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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une forte opposition de gauche

by Jean-Paul Piérot

French Legislative Elections: A Strong Left Opposition to Sarkozy

Translated Wednesday 20 June 2007, by Patrick Bolland

Legislative elections: The anti-social threats of the Sarkozy presidency, the prospect of a system of paying for medicines and the increase in VAT mobilized millions of voters. The Right won its majority but the dike held back the predicted "blue tidal wave".

The Sarkozy tsunami that seemed likely following the first round of the legislative elections was held back at the first dike. The National Assembly did not collapse under the pressure. As of late in the evening on polling day, the 17th of June, Sarkozy’s right-wing party, the UMP, was estimated to win less than 310 MPs, a large number but less than the party held in the preceding legislature: 359 members. The Socialist Party, with a few more than 200 elelcted members (149 before the elections). Nineteen Communists or affiliated representatives were elected, of whom one was from the Réunion. Meanwhile the "New Centre" (pro-UMP) was credited with 22 seats, the MoDem – the new party of François Bayrou who won 18% in the first round of the presidential elections - and the Greens were each expected to win 4 seats. (1)

An electoral somersault

Some 35.2 million voters were called upon to choose between the 933 candidates still remaining in the 467 voting districts (out of 577 – in the others, a candidate had won more than 50% a week earlier and so was directly elected). Would the second round bring out substantially more voters than on the10th of June? The Left hoped so, appealing to men and women who had not voted in the first round, calling on them to mobilize to stop Nicolas Sarkozy from gaining total power. One month after an 84% turnout in the presidential election, the first round of the legislative elections created a bleak record: the lowest turnout since the beginning of the Fifth Republic. Countless young voters, first-time voters, particular the poor, did not go to vote, figuring that, with the shock of Sarkozy’s win in the presidential elections, there was no longer anything worth doing in the National Assembly. Would they return to the voting booths under the threat of a "crushing victory". Sarkozy’s nominated prime-minister called for in all his public meetings, ruling out in advance any idea of an effective opposition.

The participation-level did not really change between the two rounds: abstention remained very high, between 39.2% and 39.7%, in the same range as a week earlier: 39.58%. But below this apparent stability, there were internal changes. Those running the polling stations noted the first-round abstainers were coming back. On the other hand, the 10th of June voters many waited the whole day before voting. Why this turn-around?

Saying NO to a blue National Assembly

The antisocial policies of the Government, that are to voted on in the National Assembly already this summer, worreid electors sufficiently to turn them against a rubber-stamp "phantom parliament" adopting the counter-reforms of the right to work and fiscal justice. Nicolas Sarkozy pretended to be the "candidate of the France that is suffering" as "the people’s voice". Barely after he was elected, a sleuth of new measures were announced: a new tax on medical care, costing the same to poor and rich; an increase of 5% in VAT to compensate for reductions in employers’ contribution to social security – without any hesitations in eliminating taxes for the richest. Such concrete blueprints for "Sarkozy-style France" make a strong Left opposition still more essential. This is the message voters sent to the new government.

Doubtless, at the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy’s voters, certain of their majority, did not rush to support the measures they did not like. More than 60% of the French were against the up-front payments for medicines and increase in the VAT – and these acted to raise people’s awareness of what lay in store.

The parliamentary majority, certainly a comfortable one, is less than in the previous government. The defeat of Alain Juppé, in Bordeaux, where he is also the mayor, was a strong blow for the government. The «best we have» as Jacques Chirac referred to him affectionately, who finally rallied to Sarkozy, had to quit his media-hyped ministry of ecology and sustainable development, transport and energy. To a lesser extent, the rejection of Arno Klarsfeld, the president’s advisor on immigrants without valid residency papers, is highly symbolic.

A communist group in the National Assembly

If the Socialist Party numerically is numerically first in the parliamentary opposition, the Left will be represented by its diversity. The Communists scores far better than its critics, announcing its imminent death, had predicted. The great majority of standing communist candidates won re-election in mainland France and in the Réunion (with the vitory of Huhuette Bello of the Réunion Communist Party). Their results were better than in the 2002 elections. A second seat was won in Seine-Maritime by Jean-Paul Lecoq.

The communist candidates remaining in the second-round contest made major gains – more votes the the total of left-wing parties in the first round. Able to form a parliamentary group (2) in the new Assembly, the workers’ representatives will remain an instrument to defend their interests.

Marie-George Buffet has not excluded the possibility of leftwing deputies who are not members of the PCF to join the communist group. Asked, as the results were being tallied, about the situation of the four Green members in the new Assembly, Noël Mamère, the Green leader, referred to the possibility of his Party joining other forces on the Left («in a group independent of the Socialist Party»)


Translator’s notes

(1) Official election results
The final tally, after this article went to press, was:
registered voters: 35,223,520
votes cast: 21,132,395
abstention rate: 40%
blanc and discounted votes: 3.43%

Seats in the new National Assembly:
UMP and affiliates: 9,752,628
Socialist Party and affiliates: 9,393,513 (205 seats)
PCF & affiliates: 559,575 (18 seats)
Centre Group: 360,413 (20 seats)
MoDem: 115,900 (4 seats)
Varous unaffilated: 111,621 (3 seats)
Greens: 90,925 (4 seats)
Extreme Right: 17,107 (0 seats)

(2) To be recognized officially as a "parliamentary group" (with rights to present motions, funding for research, etc.), a Party has to have at least 20 representatives (or allied members) in the National Assembly. The "communist group" will be able to do this, as mentioned in the last paragraph.


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