Op-Ed Small Parties: How To Exist Until 2017

Photo: TIME

Well, the electoral period is over. Now, the political system will shift back to its classic configuration and the fight between the majority and the opposition will replace the ideological debate. Although this change is natural for the two biggest parties (PS and UMP), it is significantly more difficult for the smallest ones. The Front National (FN) must find its own way between a new “traditional” right and the “reactionary” right. The FN already has a natural leader and a future objective. This cannot be said for other parties. For them, the greatest challenge is simply continued existence on the political stage. Outside of the electoral period, their speaking time is reduced to the tiny fraction that their elected representatives hold within the National Assembly. Therefore, for these parties the years to come are going to be a challenge even harder than winning the Presidential election. It will be a fight for survival. Since the UMP was created to unite the Right, most (if not all) of the small parties are either Left-wing or centrist parties. The smaller left parties are going to question their connection to the Presidential majority while the centrists will hesitate to join the majority as well as the opposition.

The first situation is for the Greens and the Left Radicals of the PRG. They have chosen to join the PS in the Government. This implies that the ministers from these parties will not be allowed to easily express diverging opinions, and if they do so, they would be strongly criticized. In this case, only party members will be able to weigh on the reforms. In order to preserve a slightly bigger part of their independence, the Green party and the radical left also constituted parliamentary groups outside the PS. Thanks to that, they will have a larger allotted time to speak in the National Assembly.

But when comes the vote, the Socialists will be able to pass a law without their support and thus might ignore their allies’ opinions. Only in the Senate will these alliances will be necessary but the High Chamber already has a tradition of inter-party compromises which will limit any attempt to blackmail the PS. For these parties, the next five years will bring them a larger exposition than the one they formerly received, yet meanwhile they will be closely associated with the PS and might be judged even more severely than the Presidential party.

Contrary to the last time the Left was in power (1997-2002), the Communists – don’t tell them, but they only are Communists by name – will not be associated with the Government. Instead, the last Communist Party in Europe and its ally in the Parti de Gauche (PdG) will “constructively collaborate” with the majority. This term will surely mean that they will criticize any non-Left decision made by the Socialist Party. Already, their vigorous leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, denounced François Hollande when he aligned with the right-wing German leader Angela Merkel. This tactic may work in the short-term, as many PdG electors will be disappointed by compromises Hollande will have to make to save the Euro. Also, the Front de  Gauche (FdG) (the name of the alliance between the Communist Party and the PdG) will gain in credibility what they lose in visibility. But the long-term bet of hoping for a rise PS rejection is more than likely to fail. In 2017, the opposition will be the right-wing and the FdG will not embody the alternative way as they did this year. More than that, the alliance will also have to deal with some tensions between Mélenchon and the Communist Party (PC) establishment. While the PC is more interested in maintaining their local resources, Mélenchon wants to use his charisma to fight the extreme-right on the national level, at his own loss up to now. Therefore, the two partners might break up the alliance that brought them the highest score for their parties since 1981.

At the extreme-left – which is not the FdG, as the UMP try to explain – the next five years will only be five more of the class struggle. From their revolutionary point of view, the elections were only a time of larger audience but surely not any capital period. They will now concentrate on the trade unions and both the negotiation and/or opposition of Government reforms.

Finally, the centrist parties will also know hard times ahead. They were traditionally linked to the right-wing until 2007 when François Bayrou decided to create a “center-wing” independent of both the Left and the Right. After a good percentage that election year, his new Movement Democratique (MoDem) failed to create a recognizable platform and fell in the polls. This year, Bayrou only scored a third of his 2007 result. While he tried to make the center a third option to bi-partisan French politics, the FdG and the FN are now fighting to rise to that level. The decision by Bayrou to openly support François Hollande in the second round of the Presidential election was symbolic of his ideological loss between Left and Right. Now, MoDem Vice-President Robert Rochefort even declares that the party would like to be part of the Government when Bayrou refused this option a few months ago. The party and its supporters will have to choose. The easier way for them would be to join Jean-Louis Borloo and help to re-form the defunct UDF from where both Bayrou and Borloo began their career. An unlikely alternative would place the MoDem within the galaxy of the small parties gravitating around the PS.  The third way might be the most likely and the worst for the party. If Bayrou insists on building his own third way, he might simply keep on losing bits of his electorate until the end of his political career.

This article is the last of part of an Op-Ed series on the current state of French political parties. The first part discussed the ideological dynamic of the Left and the second part the challenges to come for the UMP. Last week, the third part dealt with the future of Extreme-right party, the Front National.

What’s your take on this? Please, feel free to comment or question. Our columnist will try to answer as often as possible.

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