NEWS ANALYSIS Legislative Elections: Socialists Could Win Absolute Majority in the Assembly, Yet Uncertainties Remain

The Socialists won the majority of votes Sunday for the first round of the legislative elections, barely a month after the election of their candidate, François Hollande, to the Presidency. The results for the Left were better than expected, but they did not sweep the election.

“There is still a long way to go,” said Martine Aubry yesterday morning, June 11. These words from the First Secretary of the Parti Socialiste (PS) could sum up the general conclusions drawn from yesterday’s first round. Martine Aubry wants her troops to remain careful and humble, as well as optimistic. The socialists will need to maintain their motivation for the second round of legislative elections, because although the first round was a positive sign for them, an easy victory does not seem to be in the cards.

Predictions for the final number of representatives after the second round of elections.
Photo courtesy of LeMonde.fr

However, the socialists and their left-wing allies do have some reasons to be optimistic. The Parti Socialiste (PS), won 34,4% of the vote and could get between 270 and 300 seats in the Assembly, not including the seats the PS allies might get. The absolute majority for the National Assembly stands at 289 seats.

The PS would then have the majority of representatives in the National Assembly, the most powerful branch of the French parliament system. The second round of elections will therefore decide if the PS majority will be absolute or relative. In case of an absolute majority, the PS faction could make decisions and pass bills alone, without the help of its allies. With a relative majority, the PS would have to negotiate with its allies and find a consensus with other left-wing parties. In this case, because of some major points of disagreement between the PS and the surrounding left-wing parties, François Hollande and the government of his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault would be looking at a much more difficult task should the PS only win a relative majority.

Expressing his wish to see the party win an absolute majority, the Prime Minister said that “Since May 6, the government began to realize the commitments made by President of the Republic (…) We want to re-address the justice system in France, control our public accounts, give priority to the youth (…) and engage in energy transition. To carry out these projects, we need a majority next Sunday. I call on the French to rally on Sunday to give the President a broad majority.”

The ecologists of Europe-Ecologie-Les-Verts (EELV), the Green Party, allies of the socialists, won 5.7% of the votes, a good result compared to their percentage during the Presidential election, but it might not be enough to form a parliamentary group in the Assembly (15 representatives minimum) since they are predicted to win 8 to 14 representatives.

The result of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (UMP), center-right party and future leader of Hollande’s opposition, allow the members to hope for a moderate defeat. With 34,6% of the votes (with allies), the UMP got a percentage of the vote equivalent to the PS and its close allies. The UMP could have between 210 and 240 representatives in the Assembly, not including 13 to 19 representatives for the center parties allied to the UMP and 4 to 7 representatives for the Parti Radical. These other parties would all be part of the opposition together with the UMP against the PS. For the parliamentary Right, it would mean between 227 and 266 representatives, compared to 313 in the former Assembly.

The balance of power between Right and Left seems to remain stable, with the Left having only a slight advantage. The results from the yesterday’s elections confirm those from the Presidential election, in which François Hollande won 51.62% of the vote, while former president Nicholas Sarkozy won 48.38%.

Several main figures from the UMP and the former government expressed their satisfaction before what they see as an honorable defeat. François Fillon, former Prime Minister asserted that “there has not been a pink wave”. Pink is the traditional color of the socialists. Alain Juppé, former minister under Fillon, observed that  “a high rate of abstention and strong capacity to mobilize voters (by UMP) has placed UMP on par with PS, not including the seats of their allies”.

The Mouvement Démocrate (MODEM) of François Bayrou, a center party, only gathered 1.6% of the votes, and is on the verge of collapse. François Bayrou himself, former candidate in the first round of the presidential election, is second in his own constituency, running against two other candidates from both PS and UMP, a position that may prove to be highly difficult.

Meanwhile, the extreme-right party, the Front National (FN) asserted itself as the third most powerful political force in the country in terms of number of voters (13.77%). However, due to the organization of the electoral system, it will only have up to 3 representatives in the National Assembly. The FN did not have any representatives in the previous Assembly. On the other side of the political spectrum, the extreme-left party Front de Gauche (FG) only won 6.94% of the vote, a disappointing result for this alliance of several communist and far-left parties who should have between 14 and 20 representatives, fewer  than in the former Assembly where it had 30.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the FG, was symbolically defeated in Hénin-Beaumont by Marine Le Pen, leader of the FN. Le Pen won 42.36% of the votes while the PS candidate won 21.48%. Third in the constituency, Mélenchon got 21.28% of the vote and was therefore disqualified from running in the second tour. The high percentage for Marine Le Pen should not outshine the success of her party, however her number is relatively disappointing when compared with the percentage of the vote Le Pen received during the Presidential election.

Even if the Left and the PS can expect a victory in the second round of the elections, many uncertainties remain. The FN managed to maintain a position in 61 constituencies. In the past decades, the moderate parties, including the PS and UMP which qualified themselves as republicans by sheer opposition to the FN, used to support the strongest “republican” candidate in every constituency. As a result, one often saw in the past a PS or an UMP candidate withdraw in favor of their traditional opponent, in order to avoid the victory of a FN candidate. For the PS, this “republican” tradition is still alive. Yesterday morning, Martine Aubry urged every PS candidate to withdraw if necessary to prevent a FN candidate from being elected.

For the UMP, on the other hand, the situation remains rather uncertain. On the evening of the first round, Chantal Jouanno (UMP) declared that “it is democracy that is at stake today: no question of passing any agreement with the FN at the local or national level”. But this voice might not reflect the more general opinion of the UMP. This morning, Jean-François Copé said to the French radio Europe1 that he refused any kind of alliance with the FN, but also questioned the necessity of an alliance with the PS against the FN: “should we support a PS candidate which is an ally of the extreme left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon? I’m not so sure about that”.

The official leaders of the party clarified the situation by the end of the afternoon. Most likely, the strategy which will be adopted by the UMP is one called “neither… nor”, meaning that the UMP candidates will deny their support to both the PS (left-wing) and FN(extreme right) candidates. Moreover, every time an UMP candidate is running against two other candidates from the FN and the PS, he will not withdraw. However, this official strategy is often different from what happens on the ground.

Some members of the UMP, like Nadine Morano, imagine bridging the gap between their party and the FN. Nadine Morano, candidate in the 5th constituency of Meurthe-et-Moselle, is in second place (34.33%) behind the socialist candidate (39.29%) and officially asked the FN voters for help, “I call on the electors to gather around my candidacy”. Her position, stating that she shared values with those extreme-right voters, once again raises the question of the boundary between the UMP and the FN, which has become a recurring topic since the election of Nicolas Sarkozy. Beyond the simple need for alliances, the first round of the legislative elections shows the instability of the UMP after Sarkozy’s defeat, and it reminds everyone of the possibility of a reorganization on the right side of the political spectrum.

Other criticisms also resurface because of the weak rate of voter participation in the election. More than 40% of the voters abstained. Several analysts and politicians question the organization of the presidential and legislative elections. Their proximity may cause a lack of interest in the legislative elections, as the French feel they have already made their decision and their voice was heard more clearly in the Presidential election in the previous month. Some believe the timing of the two elections decreases incentive to vote in the legislative elections, making them unrepresentative of real French political tendencies.

Since the establishment of a five-year presidency in the place of seven-year term, the legislative elections are so quickly after the presidential elections, a little more than a month, that some consider them to be merely a third round of the presidential election. Several options currently circulate political circles. One could postpone the legislative elections, which would increase the risk of cohabitation, or when a President is required to appoint a Prime Minister who is a member of the opposition. However, another solution seems to draw more attention: synchronizing the legislative and the presidential elections.

With forty constituencies, each with three candidates, the different parties can still hope to have a strong influence. The first round of the legislative elections raises a lot of expectations, the suspense remaining intact until the second round. This vote seems clearly representative of what is at stake for the era to come in the French political arena.

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