. While the military was deploying to retake the DMZ, the FARC kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen running for president as the candidate of the small Oxygen Green Party. Betancourt, a former senator who had gained some popularity for her tireless fight against political corruption in the Senate, was kidnapped as she was going to San Vincente del Caguán, the main town in the former DMZ which Bogotá now affirmed was firmly in government hands. Betancourt’s kidnapping and her captivity until 2008 garnered international attention and sympathy, especially in France. She was not the only high-profile politician to be kidnapped and, in fact, by managing to survive captivity, she was a ‘lucky’ one – the FARC kidnapped and killed many other politicians, including Guillermo Gaviria, the governor of Antioquia.

In 2002, Colombia was in a sad state. Under Pastrana’s presidency, the homicide rate, which had dropped from 72 in 1996 to 60 in 1998, increased to 70.2 in 2002. After the talks with the FARC were broken off in early 2002, the FARC unleashed a bloody campaign against the government which cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians. Since 1998, AUC paramilitary activity, designed to sabotage the negotiations, grew in scope while the AUC, thanks to drug trafficking, also saw their resources increase nicely. This came despite much disunity in AUC ranks: the fronts of the AUC operated independently from one another, with little coordination. However, the government’s policies, the AUC’s image as a popular response to FARC terrorism and the AUC’s close ties to the army and politicians gave the AUC significant popular support and a large base of (non-narcotics) resources to tap into.

Álvaro Uribe, a Liberal politician who had served in the Senate (1986-1994) and as governor of Antioquia (1995-1997), broke with the Liberals (who nominated Horacio Serpa again) to run as an independent on the hastily assembled Primera Colombia (Colombia First) label. Uribe, who had supported the CONVIVIR policy as governor of Antioquia, took a hawkish anti-FARC stance – under the slogan mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart), conditioning peace negotiations to military victory over the FARC. Uribe won a huge victory, taking 54.5% of the vote in the first round. Horacio Serpa won only 32.7%; leftist trade unionist Luis Eduardo Garzón, running for the new leftist Polo Democrático Independiente, won 6.3% and Noemí Sanín won 6%.

Álvaro Uribe’s Presidency (2002-2010)

Álvaro Uribe, President of Colombia

Álvaro Uribe has become modern Colombia’s most famous President, attracting strong popular support and admiration in Colombia and abroad but also significant criticism. He took a hard line against guerrillas, which had clear success as far as weakening the FARC’s power and reducing Colombia’s dramatically high homicide rate. However, his presidency was marred by numerous allegations of ties between politicians and paramilitaries, concerns over human rights abuses by the military and significant domestic and regional opposition to Uribe’s close security cooperation with the US government.

Upon taking office, Uribe took the offensive against the guerrillas, under the guises of the seguridad democrática (democratic security) doctrine. The aim of the the Uribe doctrine was to rout, militarily, the guerrillas (designated as terrorist organizations by the EU, US and Canada), combat the illegal use of arms, drug trafficking and reestablishing state control over the entire country. The Uribe government clearly conditioned negotiations with the guerrillas to demobilization and laying down their arms; a condition strongly rejected by the FARC, tentatively accepted by the ELN and (officially) accepted by the AUC.

Under Uribe’s presidency, the US, under George W. Bush, significantly expanded its contribution to Plan Colombia and explicitly linked the war on drugs to the post-9/11 war on terror (FARC, ELN, AUC). The lines between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency became blurred, as the US provided military training and assistance to Colombian troops in operations against the FARC, ELN and paramilitaries. Uribe became one of the Bush’s administrations strongest Latin American allies and an eager supporter of the ‘war on terror’ (which provided Bogotá with millions in additional military aid and expanded direct US military training and assistance). In Washington, the White House’s proximity to Uribe drew congressional criticism, because of concerns over the impact of aerial spraying, Uribe’s leniency with paramilitaries and corruption. Colombia also extradited a growing number of its citizens to the US; over 850 Colombians were extradited to the US between 1997 and 2010, including 789 under Uribe and 208 in 2008. There was some domestic backlash against the extraditions; in 2009, the Supreme Court blocked the extradition of FARC kidnappers of three American hostages.

The effectiveness of US-Colombian aerial spraying of coca plants has been called into questions by numerous statistics which show no reduction in coca cultivation and even perhaps an increase in coca-leaf cultivation; coca growing has simply been redistributed into smaller, harder-to-reach crops in border regions and along the Pacific. Colombia remains the world’s leading coca cultivator and supplier of refined cocaine; cocaine trafficking accounts for more $5 billion a year, or 2-2.5% of the GDP.

The Uribe government engaged in demobilization and reinsertion negotiations with the AUC, who had been pushed towards negotiations because of concerns over their 2001 classification as a terrorist organization by the US and growing disunity in the AUC. Negotiations with the AUC began in 2003 and progressed fairly well, with a preliminary agreement on demobilization in July 2003 and agreement in 2004 to set up a zone to relocate demobilized paramilitaries and conduct talks. However, the talks were fraught with controversy. The government’s apparent lenient stance towards the paramilitaries in the talks was quite controversial; there was no talk of reparation for victims or justice for crimes, but instead talks of reduced jail terms and even amnesties for paramilitaries who surrendered their weapons. At the same time, many questioned the AUC’s commitment to demobilization, because violence continued during the talks, result of increasing tensions in the AUC which culminated in the 2004 assassination of Carlos Castaño, one of the AUC’s founders.

In June 2005, Congress, after much legislative battling and negotiations with the US (demanding extradition of several AUC leaders to the US for drug trafficking charges), passed a ‘justice and peace’ law which set 5-8 year jail sentences for those charged with serious crimes (if those demobilized freely confessed to them). The law was not without controversy: the New York Times called it a ‘law of impunity for assassins, terrorist and drug traffickers’; the UN and human rights organizations said the law was too lenient on demobilized paramilitaries. Again, the law failed to provide justice and compensation to the victims; however, a 2006 decision by the Constitutional Court ordered full confessions, asset seizures and reparations to victims.

The government insisted it had reached a fair balance between justice and peace. Between 2003 and 2006, the government reported that 30,994 paramilitaries were demobilized and 17,564 weapons handed over. The Uribe administration’s counterinsurgency policies were also criticized, notably by the EU and UN, fearing that some of Bogotá’s policies may be incompatible with humanitarian law and fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1991 constitution.

According to critics of the demobilization of the AUC, many former paramilitaries have recycled themselves in criminal gangs or in new paramilitary organizations; which have been said to include as much as 6,000 members in 2010. Other sources have said that the AUC’s old drug trafficking networks have remained intact, and again law enforcement has been accused of tolerating or even being linked to these neo-paramilitary groups.

Militarily, however, the government’s tough strategy against the FARC and increased military successes after the disastrous 1990s did much to improve public perceptions of the military as an institution and also boosted Uribe’s popularity. In the war against the FARC, the military sought to improve their professionalism, compliance with human rights standards and their mobility, intelligence and readiness capabilities. Between 2002 and 2005, military operations against the FARC successfully destroyed a number of FARC fronts, killed thousands of fighters and forced the FARC to change their military centre of gravity to the Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca departments. During the same period, intermittent dialogue between the government the FARC on prisoner exchange and the release of hostages had limited success; the government refused to acquiesce to the FARC’s demand of creating a DMZ for prisoner exchange, but the government also released some prisoners in a sign of goodwill. In 2006 and 2007, some hostages held by the FARC were released or managed to escape.

In May 2005, Congress approved a constitutional amendment allowing for one consecutive presidential reelection. In May 2006, Uribe was reelected by a landslide in the first round, winning 62.4% of the vote against 22% for Carlos Gaviria Díaz, the candidate of the leftist Polo Democrático Alternativo (Democratic Alternative Pole, PDA) and only 11.8% for Horacio Serpa, the Liberal candidate. A few months prior, in March 2006, the uribistas won a majority in Congress; albeit the uribista forces were dispersed between several parties: the Conservatives backed Uribe but were intent on maintaining their independence and identity in a context marked by the decrepitude of the old parties, Liberal dissidents led by Juan Manuel Santos and Óscar Iván Zuluaga founded the Social Party of National Unity (Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional, PSUN) or ‘Partido de la U‘ in 2005 (no cookies for guessing what the U might refer to) while other Liberal dissidents grouped in the centre-right Radical Change (Cambio Radical, CR) party around Germán Vargas Lleras also backed Uribe. In the Senate, the Party of the U won 20 seats against 18 apiece for the Conservatives and Liberals, 15 for CR and 10 for the PDA; in the Chamber, the Liberals, in opposition, won 31 seats against 28 for the U, 26 for the Conservatives, 18 for CR and 8 for the Polo.

Around the time of Uribe’s reelection, one of the largest political scandals in recent Colombian political history took shape: the parapolítica (parapolitics) scandal, when several PDA politicians began denouncing links between politicians and the paramilitaries, confirmed by former AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso’s admission that 35% of legislators elected in 2002 were ‘friends’ of the AUC. In 2006, after the Constitutional Court conditioned the benefits of the ‘justice and peace’ law to a full confession of crimes committed, several paramilitary leaders began spilling the beans. The debate was taken up in Congress by PDA Senator Gustavo Petro, who revealed more information and directly named several congressmen and high-ranking politicians for their ties to paramilitaries and involvements in plotting the assassination of rivals. In early 2007, a bombshell came with the Pacto de Ralito, a 2001 document signed by representatives of the AUC high command and several politicians (sitting governors, mayors, congressmen, former office holders); the document detailed a strategy for the AUC to consolidate power and command over drug trafficking and later to seize power (perhaps establishing a military dictatorship). In May 2007, courts ordered the arrest of most political signatories of the document for conspiracy. Thus far, a number of those signatories have been sentenced to prison terms, including 40 years for the then-governor of Sucre (who later served as ambassador to Chile).

The scandal also involved the DAS, Colombia’s FBI, whose former leader (Jorge Noguera Cotes, who was then serving as consul in Milan) was accused of placing the DAS at the service of the AUC in northern Colombia and had assisted in the assassination of leftist trade union leaders. Although Uribe vigorously defended Noguera, he was nevertheless forced to give up his diplomatic job to face judicial accusations back home and arrested in February 2007. In 2011, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

By 2008, nearly 70 congressmen/women were involved in the parapolitics scandal (most of them from Uribe’s coalition), including several presiding officers. Some 30 of them were arrested and some later sentenced. The trials were highly controversial, marked by Uribe’s attempts to intervene in the judicial process; firstly by mulling the idea of amnesties or reduced sentences for those who confessed, and later a confrontation with the Supreme Court over an alleged judicial conspiracy against Uribe (probably fabricated by the President). Adding to the tense situation between Uribe and the courts, in June 2008 a former legislator was convicted of accepting bribes in 2004 in exchange for supporting the amendment on reelection; Uribe angrily responded by accusing the judges of political bias.

In May 2008, the government surprisingly ordered the extradition of AUC paramilitaries, including Salvatore Mancuso and “Jorge 40” (whose laptop’s files had started the whole scandal) to the US, where they were wanted for drug trafficking; some critics of the government thought that extradition would hamper investigation into the parapolitics case.

The parapolitics scandal had a deleterious effect on Colombia’s relations with Washington. Coinciding with the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 US midterm elections, the US Congress was increasingly opposed to military cooperation and the signature of a free trade agreement with Colombia. The US Congress voted to cut funding for Plan Colombia and delayed consideration of a free trade agreement strongly supported by Uribe until after Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.

In 2008, the military’s credibility took a major hit with the ‘false positives’ scandal, in which the army was accused of assassinating innocent civilians and presenting them as guerrillas who were killed in action (to embellish the army’s results). The practice had existed in the past, and declassified CIA documents showed that the US had been aware of government ties to paramilitaries and of ‘false positives’ since 1994. In October 2008, Uribe dismissed 25 military officers, including army commander General Mario Montoya. The case was a black eye for Uribe’s democratic security policy, raising more concerns about human rights violations by the Colombian military.

The democratic security’s tough militarist strategy against the FARC began to take its toll on the FARC. In June 2007, the FARC killed 11 out of 12 departmental deputies whom the FARC had kidnapped in 2002, increasing domestic and international condemnation of the FARC’s terrorist methods. Around the same time, Uribe allowed his rival, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who Bogotá often accused of harbouring or assisting the FARC, to mediate a humanitarian exchange of prisoners with the FARC, but Uribe then blocked Chávez’s mediation efforts in November 2007, claiming that Chávez reneged on his agreement. However, in January 2008, Venezuela spearheaded an operation to release two hostages held by the FARC – a former senator and Clara Rojas, Ingrid Betancourt’s campaign manager (who had a son, born in captivity, whom the FARC had sent to Bogotá). In February 2008, three other hostages were released to Chávez as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ by the FARC.

Militarily, 2008 marked a sea change in the FARC’s fortunes. On March 1, the Colombian army raided a camp, located in Ecuador, killing Raúl Reyes, the FARC’s second-in-command and spokesperson. Naturally, the cross-border raid by the Colombians incensed Ecuador’s leftist President, Rafael Correa, and led to a brief diplomatic crisis with Ecuador and Venezuela. In March, the FARC’s septuagenarian leader, Manuel Marulanda, also died, of ‘natural causes’ according to the FARC. The files on laptops seized from Raúl Reyes’ headquarters added to Colombian concerns of Venezuelan meddling in the conflict, with documents detailing meetings between FARC leaders and Venezuelan military officers or the existence of ‘safe areas’ in Venezuela.

In July 2008, defense minister Juan Manuel Santos announced the success of Operation Jaque, a remarkably well orchestrated infiltration of FARC ranks leading to a quick raid to release 11 Colombian policemen and soldiers, three American military contractors and Ingrid Betancourt. It was a major blow to the FARC and a major success for the Colombian military.

Military operations against the FARC, 2007-2013 (source: WaPo)

The government continued making military progress in the conflict against the FARC in 2008 – a 40% drop in FARC-held territory, a considerable human toll on the FARC (thousands of guerrillas killed in 2007 and 2008), a drop in morale, an increase in desertions and a sharp drop in FARC membership – from about 18,000 to 9-10,000. After Operation Jaque, more hostages were released or escaped from captivity. In an increasingly perilous position, the FARC, now led by the dogmatic Alfonso Cano, resorted to indiscriminate acts of terrorism and enrollment of child soldiers.

Despite military and political scandals involving Uribe and his government, security cooperation with the US was not compromised. In 2010, Colombia still received $434 million in US military/security aid. In August 2009, Colombia and the US signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) which allows the US to lease access to seven Colombian military bases for logistical support in counter-narcotics operations. The DCA required ratification by the Colombian Senate and consultative advice of the judiciary’s Council of State.  The DCA met with strong criticism from the Colombian left and left-wing leaders in the region, notably Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who considered the DCA an ‘imperialist’ threat to his country. The DCA further strained already tense relations between Colombia and Venezuela; Chávez announced a freeze in bilateral trade between the two countries.

Uribe’s high levels of popularity rested not only on his democratic security policies, but also on the country’s robust economic growth during his two terms – the economy grew by as much as 7% in 2007 and, unlike Brazil and Venezuela, did not go in recession in 2009. In office, Uribe generally favoured neoliberal and free-market policies, with a focus on improving public finances, reforming government and reducing inflation. The government claimed to have made progress in reducing poverty and income inequality in one of the region’s most unequal and class stratified countries. In 2010, 37% of Colombians still lived under the national poverty line and 39.5% lived on less than $4 a day.

Uribe and his allies, notably in the Party of the U, sought to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term in office in 2010. In October 2008, the Chamber of Representatives rejected a constitutional amendment allowing Uribe to run for reelection, but in May 2009, the Senate approved a measure allowing for a referendum to be held on the issue. Before anything could go ahead, both houses of Congress needed to reconcile their bills and the Constitutional Court would need to give a green light on the issue. The contentious topic raised significant opposition in Colombia, with resistance coming from the Church, the media and the business community. Around the world, Uribe was portrayed as an autocrat. In August 2009, both houses of Congress agreed on the referendum bill. In late February 2010, only days before the March 2010 legislative elections, the Constitutional Court voted 7-2 to reject Congress’ referendum bill, declaring both the bill and the legislative process deeply flawed and unconstitutional.

In the March 2010 congressional elections, the Party of the U became the largest party in both houses of Congress, with 28 senators and 48 representatives. The Liberals and Conservatives followed, with 17 and 38 seats and 22 and 36 seats respectively. Overall, the uribista coalition, made up of the PSUN, the Conservatives, the Cambio Radical and small parties linked to the parapolitics scandal (notably the National Integration Party, which won 9 senators and 11 representatives) retained a majority in Congress.

Uribe left office highly popular. The main reason for his popularity was the apparent success of his democratic security policy. As far as numbers are concerned, under Uribe’s eight years in power, Colombia’s homicide rate dropped from 70.2 in 2002 to 33.4 in 2010 (in raw numbers, 28,837 were killed when Uribe took office in 2002 and 15,459 were killed in the year he left office). Under Uribe’s presidency, the FARC lost significant ground and they were significantly weakened; however, by 2010, it appeared as if the situation had reached a stalemate, with the FARC still reigning supreme in many remote areas of the country and could resort to violent terrorist attacks in urban areas. Uribe’s democratic security strategy was associated with significant concerns for human rights, and the parapolitics, a DAS wiretapping case or the false positives scandals highlighted that corruption and human rights remained serious challenges to Colombia’s democracy. Nevertheless, there were some improvements in human rights and press freedom during Uribe’s presidency.

The May-June 2010 presidential election was more contested than either the 2002 or 2006 elections. The PSUN nominated Juan Manuel Santos, a former Liberal politician and heir of a powerful Colombian family (his uncle, Eduardo Santos Montejo, was a Liberal president from 1938 to 1942, and his family owned El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper). Santos, unlike Uribe, entered politics as an American-educated technocrat and held the portfolios of foreign trade under César Gaviria (1991-1994) and finances under Andrés Pastrana (2000-2002). He left the Liberal Party after Uribe’s election to become a leading uribista in Congress, helping to create the PSUN. He served as Minister of Defense between 2006 and 2009, a high-profile portfolio in which Santos was directly responsible for approving the operations which killed Raúl Reyes and freed Ingrid Betancourt. Santos was widely seen as Uribe’s preferred candidate, and his campaign repeatedly emphasized both Uribe’s record and his own record as his defense minister.

Santos was not the only uribista candidate in the race. The Conservatives nominated Noemí Sanín, who had run for president as an independent in 1998 and 2002 and had served as ambassador to the UK under Uribe’s presidency. Sanín, who was backed by former President Andrés Pastrana, was seen as close to Uribe; although perhaps Uribe’s favourite candidate of them all was Andrés Felipe Arias, his loyal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Germán Vargas Lleras, grandson of former President Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1964-1970), a Senator (1998-2008) and leader of the Cambio Radical (CR) party, was also a fairly close supporter of Uribe’s policies earlier on (but opposed Uribe’s reelection in 2010).

The Liberal Party, in opposition to Uribe, nominated the party’s leader and former Senator Rafael Pardo, who briefly supported Uribe during his first term before joining the ranks of the Liberal opposition to Uribe in 2003-2005. Pardo had previously served as Minister of Defense under César Gaviria between 1991 and 1994. The left-wing PDA nominated Gustavo Petro, a former supporter of the M-19 guerrilla movement, for which he was imprisoned and allegedly tortured in 1985. Petro was elected to the Senate for the PDA after two terms as a representative, and gained notoriety for blowing the whistle in the parapolitics scandal (but also a FARC-politics scandal, detailing links between some politicians the FARC). Although Petro was more hawkish and centrist than his party, his strong opposition to Uribe had lead to nasty shouting matches between Uribe and Petro, the former calling the latter a ‘terrorist in civilian dress’.

The campaign was marked by the rapid rise of Antanas Mockus, a senior politician who had served as mayor of Bogotá from 1995 to 1997 and 2oo1 to 2003. Mockus, a philosopher and academic of Lithuanian origin, gained popularity and notoriety as a successful but outlandish mayor – he dressed up as a superhero to clean up graffiti; already as Rector of the Universidad Nacional, he had been noted for his eccentricity, lowering his pants and showing his butt to a crowd of students blocking him from giving a speech. Mockus, a political independent, joined the new Green Party and selected Sergio Fajardo, a charismatic, innovative, and independent former mayor of Medellín (2004-2007). Mockus surpassed Santos in most first and second round polls, presenting himself as a centrist and neither pro or anti-Uribe.

The campaign was disturbed by Hugo Chávez’s meddling. The Venezuelan president called Santos a ‘real military threat’, a ‘mafioso’ and a pawn of the ‘Yankee imperialists’. He warned that he would not meet with Santos if elected and threatened that ‘there would be war’ if Santos won. Uribe, Santos and most candidates strongly criticized Chávez’s intervention in the campaign.

Despite polls indicating a close contest, Santos dominated the first round on May 30 with 46.7% against only 21.5% for Antanas Mockus, whose grassroots and internet-based campaign collapsed. Vargas Lleras placed a distant third with 10.1%, followed by Petro on 9.1%, Sanín at 6.1% and Rafael Pardo with 4.4%. A month later, Santos was handily elected President with 69.1% against 27.5% for Mockus.

Juan Manuel Santos’ Presidency (2010-2014)

In the immediate, Santos took office (in August) facing a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela. In early July 2010, the Minister of Defense had revealed proof of the presence of FARC and ELN guerrillas in Venezuela (among them was Iván Marquez, a leading FARC member), and Uribe announced that he would take the matter to the OAS. Venezuela denied Colombia’s allegations and responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with Colombia and moving troops to border regions; Chávez claimed, as he had following the 2009 DCA, that Colombia – with US assistance and backing – was planning to invade Venezuela. Upon taking office, Santos organized to meet Chávez in Santa Marta (Magdalena), and the two Presidents resolved the crisis and diplomatic relations were restored.

Juan Manuel Santos has turned out to be his own man, much to Uribe’s dismay.

Upon taking office, Santos continued the military strategy against the FARC, but he also said that the door to peace talks with the FARC was not closed. However, in 2010, the FARC’s answer to Santos’ more conciliatory attitude was a wave of attacks and ambushes. In September 2010, the military scored a major success in a large-scale and well-orchestrated operation which killed ‘Mono Jojoy’, one of the FARC’s top military leaders. His death was hailed by both the government and the media as a significant blow to the FARC, given that Mono Jojoy was considered as one of the FARC’s leading military commanders and a key person in the organization. In November 2011, in another major blow to the FARC, the military killed Alfonso Cano, Marulanda’s successor as the political leader of the FARC.

Nevertheless, the FARC remained a potent – if reduced (and radicalized) force. The FARC retained a strong offensive capability and the government found that the FARC had turned to illegal gold mining (in addition to drug trafficking) to finance their terrorism. 2011 was one of the most violent years on record, with the FARC (and ELN) desperate to show their muscle with new kidnappings, attacks and car bombings.

Soon after taking office, Santos’ government proposed legislation to address the issue of land ownership – restoring land stolen or purchased under duress by paramilitaries and guerrillas. Unequal land distribution has been both a cause and consequence of the conflict, with some 16,000 people in 2005 owning over 62% of the land and about 6 million hectares illegally or violently seized. The government’s law proposed to return the land to their original owners, placing the burden of proof on owners. The law was passed in 2011, but application has been slow and claimants have lived in fear of neo-paramilitary groups, which have killed or threatened those claiming land.

The law was part of a wider landmark ‘Victims and Land Restitution Law’. The law was welcomed because, for the first time, the government recognized the existence of an ‘armed conflict’ and its legal, humanitarian implications. Secondly, the law also allowed for compensation to those who had been victims of abuses by state forces – not only the FARC and paramilitaries. An Amnesty International report, however, cited major concerns with the law including: definition of victims (excluding those who continue to suffer abuses from neo-paramilitaries, unrecognized as such by the government), the exclusion of many displaced persons from the process and playing down state responsibility. The analysis also looked into barriers to the restitution of land, clauses which may legitimize land theft and inadequate support for victims.

Santos has taken a more diplomatic demeanor in his relations with his neighbors; under Uribe, relations with Chávez’s Venezuela and Correa’s Ecuador were often strained while relations with left-wing governments in Brazil and Argentina were barely any better. In office, Santos restored diplomatic ties with Ecuador and Venezuela, effecting an unofficial truce with Venezuela. In exchange for Venezuela extraditing Colombian guerrillas, Bogotá extradited a Venezuelan accused of drug trafficking to Venezuela instead of the US. In August 2010, after the Constitutional Court struck down the 2009 DCA as unconstitutional, Santos did nothing to revive the contentious agreement which had soured Bogotá’s regional ties.

Santos’ foreign policy has been only one issue which has soured relations with Uribe. Santos has never been Uribe’s puppet, even when he was his ostensibly loyal defense minister, but relations between the two men started going south in 2011. Uribe faulted Santos for his cordial ties with Chávez, claiming that Colombia could not have diplomatic relations with a country which harboured terrorists. On domestic policies, Uribe also began criticizing his successor’s policies – he found Santos’ security policy ineffective and soft, he opposed the land restitution law, he opposed amending a bill to remove responsibility for judging abuses by security forces from military courts and strongly opposed any talks of negotiations with the FARC. The government’s tax reform in 2012 was seen as an attack on Uribe, given that it sought to remove tax breaks and incentives for companies created by Uribe. Finally, Santos welcomed two 2010 presidential candidates known as critics of Uribe into his cabinet: Germán Vargas Lleras became Minister of the Interior (until May 2012, he is now Minister of Housing) and Rafael Pardo, the Liberal candidate, is Minister of Labour.

Several high-ranking allies of Uribe have also been prosecuted in corruption cases. Andrés Felipe Arias, Uribe’s agriculture minister, was arrested in 2011 for his role in the Agro Ingreso Seguro, an agricultural subsidy which ended up in the hands of powerful landowners and even a beauty queen. An arrest warrant, since dropped, was issued against Luis Carlos Restrepo, accused of staging a fake demobilization of a FARC unit. Uribe’s former chief of staff was also arrested for his role in a DAS wiretapping scandal. Uribe has stood by his allies, claiming they were victims of political persecution.

In June 2012, Santos ran into controversy over a proposed judicial reform which started out with fairly good intentions but turned, thanks to Congress, into a disaster for the government. The judiciary opposed the government’s early projects, but the situation became chaotic when Congress approved the bill including various advantages for corrupt congressmen/ex-congressmen: notably stripping the Supreme Court of its power to investigate corruption cases involving legislators. The Minister of Justice announced his resignation in disgust, there were several opposition protests against the bill and the PDA clamored for a referendum on the bill. Bowing to the enormous pressure, Santos convened Congress to repeal the law only a few days after it was passed.

Santos’ government has felt that, to secure peace, it needed to offer the guerrillas incentives to negotiate. In May 2012, Congress passed a law giving itself the power to decide the criteria determining which crimes would be investigated by prosecutors and which would be investigated by others. The bill was opposed by both Uribe and human rights groups, the latter claiming that it guaranteed impunity for those who committed crimes against humanity. Now that Colombia is a full member of the ICC, crimes against humanity and war crimes are the full jurisdiction of the ICC and amnesty could be challenged there.

In September 2012, Santos publicly confirmed that Colombian officials had been engaged in secret negotiations with the FARC in Cuba and Norway. The talks, in secret, likely began in January and by October, the two parties reached agreement on a framework for those talks. Santos claimed that they had learned the mistakes of the past and they would not be repeated; notably, the talks are being held abroad, and there is no concession of a DMZ to the FARC within Colombian territory. The talks were accompanied with a two-month ceasefire from the FARC, which they generally respected; but in 2013, the FARC returned to kidnappings (albeit many hostages were quickly released) and killing police officers. Some saw the attacks as a way for the FARC to prove that they remain a potent threat, without undermining the peace talks

In May 2013, agreement was reached on the first topic under discussion: rural development. The agreement talked of loans and technical help for small farmers, but nothing will be implemented until there is a final agreement on all matters. Other issues on the list are political participation (allowing the FARC to participate in the political process, while guaranteeing their safety, after drug lords and paramilitaries mowed down UP leaders and members in the 1980s), ending the conflict (the FARC surrendering their weapons and demobilizing), the issue of drugs and drug trafficking (Santos has come out in favour of considering the legalization of soft drugs) and finally victims (both of FARC and government atrocities).

In August, talks were hiccuped when the FARC felt that the government was rushing the talks forward in a (failed) attempt to reach a final deal before the March 2014 elections. But after a three-day walkout, the FARC returned to the table. In November, after reaching tentative agreement on political participation, the talks were rocked by revelations of a FARC plot to assassinate Uribe and other politicians (although it wasn’t clear if they were current plans). The issue of justice and the future of FARC leaders, who may face charges of crimes against humanity, will be very difficult.

Uribe has strongly opposed negotiations with the FARC, viewing it as akin to surrendering to terrorists. He used his Twitter account to publicize, on one occasion with a graphic picture, the FARC’s guerrilla attacks and their victims.

In February 2014, Semana, a popular magazine, reported that a military intelligence unit had been spying on the government’s negotiating team in the FARC peace talks for over a year. Uribe denied being on the receiving end of confidential information; his disclosure of confidential information (in August 2012, announcing the secret negotiations; in 2013, tweeting the coordinates of where an helicopter was picking up negotiators in a jungle clearing) in the past had raised questions. Two weeks after the revelations, Santos fired General Leonardo Barrero, the commander of the military; this time in links to Semana publicizing a transcript of a conversation the general had with a colonel facing charges for the extrajudicial killing of civilians.

Santos has been considerably less popular than his predecessor. There were student protests against a controversial education reform in 2011. In August 2013, large protests including miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers, public healthcare workers, students and others erupted in several departments. Both Uribe and the FARC, opportunistically, threw their support behind the protests. The protesters had different gripes: coffee growers demanding government assistance to counter dropping prices, truckers demanding investment in infrastructure to fix Colombia’s bad roads, others opposing the terms of the FTA with the US which was finally ratified in 2011. In the wake of the protests, Santos’ approval rating in September 2013 tumbled to the low 20s (from about 50%), with voters citing disapproval of the way Santos had handled the protests.

Political developments

Juan Manuel Santos’ government is backed by the National Unity (Unidad Nacional) coalition, which is made up of the PSUN (Party of the U), the Radical Change party and the Liberal Party. The Conservatives appear very divided between santistas, uribistas and independents; according to La Silla Vacia‘s electoral guide for the legislative elections, most Conservative senatorial candidates are pro-Santos but in February 2014, the Conservatives nominated the pro-Uribe Marta Lucía Ramírez as their presidential candidate.

Former President Álvaro Uribe created his own party in January 2013, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Centre, CD). Uribe is the party’s obvious leader and in many ways it is a personalist party based around him, notably taking up Uribe’s famous mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart) slogan. The ranks of the CD include uribistas from other parties, notably the PSUN, the Conservatives and even the PDA. Prominent members of the CD include Uribe’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit Óscar Iván Zuluaga (the CD’s 2014 presidential candidate), Uribe’s Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and the former governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos. All three men have been linked to the parapolitics scandal: Santos Calderón is under investigation for a meeting with AUC leaders in which he allegedly suggested that the AUC creates a front in Bogotá; in August 2013, Ramos was arrested on orders of the Attorney General for his presumed ties to paramilitaries; Zuluaga was investigated by the Attorney General in 2007 for a 2003 picture of him at an event for a former paramilitary running for mayor.

On the left, the PDA has run into a series of crises. The PDA mayor of Bogotá, Samuel Moreno, elected in 2007 with 43.7%, got mixed up in a large corruption scandal involving corruption contractors, who claimed that the mayor had demanded kickbacks for him and his brother (a PDA senator). In May 2011, the Inspector General (a body overseeing the conduct of those in public office, with the power to dismiss them from office) suspended him from his job as mayor for three months. In September, he was expelled from the PDA and the Attorney General ordered his detention. The PDA’s steadfast defense of the corrupt mayor until the last minute divided and weakened the party; Gustavo Petro, the PDA’s 2010 presidential candidate, left the party in 2010 and became a vocal critic of Moreno’s administration. In October 2011, Petro, running for his new social democratic Movimiento Progresistas, was elected mayor with 32.2% against 25% for former mayor Enrique Peñalosa (1998-2000), a uribista Green who was strongly supported by Uribe.

Petro’s administration was very controversial. Although he was able to reduce the city’s murder rate by 24%, various management problems and controversial decisions hurt his standing in public opinion. Especially contentious was his ill-advised 2012 decision to not renew private contracts for trash collection, placing responsibility for waste management in the municipal government’s hands. For three days, trash piled up on Bogotá’s streets, forcing Petro to allow private contractors to temporarily collect trash. The local government is accused of wasting millions of pesos and doubling the costs for trash collection as a result of its policy. On April 6, 2014, Petro will face a recall referendum.

In early December 2013, the Inspector General’s office removed him from office and banned him from holding public office for a period of 15 years. The decision, which has since been temporarily suspended by a court awaiting judgement from a higher court, reeked of political persecution (as Petro claims): the decision was unexpectedly severe (especially the long ban from holding office; Moreno faced only a year-long ban from office), the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, is a conservative supporter of Uribe and opponent of the peace talks.

The specific posts on the congressional elections (in March) and the presidential elections (in May) will include details on the parties, candidates, dynamics and – naturally – results themselves.

Ecuador 2014

Local elections were held in Ecuador on February 23, 2014. 23 provincial prefects and vice-prefects (all provinces except the Gálapagos), 221 mayors in every canton (the equivalent of municipalities), a total of 1,305 members of cantonal/municipal councils across the country and the 4,079 members of the parish councils (juntas parroquiales) in 412 urban and 816 rural parishes (the lowest-level administrative divisions, below cantons). Prefects and mayors are directly elected by FPTP, while the members of cantonal and parish councils are elected by open lists. Prefects and mayors have been limited to two consecutive terms in office since the 2008 Constitution, but because these term-limits are not retroactive, some incumbents seeking reelection ran for their third, fourth or even fifth terms in office.

The prefects preside over an unelected provincial council made up of the prefect, vice-prefect and all mayors in the province. Prefects have little power: legally responsible for spatial planning, roads, water management, nature protection and promotion of agriculture and the economy, these tasks are handled by mayors in urban areas. Furthermore, they have little fiscal and financial powers, given that provinces rely on the central government for its resources. However, prefects do hold a good deal of influence because they control public procurement and the hiring of civil servants in the provincial administration – breeding favouritism, nepotism and corruption. Each province, except the province of Pichincha (which includes Quito), has a governor appointed by the President who is charged with coordinating the national civil service in the province. The mayor is the head of the canton and presides over the municipal council. They have similar powers to prefects, but they also have tax-raising powers.


President Rafael Correa was reelected to a third term in office in February 2013 with about 57% of the votes in the first round. Correa’s party, the Alianza PAIS, won 100 out of 137 seats in Congress. Correa, a left-winger, has been President of Ecuador since 2006 and he has since then imposed himself as the hegemonic figure in Ecuadorian politics and taken a fairly prominent position on the international stage. In office, Correa spearheaded the adoption of a new constitution in 2008 and has strengthened the power of the executive branch. Correa’s government has gained strong popular support through generous social welfare grants, micro-loans to small businesses and farmers and ensuring universal access to healthcare and education. Correa’s hostility to the Ecuadorian private media has attracted significant attention around the world. Correa, who never minces his words, considers much of the private media (generally hostile to the government) to be in the hands of corrupt businessmen. Since 2006, Correa has sought to increase state control of the media, either by creating new state-owned media sources or seizing or shutting down privately-owned media. Constitutional amendments in 2011 created a government-controlled media oversight body and reformed the judiciary; the opposition strongly criticized the move as a power grab by Correa.

Correa is often compared to Evo Morales or other Latin American leftist leaders – indeed, like much of the Latin American ‘radical left’ originally inspired by Chávez, Correa is hostile to foreign capital, capitalism, vaguely defined ‘imperialism’ and domestic opposition (branded as ‘reactionaries’) and has built up popular support through social programs to alleviate poverty while shoring up presidential powers. However, unlike Evo Morales, who is an indigenous Bolivian with close ties and roots in grassroots indigenous and coca-growers movements, Correa, a US-educated technocrat, has relatively little ties to social movements and has in fact been rather hostile to critical indigenous groups or social movements (even on the left). Electorally, Correa has often fared worse in the heavily indigenous areas of the Amazonian rainforest (the Oriente) – in the 2013 election, Correa won less than 50% of the vote in every province in the Amazon, while winning over 55-60% in much of the Costa and Sierra (western coastal and central mountainous regions), where the population is predominantly mestizo or Afro-Ecuadorian. Indigenous groups, led by the influential Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and Pachakutik, CONAIE’s political party, have confronted Correa on a number of issues, especially the highly contentious question of oil drilling and mining concessions in the Amazon.

With his huge legislative majority and popular mandate, Correa has pushed forward with a number of controversial projects since 2013 and has picked fights with his opponents. Economically, Correa, with his ‘change of the productive matrix’ agenda, has been trying to diversify Ecuador’s oil-based economy into an ‘industrial and knowledge-based economy’, notably with the active promotion of new infrastructure projects and the development of new industries (oil refining, petrochemical, steel etc). The government passed a law making mining investments by foreign investors easier and more attractive; many mining projects face strong local opposition. However, struggling to attract foreign investment since it defaulted on its foreign debt in 2008, Ecuador has been forced to turn to China, becoming dependent on oil exports to China and Chinese loans in exchange.

In August 2013, Correa dropped his landmark Yasuní-ITT initiative (a commitment to refrain from exploiting oil reserves in the biologically diverse Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves from the international community). The government blamed the lack of international support, but critics charge that Quito bowed to Chinese pressures and the government’s desperate thirst for cash. Correa has argued that oil development will be controlled and limited to 1% of the park, that no roads would be built and that oil extraction will help reduce poverty. Despite that, opponents of the measure, led by indigenous organizations and environmentalists, marched on Quito (but failed to gather large crowds) and faced police paint guns. After the protest, anarchist singer Jaime Guevara gave Correa, in a presidential motorcade, the middle finger. Correa, a very confrontational person, personally threatened him and called him a drunk drug-addict (repeated in one of his national TV broadcasts, which Correa uses to castigate opposition and indigenous leaders) – even if Guevara is epileptic and a teetotaler. Correa was later forced to apologize.

Opponents of oil drilling in the Yasuní – students, some opposition politicians, environmentalists and CONAIE – are currently seeking to gather signatures (600,000 required) to hold a referendum on the issue. Correa, as is usual, has denounced Yasuní’s opponents as naive and irresponsible leftists (he usually calls them the ‘infantile left’), and has been able to count on the backing of mayors in the Yasuní National Park region, eager for their share of revenues. At the same time as he promotes oil drilling domestically, Correa’s government has been locked in a judicial battle with US oil giant Chevron, sued by victims of heavy oil pollution in the Amazon in the 1980s.

Oil drilling in the Yasuní has raised significant concerns for the survival of indigenous groups, including two uncontacted peoples living in voluntary isolation (the Taromenane and Tagaeri) and the impact of oil drilling the lifestyle and culture of indigenous groups.

In June 2013, the parliament passed a new communications law which guarantees a right to ‘verified, contrasted, precise, and contextualized information’ and prohibits ‘media lynching’, vaguely defined as the publication of information ‘undermining the prestige or credibility of a person or legal entity’. A new presidential-appointed officer, the Superintendent of Information and Communication, will be charged with enforcing the law and handling ‘media lynching’ cases. Critics have said the law grants too much power to the new non-independent body and raised concerns about the implications for journalists’ investigations into corruption and internet anonymity. In December 2013, police raided the homes of an anti-corruption journalist and Pachakutik deputy, seizing computers and phones and accused the two men of hacking Correa’s email account. A cartoonist in the anti-government El Universo newspaper who published a cartoon critical of the raid was sued by the Superintendent. The newspaper was charged a hefty fine and forced to publish a ‘correction’ to the cartoon; the ‘corrected’ cartoon sarcastically poked fun at the raid. Later, in another case, a government-owned newspaper published information, allegedly stolen through hacking an opposition leader’s email account, about a project to create a news agency investigating corruption.

The government has also attacked independent NGOs critical of its policies. Using a 2013 presidential decree which create a state body to regulate, monitor and even dissolve NGOs, a environmental and indigenous rights organization was dissolved in December for participating in a violent protest in which foreign representatives (Chilean and Belorussian) were attacked. Correa also picked a fight with doctors over a poorly written criminal code article which allows judges to sentence doctors for ‘criminal medical malpractice’ – if a patient dies as a result of ‘dangerous, unnecessary and illegitimate actions’ by the doctor. Doctors protested, Correa threatened to hire Cuban doctors and resign if the law was changed (apparently, Correa has threatened to resign no less than 13 times since 2007).


In a presentation released by the government’s online publication El Ciudadano, Alianza PAIS is said to have won 10 out of 23 prefects and 68 out of 221 mayors, a gain of 2 and loss of 4 respectively from the 2009 local elections. The same document says that Alianza PAIS won 50% of the vote in prefectural elections, 34% of the vote in mayoral contests and 37.5% in municipal council elections. However, most attention was given to individual races.

One of the most important contests was in the capital, Quito, held since 2009 by Alianza PAIS’ Augusto Barrera, whose tenure has been marked by the inauguration of a new international airport and the beginning of construction on a subway system for Quito. Barrera, who was elected in 2009 with 43.1% of the vote, faced 2013 presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas, the leader of his own-man centre-right United Society for More Action (SUMA) party. Rodas, who is 38 years old, is a lawyer and former president of the youth wing of the right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC). Rodas’ 2013 presidential candidacy, vaguely centre-right and ostensibly ‘progressive centrist’, was backed by a few small parties and politicians, including the Evangelical Indigenous Federation (a conservative evangelical movement at odds with Correa and CONAIE). Rodas’ mayoral candidacy was backed by Antonio Ricaurte, a centre-left (ostensibly pro-Correa but anti-Barrera) candidate who placed second behind Barrera in 2009. Rodas’ campaign focused on lower taxes, lower traffic fines and good government; faced with the eventuality of defeat, Barrera lowered traffic fines after having previously denounced such a move as ‘demagoguery’.

Mauricio Rodas (SUMA/VIVE) 58.66%
Augusto Barrera (Alianza PAIS) 37.94%
Others 3.39%

In a major defeat overshadowing better results elsewhere, Correa’s party lost Quito’s city hall by a wide margin. The defeat is particularly bad because Correa campaigned heavily for Barrera in the final days. However, the defeat seems to owe a lot to local factors, given that Alianza PAIS’ incumbent simultaneously won Quito in the prefectural election (with 59.6%) and PAIS won more votes than Rodas’ SUMA alliance in the municipal council election (this outdated article, based on 61% of precincts reporting, said PAIS won won 41.5% against 39.9% for SUMA).

President Correa has said that he doesn’t know who Rodas is personally, but that he ‘knows’ that the people behind him want his government to fall and have contacts with the ‘fascist right’ in Venezuela.

Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and economic capital, has been – municipally – a right-wing PSC stronghold since 1992. In 1992, former President León Febres-Cordero (1984-1988), a local businessman connected to the city’s powerful business establishment and a fairly disastrous president, was elected mayor of Guayaquil. His successful management of the city, after decades of rule by populist lunatics (notably Abdalá Bucaram) who looted the city’s coffers, turned the city into a PSC stronghold at the municipal level. In 2000, LFC was succeeded by Jaime Nebot, a Lebanese businessman (a former governor and deputy of Guayas closely connected to Guayaquil’s business establishment, he was also LFC’s protégé) who had run for President in 1992 and 1996, both times losing in the runoff. Nebot has proven to be a popular mayor, with local infrastructure and modernization projects as well as anti-poverty social programs. Nationally, Nebot has some prominence as one of the leading figures of the anti-Correa opposition – Nebot led the unsuccessful no campaign against Correa’s 2008 constitution, which was rejected by guayaquileño voters. Nebot was reelected with 56.8% in 2004 and 68.4% in 2009. Nebot was backed by his own personalist party, Madera de Guerrero, and the PSC; his PAIS opponent was Viviana Bonilla, a young former governor of Guayas province (2012-2013).

Jaime Nebot (PSC/Madera de Guerrero) 59.50%
Viviana Bonilla (Alianza PAIS) 39.11%
Others 1.39%

In an unsurprising result, the popular centre-right mayor of Guayaquil was reelected with a large majority, albeit significantly reduced from 2009. The PSC has also maintained its large absolute majority in the cantonal council, estimated to have won 10 out of 15 seats, with the other seats going to Alianza PAIS.

In Cuenca, a former centre-left mayor defeated by Alianza PAIS in 2009, Marcelo Cabrera, won a rematch against the PAIS incumbent, Paúl Granda. At the same time, however, PAIS appears to have held a large majority in the cantonal council. The anti-Correa centre-left prefect of Azuay province (Paúl Carrasco), where Cuenca is located, was also reelected against a PAIS candidate. Carrasco had been elected in 2009 with Correa’s support, but he has since turned into a strong opponent of the president.

In Esmeraldas province, according to incomplete results, incumbent prefect Lucia Sosa, the candidate of the ostensibly far-leftist MPD, has been very narrowly reelected with 39.8% against 38.6% for the PAIS candidate, former soccer player Iván Hurtado. The MPD, however, was unable to hold the canton of Esmeraldas, gained by former justice minister Lenín Lara (PAIS).

Another bad result for Correa’s party came, surprisingly, from El Oro province, where incumbent prefect Montgomery Sánchez (a local political boss who is now pro-Correa), in office since 1996 and reelected with over 80% in 2009, was defeated by PSC/SUMA candidate Esteban Quirola, 41.6% to 50.9%. In the provincial capital of Machala, the son of the incumbent mayor and other local strongman Carlos Falquez (PSC), was elected to succeed his father, barred from running because as a radio owner he doesn’t conform to a new communications law.

On the other hand, PAIS was able to hold the prefects of the three major provinces: Guayas, Pichincha and Manabí. In Guayas province, incumbent prefect Jimmy Jairala, a former opponent of Correa (he used to be a member of Abdalá Bucaram’s arch-corrupt personalist populist Roldosist Party, PRE) who has turned into an ally of the President, was reelected with PAIS’ support against the PSC candidate. Jairala won 52.8% of the vote. In Pichincha province (Quito), PAIS incumbent Gustavo Baroja was reelected with about 61%. In Manabí province, finally, incumbent prefect Mariano Zambrano Segovia, elected for a local party in 2009, was handily reelected with PAIS’ support, taking 56.2% of the vote. However, PAIS candidates, including one incumbent, were defeated in Portoviejo and Manta cantons, the two largest cities in the province. In a number of other prefectures, a similar pattern occurred: PAIS held the prefecture, but its candidates – including incumbents – lost in the largest cantons, notably in the provinces of Los Ríos, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Santa Elena and Santo Domingo.

The governing party did badly in the Amazon, winning only one province – Napo – where incumbent prefect Sergio Chacon Padilla, elected for former President Lucio Gutiérrez’s populist PSP, ran and won (narrowly, against the PSP) reelection for Correa’s party. Incumbent Pachakutik prefects, strong opponents of Correa, in the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe, Morona Santiago and Orellana were all reelected. The PSP gained the province of Sucumbíos while SUMA won Pastaza province; Pachakutik also held the province of Cotopaxi, in the Sierra.

Although PAIS remains Ecuador’s largest party and seemingly the only party with nationwide influence over a provincially fragmented and ideologically disparate opposition, it is generally considered to have lost this year’s local elections – the first electoral setback for Correa since taking office in 2007. The defeats in Quito and Cuenca – among other defeats for PAIS – have contributed to shaping this narrative. It is true that local government remains more challenging for PAIS, a new political force, which has run into well-entrenched provincial and local political machines and powerful local caciques. PAIS’ showing in 2009, when local elections were held alongside presidential and legislative elections handily won by Correa’s party, was less impressive. But at the same time, PAIS has managed to build up a strong base in local government, either through elections or oftentimes through defections from venal, populist and corrupt local political bosses (such as Jimmy Jairala in Guayas province).

Correa has blamed his party’s poor showing this year on ‘sectarianism’ – what he sees as PAIS’ refusal to ally with local parties (which is a bit silly given how many old politicians and local bosses PAIS has recycled). However, he has denied that his party lost the elections, saying it only suffered local setbacks. In the meantime, however, Correa – who had until now denied interest in running for another term in 2017 (the 2008 constitution limits him to two terms under the present constitution, so he is not eligible to run for a fourth term – or third under the 2008 document – in 2017) – has now publicly said that he has a ‘duty’ to ‘revise’ his ‘sincere decision not to run for reelection’ because of ‘the clouds’ which are stalking his Revolución Ciudadana (a thinly veiled reference to the opposition’s successes in these elections).