Hollande and the Left-Wing Paradox

Illustration by Peter Ansell for La Jeune Politique

Illustration by Peter Ansell for La Jeune Politique

François Hollande has been in power for almost a year. He was elected on a platform containing three main themes: fight unregulated finance, do politics differently, and solve the chronic deficit of the national budget. He was elected by a wide coalition of voters, ranging from a traditional – now seen as radical and old Left – to a moderate centrist electorate, even including a part of the Christian democrats who were disappointed in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

Hollande spent most of his first year in power alienating his electorate. The traditional Left who voted for his proactive “fight the finance” platform quickly turned their back on him after his renunciation to renegotiate the European Budgetary Pact. The latest decision of the government refusing to promote the amnesty bill for union leaders will not help the situation.

Hollande also alienated the moderate electorate who voted for him because of his “normal presidency” campaign. They will not come back to him either, a fact made even more definite by the Cahuzac scandal. The Christian right, seduced by the budgetary rigor of Hollande’s platform, is also lost after the gay marriage legalization.

Hollande is in fact facing the classic paradox that all the left-wing leaders face. In France, the Left is in the minority most of the time. Consequently, their leaders can easily adopt an ideological position, stigmatizing the cold realism of the right-wing majority. But this position is problematic when the Left manages to come into power. Because of its minority position in the country, the Left only manages to obtain power when they gather a coalition in the electorate. But this coalition is un-governable, because if its differing goals. This is why the Left has never managed to win a general election twice in a row.

How can Hollande get out of this deadly paradox? First, a look at history might offer some possibilities. François Mitterrand managed to be elected for a second term after seven years in power, but in the meantime, his Parti Socialiste (PS) had lost the legislative election. Unfortunately for Hollande, the seven-year term has been reduced to five, and the next legislative election will happen after his reelection. Of course, he could call for an early election, but that would surely mean giving the power back to the UMP.

Hollande’s second opportunity is more extreme. Traditionally, the radical Left has always called to vote for the PS in the second round of election. The extreme Right rejects the traditional Right. Marine Le Pen’s argument for the 2017 Presidential Election will likely be that the PS cannot do better than the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). If Hollande manages to reach the second round against Le Pen, he would benefit from the same Republican gathering that helped Jacques Chirac in his 2002 reelection.

Hollande has finally a third strategy. Of his three main electoral themes, the one he respected most was the normal presidency. Now, a solution to improve his ratings in the polls would be to break this promise in order to appear as a true leader. France likes strong leaders, and people are likely to respond positively to a president who embodies a clear direction for the country. But this path is dangerous. If Hollande chooses to step up as a strong leader, he will need to rally the numerous Left-wing trends. It will not be easy, as the French left-wing has a long tradition of autonomy and disrespect of the central power, and as the right-wing will attack him with more violence than ever.

Of all these strategies, none corresponds to Hollande’s vision of politics. He is a powerful negotiator, a man who enjoys compromises. He will surely not step up as a strong leader because he knows too well that his own majority does not have enough discipline to follow him. He cannot hope for Marine Le Pen to face him in the next election: he was marked for life by Lionel Jospin’s 2002 defeat in the first round of the presidential election. And he will not risk an early election.

Instead, Hollande took a risky bet. He assured the French people that after two years of sacrifices, from 2014, the economy will grow again and that unemployment will go down. If his prediction is right, as a respectable share of the economists foresee, his reelection will suddenly become easier. If he is wrong, then 2017 will surely be a difficult campaign for him.

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.

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